‘Upon a Puddle Leftover’

Photographer David Gibson talks about one of his favorite images from London

By / July 2012

In the financial district of London, a puddle breaks the steady intent of feet, some rising and falling in step with the movements of the stock market, others off to the next meeting, the next appointment. Everyone negotiates the water, laid as smooth as glass on the street corner, in some way. One hops over the shallow edge. Another deviates from a straight line. Few are willing to dampen even a shoelace.

What I happen upon near Bank Station in the city centre, though, is no inconvenience. I stop and stake out a certain spot on the far side of the puddle, concealed in the shadows of some mighty granite building, eager to look into the mirror with my camera and capture some striking reflection of urban business life.

I take a series of shots, and the one I admire most is notable for its almost too-good-to-be true convergence of people. Some have called it a contemporary version of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous “Puddle Hopper” taken in Paris in the 1930s. This is a humbling praise, to which I cannot but admit that I was somewhat lucky. I was in the right place at the right time.

David Gibson, 55, lives close to London and has been taking street photographs for more than twenty years.

When I teach photography workshops in east London, near Brick Lane and Liverpool Street, I like to take my students out onto the streets. The first thing they ask once our feet hit the concrete is, “Where are we going?” I reply, “I don’t know. I don’t know where the photos are. I don’t know where the magic happens.”

Essentially, I just go looking for “my” photographs. I guess you could say my basic approach has always been: “I’ll know it when I see it.”

I’m a late starter in photography. I got my first proper camera when I was 17, but it wasn’t until I moved into my 30s that I took it more seriously. I spent much of my apprenticeship in the library or bookshops, where I fed my hungering eyes on the works of the great Magnum photographers.

I was particularly drawn to Elliott Erwitt. I enjoyed his humor, his cleverness, which resonated with me and guided me toward the sort of photographs I wanted to take. Many of my meaningful images evoke some kind of emotion or feeling. I like photographs that are a little ridiculous. They surprise and delight you with the absurdities of life. They draw you in with a slightly dark, edgy humor. They leave you asking, “What in the world is going on here?”

Still I don’t go out saying, “I want to take funny photographs.” Almost everyday I just stumble into the oddities of life, the strange things that go on around us. Chance moments are at the heart of my photography. I go out hunting for luck, even though it’s hard to determine what or where luck might be.

There is part desperation to what I do. I don’t want to miss something. Sometimes luck proves elusive, and I come back empty handed. Then there are the majestic days when the ideas stored away in my head and the hopes burned in my heart merge into reality. I get a sense of what is possible. I happen upon a puddle leftover from a morning rain shower. It may not last very long, but luck finds me and I am ready.

 

— as told to Brandon Hoops

 

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