Bruce Kirschner, Photographer

From celebrity photographer to the magical streets of Manhattan, his muse …

What a wonderful interview I had with Bruce Kirschner, magnificent street photographer from New York City! 

Bruce has been ‘shooting semi pro’ since he was 22.

He is 71 and at times ‘17’. A “Baby Boomer” who came up in the 60s, at the tail end of the Beatnik Era, in a remarkable place called Greenwich Village, in New York City.  So said, his sensibilities (if you will) are largely bohemian in nature.

 Following his discharge from the Army in 1969, he went to the Veteran’s Administration requesting his educational benefits to study photography.  After enduring their extensive battery of (at the time) absurd aptitude testing, he was advised that the results indicated that he exhibited neither the temperament, nor the talent to be a photographer.  In response, he thanked them for their time and within the next few days, bought a used Yashica rangefinder, and has been shooting ever since.  

In all fairness, it should be noted that shooting was not his mainstay until just nine years ago.  Prior to that, he had a family, was employed corporately for well over 30 years in the capacity of a VP of Sales for three of this county’s top healthcare software organizations.  Throughout that time, shooting was his emotional mainstay, primary release from tension, and the “happy place” that he went to, to provide himself with the creative balance that he so desperately needed in his life.  

In 2009 he stepped away from corporate, stepped out of a marriage, and went “pro.”

First and foremost his admiration is for Robert Capa... “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”  The wonderful Hungarian rogue, who to this day still exemplifies the darkly good looking, hard drinking, hard living, hard loving, conflict photographer of legend.    

Another admiration would certainly be Bill Cunningham:  The iconic New York Times street photographer, whose images twice weekly captured and confirmed (if not created) fashion trends in both New York and beyond.  Bill, clad in his blue French workingman’s jacket, would ride his bike down Fifth Avenue, make a single image with his very simple digital Nikon, hop back on his bike and ride away... his eyes scanning the street for his next subject.  To this day Bruce mostly follow Bill’s example of making one shot only, and moving on.  

For Bruce, there was no better way to validate his eye, than to be shooting people in sub-zero temps in Union Square, or at the Easter Parade, and to look to his right, and to see Bill standing next to him, shooting the same scene.  Bruce had a nodding acquaintance with Bill (which in itself is saying something), and still remains saddened by his death.  

 Side note:  If you’re not familiar with Bill, there is a wonderful documentary available on line called “Bill Cunningham’s New York.”  Really well worth seeing.

 There are a number of others, but another that Bruce greatly admires would be Ed van der Elsken, and his absolutely outstanding photo study called “Love on the Left Bank”.  It’s an incredibly, gritty, black & white study of post war Bohemian life in Paris.  Long out of print, save for a facsimile copy that may still be available on eBay, this book is one of Bruce’s prized possessions, and has had a profound effect on him and the style that he has come to develop.
Last, he wants to acknowledge the Zen Master and photographer the late John Daido Loori.  The Abbot of the order that Bruce was once affiliated with. He was a nature photographer who said “You don’t choose your subjects. Your subjects choose you.” It took Bruce awhile to acknowledge this, but this has, even in street shooting, indeed proven to be true.

Bruce defers a philosophy in photography to the young and to the pretentious.  He is a street photographer... ‘That’s who I am and that’s what I do’.  In an obit, somebody referred to Bill Cunningham as an “Urban Anthropologist.” When enough time has passed, he is going to steal that description for himself ….
Bruce’s personal preference and a fondness for the graininess of Kodak’s TriX B&W film, was his preference from the 70s through 2001.  The move to digital came shortly after 9/11 – but that’s a story for a different day.

 On the street, he is drawn to the way that a person carries themselves... to the way that they move... kinesiology.   That’s what attracts Bruce to somebody.  That’s what captures his eye.  Beauty is secondary, to the point where in many of images, his subject’s face is hidden in shadow... or else they’re shot from behind.  He also prefers to work in close and candidly, and that imbues his work with a certain intimacy and that to-date he has been able to effectively communicate to his viewers.  An unguarded moment... An unconscious gesture.

Unless Bruce is working under contract, he does not really spend too much time thinking about specific themes, or making specific plans per se.

Most of his themed images are born of the moment and carried through a given day’s shooting.  At this point there are two exceptions that are significant.  The first he really can’t speak about in detail, as it’s being considered for publication under corporate sponsorship.

The one that he can talk about is incredibly exciting for him, as it’s the basis for his first ever solo exhibition, in November, in New York City, under the title of “New York Noir.” This will be a subset of the larger photo grouping that he is currently compiling for publication in 2019 – also under that name.

 Bruce is fortunate that he does not have to travel far for his subjects in photography; he simply wanders the streets of Manhattan, looking for people/places/things that capture his interest.  He uses a simple “street kit” of Fujifilm X rangefinders that are compact, unobtrusive and incredibly effective, and most of his work is completely spontaneous.

A spontaneous moment is captured all the time... As a street photographer, inspiration and execution are both tied to capturing a given moment in time... and then moving on to the next.

Bruce does not feel that his photography is crafted to convey a “message” per se.  What he believes, what he strives to achieve, is that every image that he takes will tell a story... either alone or in a narrative group... just tell a story.

He does however derive pleasure knowing that for many of his international social media followers and friends, his images are to a good degree, their introduction to the city that he so loves, New York. 

When not walking the streets of the Big Apple, Bruce is a cable news junkie, a movie lover, an avid reader, a former rock climber, at one time quite accomplished at fencing - foil and sabre, and again, a former nationally competitive archer. 

He loves old black & white detective/crime movies on Turner Classic Movies at 3AM... and of late, a very tall, elegant blonde that I’ve grown quite close with!

His message to aspiring photographers is to read Charles Bukowski’s “So You Want to be a Writer?” and substitute the word “Photographer.”  Forget about making iconic photos and just make photos... 

Pick up your camera and make pictures... ‘If they satisfy you a week afterwards, enjoy the feeling, if they don’t, take note of what you dislike and learn from it’. ‘If photography is your passion, don’t ever let anybody try to dissuade you from being a photographer.  You’ll pay dues... sometimes heavy dues’.  

All Bruce wants to say is that for him it’s been entirely worth it!

We would like to wish Bruce all the best with his forthcoming solo in November, in New York City, under the title of “New York Noir. Please continue bringing your touch of magic to the viewers!

 →Bruce Kirschner's oficial website