Bruce Gilden

by Sunday, January 21, 2018

Born in 1946, Bruce Gilden and his photography are inextricably linked. Hours as a child looking at tough guys on the bustling streets of Brooklyn from his second-story window shaped Gilden’s attraction to his photographic subjects, which he fondly refers to as “characters”.

After studying sociology at Penn State University, Gilden felt drawn to photography as a lifestyle after seeing Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic 1966 film Blow Up and he decided that he, too, would become a photographer. In 1968, he bought himself a cheap Miranda camera and took a few evening classes at the School of Visual Arts. Those early classes aside, Gilden is essentially self-taught. To support his burgeoning photography habit he drove a New York yellow cab, but found that the job left him no time to take pictures. So he quit and began driving a truck part-time for his father’s business, walking the streets with his camera on his days off. Since then, Bruce Gilden has continued to focus on strong characters and to apply Robert Capa’s mantra to his own work: “if the picture isn’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”.

While he drove every winter to photograph the famous “Mardi Gras” in New Orleans (just published in his last book Hey Mister Throw Me Some Beads!), Gilden’s first long-term personal project, which he worked on from 1968 until the late 1980’s, was on Coney Island, the legendary New York beach. The strong dynamic forms of these images have come together in his book Coney Island, published in 2002.
In 1984, Bruce Gilden began to work in Haiti where he returned for the next ten years more than a dozen times for three-week stretches. describing himself as “drawn to the people’s singular blend of passion and apathy, cruelty and fatalism, resilience and desperation”. Gilden’s work was published in 1996 in the book Haiti, which won the European Publisher’s Award for Photography.

Published in 2000, Gilden’s next book, Go, the title of which refers to the classic strategic board game popular in the East, was a penetrating look at Japan’s darker side. Go’s images divide into three subjects: Yakuza gangs (the Japanese Mafia); the homeless and street life in general; and Bosozoku or young biker gangs. After years spent traveling around the world on commissions and personal projects in India where he photographed holy gatherings, gypsies in Portugal and Romania and “bad guys” in Russia and Australia, in 2008 Bruce Gilden went back to photograph in his own country. At the time of the American historical pre-election. Gilden captured the sorrow of Americans affected by foreclosures and the melancholy of abandoned homes. His work in Florida became the first segment of “No Place Like Home” a project that would lead him between 2009 and 2011 to Detroit, Michigan; Fresno, California and Reno-Las Vegas, Nevada. The book Foreclosures was published in 2013.


Upon returning from Europe where he had been photographing the streets in London on a commission for Archive of Modern Conflict (published in A Complete Examination of Middlesex, 2013), Gilden felt the need for a change: as he was participating in the Magnum collective project “Postcards From America” in Rochester, New York, Gilden experimented digital color photography. In the next two episodes of “Postcards” in Florida and Milwaukee in 2013, Gilden took the change even further, adopting a new style: close up portraits of people’s faces in color. This recent work has been published last July in the book Face.
In 2015, Gilden returned to candid photography in black and white to photograph in the streets of New York, Paris, Manchester, Hong Kong and Johannesburg on a commission for RATP the Parisian transportation system. The work was exhibited in 17 Parisian metro stations throughout the summer 2015, and the book Un Nouveau Regard sur la Mobilité Urbaine will be released in April 2016.

Bruce Gilden’s work has been exhibited widely around the world and is part of many permanent collections such as MOMA, New York, Victoria & Albert Museum, London and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. In March, 2015 his recent work was exhibited in a group show, “Strange and Familiar, Britain as revealed by international photographers” at the Barbican Art Museum in London.

In 2013 he became a recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. Bruce Gilden joined Magnum Photos in 1998. Already the recipient of numerous grants and awards (among them three National Endowment for the Arts and a Japan Foundation Fellowship) in 2013, Bruce Gilden became the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Bruce Gilden joined Magnum Photos in 1998.

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