Social outcasts and the unique are the subjects of Brooklyn photographer, Bruce Gilden. Using his camera to get up-close images, Gilden has snapped photographs in Coney Island and around the world which focus on people who are normally ‘unphotographable.’ Gilden has made these outcasts move inside as subjects of great art.
‘I’m known for taking pictures very close, and the older I get, the closer I get.’
That’s how Bruce Gilden describes his ever-developing photography style. Born in Brooklyn in 1946, the now 68-year-old artist is still exploring the people and places of the world, and presenting them to us in rich detail.
A local New Yorker, Gilden’s most iconic images are those of the eclectic people that inhabit the city and surrounding areas. Not one to shy away from the odd and offbeat, Gilden began his career by photographing the crazy characters that we see every day. Up close and personal. His first collection comprised of those peculiar people that could be found out on Coney Island, during the 1960s.
The people he photographs are hardly models in the traditional sense. They are, however, amazing representations of the diversity of the human condition. Gilden’s eye for these wonderful specimens is what started his career as an artist. His images can make you smile, laugh, gasp in surprise, or just stare in bewilderment. Everybody he photographs has a fascinating story. It’s a great exercise for the viewer to try to decipher that story.
Gilden’s signature simplicity derives itself from his basic equipment. Often armed with nothing more than a camera and a flashgun, Gilden is mobile and able to explore the wildest edges of the world. After beginning his career in New York, Gilden has since branched out across the globe. He’s captured the decay of the once-great Detroit, the unpredictable and dangerous Yakuza mobsters of Japan, and the ferociously wild mobsters of rural Russia. Without Gilden’s eye for the outliers, we would never get glimpses into these worlds.
Perhaps the most admirable quality about Bruce Gilden is his fearlessness. Not many would be comfortable on the same side of the street as some of his subjects, let alone being face-to- face. This is what makes his photographs so compelling. It allows the viewer, from a safe distance, to examine some of society’s outsiders. The art gives us the opportunity to try to better understand those whom we might otherwise avoid or overlook. Gilden puts their humanity on full display.
As Gilden himself puts it, ‘I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images, I live with them.’
Lucky for us Gilden has such fascinating friends. And because he has, we get to live with them, too.
By Tucker Johnson
Native Bostonian, philosophy major at Colgate University, and back-up vocalist/rhythm guitar player in an emerging Hootie and the Blowfish cover band, Tucker currently resides in Manhattan and is enjoying writing about his new city. He also enjoys light amounts of exercise, most appetizers, and Sunday night premium cable.