Bruce Gilden’s In-Your-Face Street Photography

Bruce Gilden is a street photographer that I incredibly admire. Although there is definitely a lot of controversy over his style of street photography (aggressive and in-your-face), there is no doubt that he is one of the best contemporary street photographers alive. He is a part of the street photography agency called Magnum Photos and has been shooting Japan’s Yakuza gangsters, the homeless, prostitutes, as well as ordinary people on the street for decades. His images show the true characters of people–unposed, raw, and gritty. The fact that he also uses a flash when he shoots gives his images a third dimension and is his patented technique.

Recently New York Photographer and Filmmaker Cheryl Dunn has announced her new documentary on New York street photography titled “Everyone Street.” I stumbled upon a short video clip of Bruce Gilden and knew that I had to share it with the rest of you guys. You can see the guy gets a lot of crap on the street for his style of street photography but still treats it like a walk in the park. I think we can all learn a lesson from the guy and have more balls on the streets.

via The New Yorker

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  1. He might take good pictures, but he seems to aggressive for my taste – at least on the examples on the film clip. What right does he have to smash a camera and a flash right up in the face of people? Does he document the urban life or does he generate reactions, which he is shooting?
    I prefer the “spider on the wall” style, where life around is documented and not necessarily disturbed, rather than “the elephant in a porcelain (China) store method”.
    His methods and results might be Art for somebody – and Art can be and should be provocative at times. But yes, if he jumped at my family, then he would get a reaction for sure.
    It seems that he is shooting film (?), so he cannot even immediately show the result of the “attack” to explain and end up with a happy victim. Donate a life west to this guy.

    1. That’s a good point, it seems most of the time he photographs the RESULT of the provocation, and not real life. I can see why we admire his daring-ness though. I tried street photography for the first time this past week, and it really feels as though I have to invade others’ personal space most of the time—if we want to create an interesting shot anyway…

  2. I just love the guy and his work. He is a great inspiration to dare shooting in the streets. If he would jump at my family or me, I would “attack” back with my cam! That’s for sure! ;)

  3. Bruce Gilden is a disgrace for street photography and photography overall. I know these are very harsh worse. But he is a person who lacks empathy and respect for the individuals he photographs; the fact that he takes good photos (which I won’t argue with) is not an excuse.

    His photography is obviously and inarguably offensive to a lot of people, and I would go as far to say that it probably ruins the reputation of photographers. We already have a society, in the western world, where a lot of people are afraid of the camera. There is no way Bruce Gilden helps getting people comfortable with getting photographed.

    I have a strong opinion in the matter of ethics, and I believe that it’s important to always to think of the subject with as much respect as possible; no matter who you’re photographing.

  4. I also have a very strong opinion about ethics. But that is a deep and complex subject that would require a long time to discuss . Here is my question (the one I have asked myself many times): Is it more ethic to systematically take pictures of beggars, homeless, mentally ill persons, etc. with a zoom than to shoot ordinary people right at their faces?

  5. Whats the goal?
    Are his photos that ‘great” which would justify his being so intrusive?
    How would anyone of us feel if we had him using that technique on us?
    Wheres the decency of personal space?
    Is it his photos that one admires or his cajones?

    1. Every one has his/her own style of photographing in the streets. Bruce has his way of doing it. Take a look at some of his images where people are so close to him that you can almost feel they are passing you by. It’s amazing piece of photography! The way he works is a different story.

      1. so, the age old the results justify the means?
        Its amazing because some people seem to like that “deer caught in the headlights” look..
        as for me,,,,well, there are boundries and with a gazillion plus one photographers/photos out there
        its doesn’t seem to ME to be worth the intrusiveness of his technique though the way he took the
        Coney Island Photos seem to be less obnoxious.

  6. Bruce is one of my favorites too. I don’t like the way he works in the streets, it’s just to invasive for me, but the images he produces are stunning. He once said “”If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph”. And his images are great proof of that :)

    The gangster essay Eric referred to you can see here:

    One more thing – Magnum Photos – they are not “street photography agency” – they are one of the best independent photography agencies in the world – established and owned by its photographer members. They do different kind of jobs besides street photography too. But yes, I agree there is a fabulous bunch of street photographers among the Magnum members – Gilden included :)

  7. I dont think i could bring my self to be so intrusive no matter what it did for the results. Street photography for me should be about a natural event and i dont see anything natural about being getting in peoples face like this. Saying that it works for him and can give some great results. I wonder how many times he has taken a punch to the mouth for this.

  8. I question his ethics in violating one’s personal space in that way. He has the 1st Amendment to support his right to take pictures in public; however, he doesn’t have a similiar right to fire his flash at random people. It’s assault. It would be no different if I fired an air-horn in the face of passers-by. The “I’m not touching you” defense doesn’t work with six-year-olds, and it certainly wouldn’t work with adults.

    I’m surprised he still has his teeth

  9. Gilden is has been a favorite of mine for a while now. No street photographer has more guts than him.

    I love the video of him shooting in the street right at the 37 second mark where he has that physical altercation with a young woman. Absolutely classic when he walks away and kind of pushes back against her after she hits him. Priceless.

  10. this dude is like a one man paparazzi targeting ordinary people…completely shameless and without dignity.

  11. I am sure he did not jump into the faces of the Yakuza and those English gangsters, I looked at his photos on Magnum and those he knew would have no problem taking him out, he was either stealth when taking their photos or seem to have asked them to allow him access. Ordinary people however he he jumps at and I am sure he picks his victims by the amount of least harm he thinks he can expect from them. His methods make it bad and dangerous for others, can’t he achieve the same thing by waiting until someone walked into his frame. I do not approve and if he jumped at me I would beat him with my 5D !!!

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