“Thank God for photography” are some of Bruce Gilden’s words to describe what photography means to him. The 71-year-old street photographer is best known for his candid close-up photos of random people in the streets of New York, using flashgun. Apart from having several books of his work published, Bruce has also received the European Publishers Award for Photography and is a Guggenheim Fellow. Bruce has captured the dark side of urban life with a flash in his hand, and his photos are an exercise in soul searching
Gilden’s often-confrontational take on street photography is framed within his modern-day film noir sensibility. He started his career back in 1968, and has been compared to legendary street photographers like Weegee, William Klein, and Lisette Model. These photographers were famous because they managed to create their own attitude and perception of the world. Fifty years later, Gilden did that for himself, too.
“The face is the environment,” Gilden tells TIME, after returning from recent trips to the Iowa and Wisconsin State Fairs, where he made these portraits. Some also consider his work as aggressive, but it is indeed beautiful.
“I wanted to do faces like this for fifteen years, sort of like mug shots,” Gilden says. “If you go back and look at compendiums from Paris or from LA you’ll see all these criminal types, so that always fascinated me,” he adds. “These guys had no pretense about being artists or anything. They were just doing their job. The Leica S camera enabled me to do this kind of picture.”
He does not want to explain the exact meaning of his photographs. “When people look at my pictures I don’t want to tell them what’s in the pictures. I want them to look at the picture and make up their own story.”
However, he likes to share his process and technique. “I’m blunt,” he says in his thick Brooklyn accent. “And I think that has a lot to do with the strength of my pictures. The older I get, the closer I get. I don’t want to be sneaky. I’m upfront and blunt. I’m self-assured and I treat people respectfully.” When photographing his latest series called ‘Farm Boys and Farm Girls’ he says, “they’re very much in touch with life and death in a way that’s natural.”
One famous picture that he captured was of an Iowa boy who had enormous tears on his face. He was actually crying because his cow had to be taken out of a contest at a Street Fair. “So I went to the mother and we had a nice conversation and she said it was okay if I take a picture of her son. I felt bad for the kid because I know what it is to work for years and then in a whole moment, something falls apart that’s out of your control. So I empathize with the kid, but at the end of the day, I’m a photographer.”
The photographer often thinks about his childhood in Brooklyn whenever he experiences pain while photographing. “I had a very tough childhood emotionally, and I knew things that children shouldn’t know, and I kept it inside of me my entire life,” he adds. “My past was totally negative, but I used it as positive and it gave me that strength in my photos. And I’ve never changed.”
Here are some of his thoughts about his latest portraits.
“It’s America. I’m an American photographer and the farm boys and farm girls are very Middle America, and that’s a part of America I don’t know well,” he says. “I enjoy learning about people, seeing where they live, talking to them.”
Also, he added that he likes the viewers to feel the soul of the person who is being photographed. Here are some of his best shots.
1. Nathan, Iowa State Fair, 2017.
In the video below, Bruce speaks more about his work.
2. Trinity, Iowa State Fair, 2017
3. Cody, Iowa State Fair, 2017
4. Katelyn, Wisconsin State Fair, 2017
5. Keith, Wisconsin State Fair, 2017
6. Jean, Wisconsin State Fair, 2017
7. Zach, Wisconsin State Fair, 2017
8. Wisconsin Gabby, Wisconsin State Fair, 2017
9. Jenna, Iowa State Fair, 2017
10. Caleb, Wisconsin State Fair, 2017
11. Morgan, Iowa State Fair, 2017
Here are some excellent tips on how to improve your photography skills.