New York Photo Review
Volume 5 Issue 2 January 14 to 20, 2014

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

In Your Face
Bruce Gilden
A Complete Examination of Middlesex

Photo by Bruce Gilden . Source: Bruce Gilden, "London" 2012

As iconic street photographers go, Bruce Gilden is no Cartier-Bresson and he will be the first to admit it. Gilden is best known for creating his own kind of decisive moments by literally sticking his camera and flash into the face of his subjects and firing away without asking permission. He says, “What I’m searching for when I walk the street are people I can engage with: somebody whose face, and particularly eyes, scream a story.” He looks for what he calls “characters” and given that much of his work has been done on New York City streets, he’s had no trouble finding them. Still, he chooses his subjects carefully because he knows taking close-up pictures of strangers can be hazardous. In a PBS interview, he said, “Some [people] are taken unawares, some are surprised. Some didn’t know what hit them. And I think most people like to be photographed. But since I work in a spontaneous way, I have to be a little bit sneaky because I don’t want them to know that I’m going to take a picture of them.”

Over the course of his 40-plus year career, his no-holds-barred in-your-face approach has brought him much recognition, (including a Guggenheim fellowship, a number of books including Foreclosure, Haiti, and Coney Island,) as well as disdain for his methods and attitude from some quarters.

Photo by Bruce Gilden . Source: Bruce Gilden, "London" 2012

That said, Gilden’s new work now at Higher Pictures is a radical departure from his past––this is the first time he actually asked his subjects for permission to take their photograph. The three (yes, three) black and white images in the exhibition are from his recently published book, “A Complete Examination of Middlesex;” it’s a stunning, sometimes hard to look at collection of portraits that the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) commissioned him to take on the streets of London between 2011-2013. (The AMC is a London-based organization known for publishing high quality books and amassing a vast archive of objects and vernacular photography.)

Photo by Bruce Gilden . Source: Bruce Gilden, "London" 2012

For this exhibition, Gilden chose to show just three larger than life portraits – each one is about 65 x 47 inches. They’re basically mug shots, all extreme close-ups of faces you don’t want to look at very long–– and maybe that’s Gilden’s point. There’s no escaping them here as they take over the gallery space. One image is of a man (Well, I think it’s a man) with bad, very bad, teeth. His long hair frames his face and he looks at the camera wide-eyed. I can’t imagine Gilden using his usual surprise approach to take his picture. Another photo is of a man with one eye, the other one is useless, almost shut. You wonder how that happened. The last picture is of an old woman with leathery, wrinkled skin. She has clearly seen better days. Again, it feels like Gilden wants us to take a closer look at these people. Frankly, I’d rather see them in the book “A Complete Examination of Middlesex” along with dozens of the other “characters” Gilden stopped on London’s streets. While the faces in the gallery may “scream a story,” I’m just not into this chapter.

Bruce Gilden
A Complete Examination of Middlesex

Higher Pictures
980 Madison Ave.
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212 249 6100

Thursday, December 12 to
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Hours: Tues - Sat 11 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat