Current Feature: Bruce Gilden
Andrea: You have said that you see yourself in all the people you photograph and I agree that when you take a picture it is about you. What is it about these people that you identify with?
Bruce: I find that the people are real and I like real people. I have been married three times and all of my wives have said that nobody reads people like me, and I believe that. There is a lot of work that goes into this. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life and I've almost died on drugs. I’ve been around the block. My father was a tough guy and my mother… we won’t get into, but that’s the genesis of this project. I've had a tough emotional life. This all comes from inside me and I think the portraits are really strong. In fact, I think it’s among the best portraiture of the twentieth century, and I'm not even saying that with an ego. I started looking for a project about people that are left behind, and in the process I found out these people are invisible and dehumanized. To me, these people are beautiful.
Andrea: If you care about your viewer, what would you like them to take away after seeing your work?
Bruce: Look, I do the pictures for me. Anyone who tells you they do photography for the community, I don’t always buy it. I do the pictures because there is a need to do these pictures, for me. I was hurt a lot as a kid. When you're a child, you don’t realize that you're different or that things are different. You're also brought up with a lot of respect. Respect means you don’t talk about anything to anybody, so it just festers and festers inside. I've taken a lot of good photographs in my life; a lot compared to most photographers. Really… and people read this and laugh. I don’t care. I'm secure enough to say it. Photography was my salvation. I found something that I could do and put all my energy into it.
Andrea: Do you consider the people you photograph as your friends?
Bruce: Yes my friends, I have always said that because I identify with them. I come from the same situation and I think coming from something means a lot, if you can portray that in a real way in your art. I do it well, and it’s real, it’s what I want to do. My father sat around the table in an undershirt reading the Mirror and the Post with diamond rings and a big cigar. He was a mafia type. I come from that; it’s in my soul. I think that’s what separates my pictures from the others. It’s really deep in my guts… I’m not saying it wasn't deep in Diane Arbus’ guts, because her picture were always dark, there was something lurking there, but she didn't come from where I come from and that’s where the difference between her and me lies.
Andrea: When I was first looking at your portraits for this interview, I wanted to turn away, but being a photographer, I was compelled to look at them again. They are very compelling and you can be transfixed by them.
Bruce: It’s quite interesting because if you do something well, and it comes from inside you, people recognize that.
Andrea: I think it’s important that people feel emotion, what’s wrong is that we don’t feel it.
Bruce: I agree with you. I am also very concerned about that on many levels. First, I'm a photographer. I spent a whole lifetime on photographs that have emotion. A good photograph is one that works well across the frame with a strong emotional content. I don’t want see a kid dying in the frame; I’ve seen that so many times it has become a cliché. But I do want to see something that moves me.
Andrea: You’ve taken the same type of picture for a while now, and you’re about to go and do more of the same. I'm curious about how people can stay with the same kind of photograph for a lifetime.
Bruce: You do it because it’s in your soul. You can never take the perfect photograph, so you still try to take the perfect photograph. I am a street photographer, and I’ve learned how to do it differently as I've gotten older. I went from mostly candids to mostly portraits. I also went from black and white to color. It’s amazing to me how I can maintain my passion. You have to be an animal. I have people write me and stop me on the street saying I'm their inspiration, that I gave them courage.
Andrea: Can you talk a little bit about Miami? Where did you find the people you were photographing?
Bruce: It was in Overtown. I was doing a project for “Postcards From America,” and I didn't know where to photograph. Overtown was a “colored” town, a very historic district where all the black entertainers stayed because they couldn't stay in Miami Beach. So, historically, it had class. I just asked where I could go to photograph and the guy who was helping us said to go to Overtown. He dropped me there, with my assistant, and left us. And I said, “You're gonna leave me here without a car? Are you nuts?” It’s not the type of neighborhood that looks so bad, but if you look under the bridge, where there are homeless crack addicts and heroin addicts, it’s a nasty area. So that’s how I found it. It took me many trips to feel more comfortable.
Andrea: What was the most challenging session you had with somebody?
Bruce: I had no real problems. One girl was under the bridge, sleeping, and I knew her. So I asked the four people next to her if they minded if I photographed her and they said “no.” Then a guy came over and he said there was a cop on the next block and he didn’t want me to draw attention to them. I took a very aggressive stance and I said, “I’m not dirty, are you dirty?” And he said “no” and I said “what the fuck you worried about. Listen I’ll make you a deal, you keep your eye out, and I’ll take care of you. We can go around the corner and I’ll give you a couple bucks.” So I shut him up.
Andrea: So how are you going to finish this project?
Bruce: I’ll probably have to get some funding. This one, I have to do. This is going to be a major project for me and I have the whole idea on how I'm going to do it. It’s all in my head. I know how I'm going to present it visually.
Andrea: Going back to your personal challenges, I'm curious. You mentioned age, you said having the motivation to go and do it…
Bruce: Listen, if I sit at home in Beacon, I don’t do a lot. I like staying home with my cats, I take a walk, I take my wife to go swimming. So I get my ass up and go and once I'm there, I'm fine. You have to pressure yourself. I don’t have a problem doing that. I do it, but as you get older it doesn’t get easier. You can send me anywhere and I can walk miles and miles. You can drop me in Mongolia and I'm sure I’d find my way.
To read the full article from our Issue Humanity, visit here