scribbling in the dark - photographer's talks: scribbling in the dark - Richards & Gilden 2008

The scribbing in the dark series is a group of personal reflection writings on photography gatherings and slideshows. My notes are scribbled quickly in a tiny notebook, usually in a darkened room, so I ask in advance that you read the words below as my own recollections.  


scribbling in the dark - Eugene Richards & Bruce Gilden at David Alan Harvey's Loft, 2008 

KELLY, KIRSTEN, NANCY and JF and his wife SUSAN and I met ahead of time for dinner at The Diner, which, though at some point it may have been a diner, is now more of a swank hangout..drink and food was lovely, as was the conversation..then over to DAHs 

When we arrived a dry run or something was happening for the slideshow, and the party was upstairs in the loft..lots of happy faces, chatting, drinking as is expected. If you haven't been, there are STACKS of amazing, often signed, photo books all around, which many people flip through and discuss; and then I can't help but move the cast offs back to their piles, away from all the beer bottles..I finally met sweet ANNA B, and we caught up quickly and naturally; she was tired of course, but full.. 

The slideshow was ready, we all moved downstairs..the long hall that lead to the room was lined with large prints from the photographers who took the workshop, a teaser. 

The room filled, most of us on the floor, and David started off the evening, saying it is hard for the emerging photographer to photograph his own life, but that is what he asks of us. That everyone says they want freedom but that they don't know what to do with it once they have it..that at the workshop, he wants to offer the students their freedom, with support. 

David said he saw Eugene when he was younger, and he immediately understood that he would be a key person in his life, someone that showed david that it was possible for him to go after his own freedom. 

EUGENE: David got me here again.. 

He started talking about his story Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, that he initiated for Life Magazine, but he had to continue it on his own..said he can't stop till it's done. 

98% of the people he photographed are now dead from overdosing, from AIDS..people with whom he built trust and wonderful relationships. 

EUGENE: I sort of mumble around into photographs.. 

He showed an image of a woman that he said spoke t no one, but who wrote lengthy ;etter to God..she was murdered.. 

He showed an image of a large man holding up his guns, and said people often ask how he got that shot.. 

EUGENE: He asked me to take it, and he isn't someone you argue with... :) 

PAUSE for SUSHI...will return xo 


Speaking of breaks, at this point Eugene said 

Sometimes I take a break; it's good to get away from death and dying and go to something life affirming.. 

He started a series on birth, I think these were people he sort of fell into, and they turned out to be "incredibly beautiful people" . 

EUGENE: The project I am working on now is kind of naive; I hit a point and I had to do something. 

That something is his powerful, stunningly meaningful piece War is Personal. He is working with a combination of photos and text to show how war has affected some who are here, at home. 

EUGENE: I find in this case, the photos (alone) don't do it. 

The intensely tender and intimate narratives in text he has included read like a work of literary fiction, but are all too real for those living these stories. The man himself is serene, quietly quick witted, lovely and abundantly sincere, and the room was filled with reverence. 

After an embrace with David, David said to Eugene 

Wow, that's too much.. 

EUGENE: It is too much.. 

DAH: You have to believe you make a difference, putting a brick in the wall at least, and trying. I can't think of a more noble thing when it comes to photography. 


DAH: I've got one of these online things, and they are influenced by people like you. And because of this community, someone donated 5K..I don't even know this person in person.. I'd be so honored if you Gene, Jim (James N. was in attendance) would be on my board; I know you appreciate many kinds of photography..we'll get some people at Aperture. I know that it's not a big deal, but maybe we'll help some of these people. 


cookie break.. 


DAH is introducing Bruce Gilden 

DAH: Bruce Gilden is not someone I know so well. I'm thinking when Bruce goes to Alaska, I can't wait to see what he'll do.. 

BRUCE: I'm not going to Alaska anymore, I'm going to... 

DAH: See, I said I don't him so well...He attacks people with his camera, we all love them (the images) 

BRUCE: We don't ALL love them! 

DAH: But he's the warmest, nicest, family guy, a humanist.. 

BRUCE: You better stop NOW! 

Bruce comes to the front to start his slideshow, DAH sits down 

DAH: Take as much time as you want.. 

BRUCE: Of course I will; you think I'm gonna listen to you? 

So this is the man, funny, in your face, playful and breathing his own sort of interconnectedness into the room. 

He says in 1968 he started photographing, and took to heart what Capa said, if it's not good enough, you're not close enough. He works on long, extended projects, but gave his narration of the same in quick spotty bursts. 

So here on the screen is the image of a man on the beach, holding up a basketball with one finger. Bruce says, I used to be really good at basketball, I could jump crazy high, but I could never have done that. I watched this guy for over a minute, holding that ball, and I finally got up the nerve to go over to him and ask about it (this I find oddly paradoxical, this man of incredible nerve, finding difficulty in the approach) and of course the answer was that there was a hole in the ball... 

BRUCE: For someone who doesn't like to talk to people, I strike up a lot of converstations. It's because I'm comfortable with THESE kind of people. 

BRUCE: I believe when you go to a new place, photograph right away, because it's fresh for you. I have a schedule when I photograph, I wake up early and go out and shoot, have breakfast and then go out again. 

BRUCE: My pictures are symbolic; I like the viewer to make up little stories about them. 

Now in the slideshow it's 1984, and he's shooting NYC, and he still is.. 

BRUCE: Backgrounds are very important for me.." 

These bits of information come peppered in between quirky commentary, possibly irreverent at times, potentially the kinds of musings that might make you wince a little if you are unaccustomed to his breed of humor, but are tempered with fine art references..In a short slideshow, he alluded to Gaugin, Chagall and Bacon. 

BRUCE: I have to live with these pictures, so I have to make up stories about them. 

To me, the photos seem as if they are effortless outcroppings, but Bruce reveals about an image of a man lying on the sidewalk among the legs of passerbys, that it took him about a half of an hour to get the shot. He said he had to keep jumping up and going back down to the ground, because if he had laid down, the people would have gone around him too and he wanted them in the frame. 

Interestingly, he said he sometimes brought his subjects bottles of drink; Sake when he was working on GO. 

At the end of his slideshow, to Bruce 

DAH: That was absolutely perfect. 

One more installment.. 


DAH: Marie asked me awile ago why not offer my workshop at home, and I thought to make it the kind of workshop that I wished I could have taken. So that's what I do now, and I have 12 students here with me in my home..It's gotta be one of the hardest workshops anyone can take. I don't tell them to do anything, I just mirror who they are. They have 4 to 5 shooting days, which come down to 3 days of misery, to 2 days of shooting because they have 3 days of musing, figuring out what to do. This was the tardiest class, late, truant...but let's see what they did. I'm proud of them. 

Right off the bat I was stuck that in some pieces there was audio now, recorded by the photographer, embracing the whole move toward MM. The work was everything from playful to tight to gorgeous to dreamy to intimate and amazing with a sadness and an almost theatrical sense of disconnectedness. Here in last bit of my running sentence, I'm talking aboutthe powerful work of one fine photographer named Ashe..Dah said later of this work that it was "incredibly interpretive". In the moments when I watched DAH watching the slideshows, I saw his joyful bouncing dance, I saw a happy man..caring, concerned and engaged.. 

DAH: I couldn't really leave the building during the workshop, someone could freak out at any point and call or come back, and I had to be here for them.. 

One of the photographers the house seemed to enjoy was Nicholas, who seemingly has found a great influence in Gilden. His series, I believe, was called Wall Street Paranoia. I checked out Bruce as he watched this, if I am not mistaken, I think I saw a toss of the head, and a smile..afterwards, I talked with Bruce about N's work briefly, he handed an economical compliment, saying that N was good with the foreground..'you know, like putting a pole in front of someone'... 

What more? I got a kiss on the cheek from Eugene, shared a brief glass of bubbly with his beautiful wife. Got to hang out more with Anna B, and my dear Mike. Got to talk more with lurker Joel (come out of hiding!) who I first met at LOOK, and the view from the roof was beautiful and clear. A perfect night, really...wish you ALL could have been there. 

September 20, 2008 



i was blown away by your report....without your note taking and clear assessment, i would have forgotten much of it!!! 

the one thing that would be enlightening even for you would be if you came by sometime during the week when we were actually putting it all see the photographers struggle for an idea, to see the daily critique, to watch the "miracle" of discovery...and , yes, to see the chaos that precedes every powerful presentation...chaos turned into the very show you so eloquently described... 

i wish we had more time to chat friday know how it is when you are the host of the party...i spend a lot of time just making sure things are ok with everyone.. 

anyway, perhaps we meet sometime this week??? 


cheers, david 

Posted by: david alan harvey | September 21, 2008 at 09:24 AM 


I would love to come by during the week of the next workshop to see process, and I will, thank you, tell me when is a good time, anything after 5 usually works for me, any day.. 

but what I need to know from you is if there is a clear deadline yet for the EPF upload, I am scrambling to get things together, I need to manage my time wisely as I am really not nearly ready, have LOADS to do. And I really don't want to screw up and not be ready to my own standards. 

Re: this week, do I need to have stuff to show you or are we just chilling? 

You are/were a gracious, expansive (scattered!) host. You do better than anyone could expect in such circumstances (I didn't get much time with Marie, either, but that is how parties go)..I am glad the report was up to snuff. Scribbling in the dark was a challenge indeed, but I have learned to read even the worst of my own writing. And still, I saw / felt every image, so nothing lost in playing reporter.. 

Posted by: erica mcdonald | September 21, 2008 at 09:38 AM