A portrait from photographer Bruce Gilden’s 2015 book ‘Face.’
“The older I get, the closer I get.”
—Photographer Bruce Gilden on his ever-evolving creative process
In an article from 2015 on photographer Bruce Gilden’s book Face, the word “dehumanize” was used to describe the artist’s grim, unflinching portraits of people he encountered across the country who in many cases had fallen on desperate, dire times. With craggy and withered faces beat by the street or the horrific effects of drug and alcohol abuse that manifests itself by destroying skin and teeth, Gilden’s subjects are unsettling to look at for so many reasons. It is nearly impossible to not feel empathy for them—an emotion that also might give the viewer cause to reconsider Gilden’s motivation for taking the intimate images. Bruce Gilden is no amateur. He is an artist who has honed his craft on the streets of New York and elsewhere for the better part of 40 years. Gilden also doesn’t really care if you don’t like his work, an admirable personality trait when it comes to the world of art and other creative pursuits. It’s a gift to be able to do something really well while giving zero fucks about what other people think.
When discussing his own personal style of photography, Gilden is quick to mention his obsession with professional wrestling, noting that his favorite wrestlers were always the “ugly” ones and that TV wrestling typically goes in for grimacing close-ups. Growing up in Brooklyn also afforded the budding photographer much in the way of inspiration thanks to the human diversity of his surroundings in New York City. Though he is considered to be self-taught, Gilden did enroll in night courses at the School of Visual Arts in New York before dropping out of Penn State where he was pursuing a degree in Sociology. Gilden and his camera have traveled all over the world taking pictures of Russian drug dealers and criminals running amok in a small rural town; members of the highly guarded Yakuza; and what is likely his most famous series of photos taken of beachgoers and other assorted nut-jobs who flock to Coney Island to let their freak flags fly.
Gilden’s work has been featured in many books, has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and his life was the subject of the 2007 documentary film Misery Loves Company: The Life and Death of Bruce Gilden. Thankfully for all of us, the title of the doc is merely a clever play on words and Gilden is still very much with us and continues getting up close and entirely too personal with his subjects. I must be honest with you, many of the images that follow are incredibly difficult to look at. But they are no different from the faces that most of us divert our eyes away from on a daily basis. And that’s a fact.
“Angel” photographed in Florida.
More after the jump…