“I’m known for taking pictures very close, and the older I get, the closer I get” – Bruce Gilden
Judge of our 2022 Street Photography Award, Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden is one of the finest practitioners of our time, renowned for his visceral depictions of others.
Few photographers possess a style as striking and recognizable as Gilden, who is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential street photographers in the genre’s illustrious history.
Born in Brooklyn, NYC, in 1946, he was raised in a household, that, in his own words ‘had no books and no culture whatsoever’. Upon reflection, he asserts that watching TV as a child had a strong influence on his later practice, but it wasn’t until the age of 18, when he began visiting the museums of his home city to look at paintings, that his conscious interest in the arts truly fomented.
“I don’t think that any of the artists inspired me to become a photographer but there was one artist who strongly affected me: Van Gogh. The paintings were dramatic with striking colors even though when I started photographing it was always in black and white.”
Shortly after, he enrolled in a Sociology course at Penn State University, but finding his classes boring, he quit, and after briefly flirting with the idea of becoming an actor, purchased his first camera instead.
New York and street photography share an unshakeable synonymity; the city provides endless inspiration for generations of talented practitioners. Growing up, Gilden observed quotidian life on the streets with profound fascination, and this sensibility set the foundations for his practice, inspiring him to document his surroundings with his newly-acquired 35mm Leica.
A handful of evening classes at New York’s School of Visual Arts aside, he is entirely self-taught. His intuitive, in-your-face style was inspired by Robert Capa’s iconic proclamation, “if it’s not good enough, you are not close enough”, which Gilden asserts, “ immediately affected me”.
He forged his reputation on the streets of his home city, transcribing the theatre of everyday life in his distinct, confrontational, manner. Shot barely an arm’s length from his subjects, using flash, his early works are visceral, compelling, and unreservedly forthright, pervaded with grit, humor, and intrigue.
After achieving success with his depictions of his New York City, as well as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, he would go on to work further afield, notably, in Japan during the second half of the 1990s, and Haiti, which he first visited in 1984. He subsequently returned on more than twenty occasions, culminating in the publication of the eponymous photo book in 1996.
He has gone on to release over twenty additional monographs over the course of his career, including, Black Country, published earlier this year by Setanta. Over the course of a three-week stay in the English Midlands, Gilden chronicled the ever-changing face of post-industrialized Britain.
He portrays the marginalized and neglected communities in these former industrial heartlands with trademark veracity and an intensity even more profound than hitherto, embodying his assertion, “I’m known for taking pictures very close, and the older I get, the closer I get.”
Gilden may be five and a half decades into a remarkable career, but his passion and drive endure. He remains dedicated to his craft, continuing to work in the same uncompromising manner as he did when he first picked up a camera, whilst constantly hunting for new streets to explore.
“There are plenty of places, in particular the ones that are still in a time warp and where people bear the scars of life in their being. I think about this all the time, I’m open to suggestions!”