Why You Need Thick Skin When Learning Photography From Bruce Gilden

Bellamy Hunt over at Japan Camera Hunter has a fascinating account of what it’s like to attend a photography workshop taught by famed street photographer Bruce Gilden, a “famously outspoken photographer who does not mince his words”:

[Gilden] has no love for camera geeks and when he was told I am one he was not overly impressed, as he said “it is merely a tool, a box” […] Gilden tests you, and when he asked me a question that I was unsure of the answer and tried to bluff my way through to he called me out as a bullsh*tter (true though, my fault really). Gilden likes to ask direct questions, and one of his first was “Do you want to be a photographer?” I replied in the affirmative, to which he said “why?” I was not really able to explain why in a direct manner and he pounced! “So why did you bother coming?” […] He then told me that if I was looking for inspiration or a kick up the ass then I was in the wrong place as I would not get it from him, it must come from me (which is actually a fair point).

At this point Gilden asked to see my work […] I had not really been able to put together a coherent selection of my work and Gilden pointed out that fact. In fact I think his words were something to the tune of “Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t. What were you thinking? This is no connection. You are lazy”. At first I was hurt and offended, but after a few minutes of thinking about this (while he tore into someone else) I realised that he was right. I have been lazy and I have not thought out my work properly in the past. I have been coasting along and not putting the effort into it that I could be […] So after tearing myself and the other students a new one I was set a task by Gilden.

Bruce Gilden photography workshop in Tokyo [Japan Camera Hunter]

  • s0undmind

    Thank you sir, may I have another!?

  • Guest

    Is it really necessary to be crue? i think there are better ways of communicating, he is rude and insensitive.

  • Yoni Mayeri

    Is it really necessary for him to be cruel? i think there are better ways of communicating, he is rude and insensitive.

  • Senen L

    Not a fan of Gilden, he loves being rude for the sake of being rude. I much rather prefer the street style of people like the Sartorialist and Humans of NY

  • ceebee

    He need to make a living out of this these days

  • Roy

    What’s more fascinating is that people know this full well, and still sign up for his workshop.

  • Mark

    In a world where Facebook only has a “Like” button, I would say “yes”.

  • derekdj

    Meh, guys like Gilden are a dime a dozen in art school. Using “brutal honesty” to boost their own ego. Personally I’ve dealt with real a-hole editors and creative directors that have that same operating style, but the ones that I truly value are the ones who are brutally honest, but can back it up with useful critiques. The ones who are worth their salt are professionals who can really follow up critiques with clear illumination, not just terse 5 word answers that is treated like golden nuggets from Zeus.

  • Goofball Jones

    Lol, good thing I don’t take his workshops because I workplace him a new a$$hole….I’d make him question his own choices of his life. I LIVE for confrontations like this pretentious jerk.

  • Mark

    I had a conducting teacher who was like this. He would stop students in the middle of a piece, walk up to the podium and grab their baton. Sometimes he would throw it out into the house and once, he even snapped a student’s baton in half. Now at first, I hated the man and I dreaded going to his classes, but I knew deep down in side that for years, I had been making excuses for my poor conducting skills. I had become complacent, lazy and wasn’t being pushed beyond my comfort zone. At the end of the term, we had to memorize and conduct an entire symphony that was to be performed with a national orchestra with no rehearsals. I got up and conducted, remembering that I wanted to push myself a far as I could physically and mentally go.

    I actually don’t remember the conducting bits, since I was in a trance-like state. When I lowered my baton, the orchestra sat in silence, and my teacher said, “We’ve now seen what is possible when you actually try…. great work.” I almost teared up, but held it back as not to embarrass myself in front of a professional orchestra. As I was walking off stage, I noticed my left arm was feeling numb and I felt a shooting sensation in my fingers.

    The instructor saw this discomfort on my face and proceeded to stop another student who had begun his final piece and told the orchestra to take a 15 minute break. He walked over to me, put his arm around me and told me he was going to take me to the doctor to be evaluated. To this day, I do not think he was “evil” or “insensitive” or “rude”… I think that he could see the potential in people and knew that the road to self actualization and achievement is built upon a certain fortitude that only comes with harsh reality.

    There is no successful entrepreneur or artist in the world that can attribute success to a delicate and gentle criticism of their work. As artists, we are inherently selfish and egotistical. It takes a mighty heavy sledgehammer to shatter that shell and allow us to grow outside ourselves and outside of our comfort zone. This is probably the one limiting factor that keeps the “rest of us” from attaining the recognition we may feel we deserve.

  • Photo man in Tucson

    Photography is about having fun, shooting what you think is fun and this guy frankly is an a**hole who thinks he is the best. Don’t mind him I’ve taken some great shots with my t3 and some rival pro shooters. Enjoy it for yourself learn yourself and don’t make this guys head bigger than it obviously already is.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Apologists would say that they are fascinated by his way of staying to true to himself and being honest. But you need to remember that just because someone speaks firmly and with a harsh attitude does not mean that they are right or truthful to anything but their own ego. But I think a lot of people will fall for just that, the idea that someone speaking so rapidly and with so much confidence must be right – wrong.

    And morally we’re quick to say that we should treat each other with respect, but when it comes to someone who speaks with authority and again, with so much confidence as Gilden, we make an exception. Why?

    His approach is wrong, it might work for some, but that does not mean it’s fine to treat others this way. I’d say he is being immature if anything. But because he is an authority, a figure whom we expect this behaivour from, it’s OK. At least in the mind of an apologist.

  • Andrea Rosado

    He need to make a living out of this these

  • LisaOsta

    If you take a workshop from Gilden you should have some idea of his gruff personality and expect a response like that. If you want to be babied or have you work effused over there are plenty of other workshops where you can get that too.

  • John Berner

    Wow, so much hate for Gilden. The guy is honest, its a pretty common trait of anyone thats been around street photography for a while. Street photographers tend to think of themselves as immensely original and having a strong voice, but often work in the same tired cliches without any direction in their photography. Honestly the best thing for anyone interested in improving their work in that field is to be firmly told when they are making crap. To top it off I’m sure someone like Bruce gets tons of people in his classes that are there just for the sake of being around the famous Bruce Gilden, which will likely try the patience of someone whos goal in the class is to nurture photographers with potential that need guidance. Have any of you heard actual interviews with him? The guy is a genuinely decent person who just has a direct way of speaking with people. Not pulling punches does not make you an asshole.

  • Shoot 4 Real

    Why not just save yourself the cost of his workshop and hit your head against the wall a few times. It’ll feel the same and you’ll come away just as enlightened.

  • Roger Thornhill

    I have always worked harder to impress the tough teachers like this (for good or bad, I need to be pushed). Some people respond better to a softer teaching style. Whether this style is good or not depends on how you respond to that style.

  • 9inchnail

    “I LIVE for confrontations”

    So you’re just as much of a douchebag as him. I’d send you both to Thunderdome. Two jerks go in, one jerk comes out.

  • 9inchnail

    He has some good stuff. Street photography always has an element of randomness to it. That’s what I like about it. His “right in your face”-photos are not my cup of tea but he does have some nice street photos. I wouldn’t let him talk like that to me, though. There are better street photographers out there that hardly anyone has ever heard of. Just check 500px and you’ll find better images than Gilden’s.

  • 9inchnail

    I did not know what kind of a douche he is previous to reading this article. So I might have stumbled into one of his workshops because he is a household name within the street photo community.

  • Roy

    If you buy something without doing a little research first, you willingly take a chance to get burned. A workshop is no different, except you can’t return it for a refund.

  • Vincent

    Go and shoot some macro hdr puppies champ. Gilden is Gilden for a reason, and if you only know the in your face stuff that he shoots, then you don’t know Gilden, therefore you’re not qualified to offer your ignorant opinions. Got it?

  • Name

    All this guy know is how to sell cameras to camera nerds… I’ve been looking at his website and all I see is pictures of his cameras for sale. No photographs, no body of work….just pure merchant to camera geeks.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Believe me, I appreciate Bruce Gilden’s photography. And not only his street photography, but also his more photojournalistic work. So in no way am I criticizing his actual photographic achievements.

  • JapanCameraHunter

    You got a problem with that? I don’t show my personal work on my site for a damn good reason. You clearly have not looked at my site that much, otherwise you would have seen my interviews with up and coming (and established) photographers, photography project development and photo tips.
    I don’t see anything from you, just a hidden identity as you are clearly too much of a wimp to show yourself or your work.
    Go back to the rock you crawled from.

  • JapanEgoHunter

    Errr, this is just a Leica marketing stunt where a big name is paid to “teach” a bunch of “good customers” or photo bloggers with a desire for 15mins of fame from rubbing shoulders with legends. Obviously only the photographically hopeless would pay or accept being part of such a scheme (for free of course). The bloggers who blabber this out onto the interwebs are just a means to an end to keep the buzz going. They have no other merit. The workshop photos shown on the various web sites show this perfectly – irrelevant, but they made the tough master happy. I feel sorry for the human subjects being abused for such a self-serving purpose. They have been commoditised into an object for other people’s means. A good illustration that street photography is history as an art form. It’s now in the hands of the clueless, like iPhones.

  • The_Neuner

    Loved your comment Mark.

  • Mark V

    Interviewing photographers, photography project development and photo tips still does not a photographer make. Showing off that you got the BG treatment and then dismissing comments like the above show you are fundamentally unable to take criticism. I suppose everything is fine as long as it shows you as a hero. You are a photo blogger, not a photographer.

    But I forgot, you only take criticism from people who you elected.

  • Goofball Jones

    Sorry I didn’t get back sooner. No, I just hate bullies. I’m only a jerk to people that are jerks or are being jerks…otherwise I’m a pretty calm guy that tries to get along with most people. But if you go out of your way to be a jerk like this guy does, I’ll tear into you…. Verbally that is. Lol, if it becomes physical then I’ll run like a sissy.

  • Alex Broadwell

    I’m glad you put the asterisks on “Sh*t”.

    I wonder what word he’s saying.