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Wednesday, 31 December 2008


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It's amazing that he doesn't need to focus the Leica.
No wonder there such a great cameras.
Happy New Year to all, Carl

I'm with you, I'm the one always waiting for people to get OUT of my shot... but this is a great vid to share, see how he works and deals with some of the people he shoots. Thanks!

That's beyond obnoxious. I don't even let friends take my picture. This guy would need new teeth.

I couldn't do it, either - not with a flash, at any rate - but I love looking at Gilden's results. I don't know whether it's just an illusion but looking at people in cities who haven't had time to react to a camera *appears* to reveal something deep about the way we are in urban environments. I'm addicted to people-watching on the tube in London, an endlessly fascinating activity because most people keep their eyes buried in their books. Best wishes for the New Year!

This is "close enough"!!...
It reminds me G. Winogrand but it's closer and more agressive. Today everybody can take a photograph (even if it's not with a Leica!-) Hopefully, everybody is not making this kind of photographs. Try to imagine a street with plenty of guys like him...
It's probably why there are laws on the image. Perhaps it's a pity. Peoples are just passants and nothing more, just unknowns on a photograph. This way we don't care about Who they are...just humans in their environment. This kind of photography can be described as "hunting humanity" instead of "humanist photography".

Thank you, it was funny.

Happy new year to TOP's writers and readers, from Belgium. I wish It will be focused more on humanity. Told me "simple-minded"...

I wonder how his "in your face" style would work in other less busy and less "anonymous" places than New York. But perhaps that's part of the thing...how they portray New Yorkers well exactly because they could only have been taken there.

And yes, I could, never, never do that.

A paparazzi for the common man. Maybe if you were in NYC it wouldn't be so hard, Mike. Heh, thinking about it, maybe it would be even harder.

Happy New Year, btw.

Yes, this technique can produce some visually interesting results ala Gary Winogrand. Yes, many 20th century books have been filled with this stuff. Yes, many "street" photographers will watch this video many times for inspiration.

But I don't personally buy it. It's the ultimate example of quoting out of context. This guy moans about other photojournalists' big egos, yet this is perhaps an ultimate act of self-centricity and egotism. He feels that his desires tower over every one else's values and desires. He seems every bit as egocentric and ocd-driven as Winogrand.

And in the end what has he really captured?

If someone would take a photo of me that way, I think I might (just accidentally) punch his nose in something like a kinetic reflex, I don't know. I find that this is a very problematic "art" form...

I'll be doing it tonight, with a big ole flash too.

Great video and I'm with you Mike, I could never do what he does...

I'm with you, Mike. I enjoy viewing this kind of photography, but I couldn't do it like Gilden does.

I think we say 'I could never do this' until we actually do it, then we realize it's not really that big a deal.

He's definitely not the shy and retiring type is he? I wonder what dear old Henri thought about him? I read he couldn't stand Martin Parr's work, and Parr comes across as very introverted compared to Gilden.

Couldn't do it, too. Think it's kind of disrespectful in a way.

me too ... I am unable to do this ... like you ... not even once! This guy is amazing :)

"I have no ethics"

I love that guy, and all of his Brooklyn carnival act.

This is a riot!!

I'd be afraid of getting punched, but it was a great video. I always ask "Do you mind?" But that's my style.

Now THAT'S street photography!

Is it allowed in the US to publish photos of people without asking them?

I could do it but I wouldn't because the results, in my view, are pretty bad. The flash especially ruins it. And why the low angle all the time?

I prefer to picture people doing things naturally, which means not letting them know I'm photographing them. My method is to get in close with a wide angle.

Here's a link to one http://www.monopix.co.uk/misc_images/3.jpg

I was standing shoulder to shoulder with this guy, used a 28mm lens and he never knew I took it.

I find his in-your-face style offensive. He does nothing more than "take" pictures. See the feature about Bangladeshi street photographer Safder Ali on the BBC site for an interesting take on another practitioner.


I love it! After all the froth about which camera is "the best," here's a weathered photographer, wearing a wrinkled photo vest, with a worn Leica in one hand and a portable flash in the other, walking against the flow of pedestrian traffic and taking "in your face" photos of whoever he finds interesting. It just goes to show you that some of the biggest limits in photography are self-imposed.

Great clip.

I like doing street photography, but I'll tell you, mine aren't nearly as big as Gildens's, nor are they made of brass.

He's as much a character as his subjects.

Thank you for posting the video. Very cool, very interesting.

Also nice to see there is still a place in the country people do not freak at being photographed on a public street.

I've never hated a photographer. This guy, I hate.

"...All these people I photograph--they're like my friends."

The words of a person who has no friends.

He then announces, with pride, "I have no ethics." Really ugly.

He tells one victim he doesn't own the street. I would hope he owns his face, though. This stuff is vulgar and exploitative. He's stealing, essentially. It's more of an assault than photography. He's just lucky he's bigger than most of his prey.

That guy is extremely obnoxious. If I were one of his subjects, I'd be very irritated at his aggressive style.

What do you think someone will think the NEXT time they see a camera coming towards them, after an encounter with this guy? It's people like this that give people the impression that photographers are ghouls out to exploit people with photos.

Ken Tanaka said:
And in the end what has he really captured?

An excellent question. Looking at a number of his photographs, I believe what he often captures is little more than anonymous people trying to avoid a camera being shoved in their faces. No real quiet revelation of "character" or even of "characters." The results are kind of interesting in a way, esp with flash and low angle, but in my mind it's pretty meaningless and pretty one-dimensional and more revealing of the photographer's lack of ethics and concern than of any quality of other humans.

These same questions must be asked of all street photography of course.

It must be my looks (or lack thereof) and my old age, but I find I can wander downtown Chicago with camera and strobe, and rarely have a problem shooting strangers. Of course, if someone really objects I smile and move on.

A question for the dilettante photographers, who also seem to consider themselves tough guys.

Are you seriously going to punch a 60 year old man in the mouth, because he took your picture with a flashgun?

Are you seriously going to punch a fellow photographer in the face for doing what you don't have the balls to do yourself? Yeah, it may be somewhat obnoxious, but let's face it. It's harmless.

I'm willing to bet that most people here talking about kicking his can don't have the guts to go out on the street and shoot up close and straight on with a 50 or shorter. Using a 80-200 doesn't count. But I guess that's why he's a famous Magnum shooter and they are not.

And lastly, as a New Yorker in exile, getting blasted by Bruce Gilden for a split second is the least of your problems, when wandering the streets of New York. Note how the New Yorkers in the video take it all in stride and some even seem amused.


The question is NOT could you do it but would you do it.

Only in NEW YORK? Are people saying that because New Yorkers are so rude anyway that people like Bruce are not unusual (and anyway he doesn't actually hurt or touch them).

I reckon he is invading their personal space. He is treating them as objects like a animals in a zoo.

I have seen this before when photographing in foreign countries.

Do you act like Bruce when you are in Africa or Asia etc. You know those places where people don't have as much right to be treated respectfully!!!

I heard a guy say "I'm taking their photo whether they like it or not!".

My take on it is that one should treat others as you would like to be treated yourself . I know a lot of americans are visitors here so the phrase "All men are born free and equal, in dignity and in rights, and, being endowed by nature with reason and conscience..."

I wonder how Bruce would feel if maybe some one shoved a camera and flash in his face umpteen times?

Often when I photograph abroad I see others treating locals and their lives /culture as if they are having a day's photography at a zoo.

That doesn't sit well with me.

I know most photographers (especially amateurs) are shy taking people photographs and so tend towards photographing with long lenses or covertly (sort of like Bruce i.e. without asking).

I have always found speaking to people is much much more interesting. A different type of photography which is more real is for others to debate.

Some of it is photographing where people expect that sort of thing. One particularly nice day I went to the corner of 5th and 57th in Manhattan and Bruce Gilden and Bill Cunningham were already there.

Bill is all like "excuse me but may I photograph you" at which point he has already taken the picture, Bruce is more like cue the Flight of the Valkyries.

Note that they are both "in costume"

That photo is taken about where he's shooting for the first minute or so in the clip.

My very own Bruce Gilden experience...


This image consistently gets tons of views. Bruce is a good guy to meet, we spoke for quite a while. It was the day after Thanksgiving in the Herald Square area and I recognized him from behind just by the way he was shooting people.

I found out early in my newspaper career that I could never be a good manager, because I couldn't do what good managers do, which is (sometimes) to fire people for poor performance. I know it's good for the organization, but when I was in my first real managerial job, I had to deal with a guy who *couldn't* perform. If I fired him, I knew he would never be able to get an equivalent job, and the firing would have a terrible impact on his wife and child. So, I didn't fire him, and the organization suffered for it.

I couldn't do what Gilden does for some of the same reasons I couldn't be a good manager -- because I couldn't go through life knowing that I was going out on the street where I would frighten and intimidate old ladies. I've taken a lot of news photos, but they were at "events" (like disasters) where people knew they were being photographed, and why. Not saying I'd suggest forbidding people from behaving like this -- I even enjoy working with good managers -- but *I* couldn't do it. Wouldn't do it. Watching him work, I suspect he enjoys his own behavior more than the photography.

This has nothing to do with Gilden, but some business news programs on TV have repeatedly run a video clip of photographers gathered in front of Bernard Madoff as he walks along the street. If I'm not mistaken, when Madoff reaches out and tries to push his way through them,one of them punches him in the chest, hard enough to rock him back. Anybody seen it? (Maybe the photographer was an investor?)

They leave him alone because they think he's crazy. He only has to worry if he runs into someone who actually is.

He's a bully with a camera. Most of his subjects are elderly, small or female. The invasion of privacy isn't justified.

Well, I'm not a Magnum photographer, but I am a New Yorker who has been practicing street photography here in my home town for over 35 years since buying my first reflex camera with Bar Mitzvah money (a Minolta SrT101).

Of course we do have a (legal) right to take pictures of people in public places without their permission and sometimes I do. But usually I ask or at least gesture my request. And I almost never take someone's picture who has refused me.

My shots (you can see some here: http://islerphoto.zenfolio.com/p482358986 ) don't have the startling immediacy of Bruce Gilden's - but his lack a certain honesty, I think. Now I'm not one who believes photographs need to be journalistically accurate by any means - but I think his method works to create the illusion that he's capturing people as they are when in fact he's scaring the bejesus out of them and capturing their fear or annoyance. Had I not seen the video, I would have viewed his images much more appreciatively and wished I could get shots like that. Having seen the video and knowing how he's provoked these expressions I feel cheated - to say nothing of how his antics harm my ability to peacefully walk the streets of NY photographing people less aggressively...!

Maybe it's just the video. But it seems like he only picks on little old ladies, little old men, and women who don't look like they would teach him something about street.

And just thinking, isn't midtown Manhattan a cliche by now, just like sunsets? I imagine every Midtown corner with a street photographer, jockeying for position. As someone said, do this in K.C. or Pittsburgh or Columbus for a change; I'm sure style differences would force some creativity.

But then what do I know, I think Cartier-Bresson is a genius, and Winogrand is a poseur.

He doesn't seem to like or respect his subjects much, and that shows in his work. Garish, almost caricaturized people. He calls them his friends but I'd just as soon not have friends that treat me like that. I'll give him points for balls but none for his apparent lack of respect. Just where does he get his sense of entitlement? Please, no wonder photographers are resented and feared. Thank God that for every Gilden out there there are a handful of kinder, more respectful photographers.

Having said all that, as performance art his little routine is pretty interesting - if he was doing this as a satirical poke at street photographers I'd call it brilliant. I give the guy credit for having guts, if indeed that's an admirable thing (not sure it is). If there's any city in the world this would work I guess it's NYC. Still, as one commenter suggested, I'm surprised he still has all his teeth.

Thanks for posting this.

I had no idea that this fellow is a Magnum member. I wonder what that says about Magnum today? I really don't know.

Personally, I much prefer Adam Isler's images (an earlier commenter). I find them much more visually and emotionally informative. I wonder what that says about ME? I really don't know that, either.

If Al Pacino was a street photog....Hilarious.

In 50-60 years when people wonder what people were like in 08, the photos will be gold.

I watched the vid long enough to catch the first two shots of hapless passersby, and then felt too repulsed to continue. A Madoff or Blago deserves to be photographed in this fashion, but not these folks. And the shots were so plain! I think that Diane Arbus asked permission to take street photos, and compare her results with 1950s equipment to what this joe does.

Yuck. There oughta be a law.

"She smiled"

"That's even worse"

I unashamedly admire Gilden. He is who he is, and he's doing his photography the only way that he can, producing images that (to many of us) often cross into the realm of art. He is who we should all strive to be as photographers: To do the thing that we (and only we) are somehow "constituted" to do, and do it as well as we can.

To those who invoke "ethical" objections, my principal response is that, relax, man, it's New York City. Of all the stuff that happens when one lives in NYC, where one is ceaselessly tossed in close quarters (sidewalks, subways, offices, stores, everywhere) with thousands of strangers (many quite objectionable, in matters of noise, smell or behavior, e.g.)) having someone stick a camera in your face is really the least of your concerns. I do it, and I don't care if someone does it to me. It's part of living here.

Now, of course, the flash thing is over-the-top ballsy. But not outside the bounds of acceptable behavior in NYC, this New Yorker would say. And, besides, it's a guy doing his art thing, and a small price to pay for that.

I think it takes a lot of guts to go out there and do what Gilden has done. Very intuitive, interesting shots. Even in Singapore where people are considered mild-mannered, I think twice about doing this. Some great stuff in that video.

I don't think I could, or even want to, photograph like he does. But the work is powerful and compelling.

I have found the negative comments about how he is working interesting. But what about the film crew? They are doing the same thing really, they are "invading the peoples privacy" just as much as Gilden (or anybody who takes a photograph) does. In fact arguably more so as the acceptance of filming on the street has become background and common place.

I've watched this video 5 or 6 times in the last few months. Have to say it's a bit less shocking after each viewing. As to the folks who are offering a Bruce a punch in the nose I say come on. Are you really going to violently assault someone who took a photo of you, basically doing nothing on a city street? I did notice Bruce did not photograph the tougher looking guy with the shaved head. He's no dummy.

You should read my blog, I posted this two months ago. :-)


Ahh, the Bruce Gilden video. Always sure to stir up the ants nest. Why can't he stay home & pixel peep snaps of his cat's fur like decent people do?
Seriously, I'm with Harry Lime - what's with the keyboard heroes threatening physical violence against him? That's real ugliness. Personally I'd be honoured to be photographed by Gilden.

Why do people take it so damn personally when they don't like someone's work or process?

Life is too short to get so upset. He is just taking pictures not stealing wallets.

Good lord.

I suppose it goes with the old adage "If you don't ask, you don't get"?

Stan B., I think NYC has it's own "grandeur of nature" in the urban backdrop which lurks above the people. It's what I try to capture everyday :


I definitely have a lot more respect for his approach than for people shooting while hidden or with massive telephoto lenses. I dwell on the ethics of street photography a lot, but I'm realizing it's not the act of photographing that troubles me, no matter how rudely, but publishing on the Internet. Before the Internet you had to be really good and really well known to have street photography published, and it would always be in the context of a book or magazine, which have a certain seriousness about them. But online, the people we photograph have no control over the context in which they appear, or the information that goes along with the pictures. That's what troubles me (and yet, I continue to photograph on the street and publish the shots online). Just my two cents...

After posting and reading other comments here, I felt obligated to look at some of his work on magnumphoto ... and now feel obligated to add that I did find photos there to be of value.

Regard that as a forced acknowledgment. Forced. I have nothing else good to say about this fellow, except that he doesn't kick dogs or steal money from kids, so far as I know.

The next time you're out and about with the camera and someone glowers at you or intervenes with your photography for no good reason, consider thanking Bruce Gilden. His behavior tarnishes us all.

I can't quit looking at Bruce's photo NYC16200 - it's like an free trip to New York City. (Go to http://magnumphotos.com, then enter NYC16200).

It seems in Europe and UK, and maybe in the US too, public feeling and law enforcement is moving away from the old principle that you can photograph anything and anybody you can see in a public place. A pity.

Mr. Gilden provokes such a strong response. He must be doing something fantastic as far as I'm concerned. If his images and the way he works provokes such passion, positive or negative, at least he's getting people to respond to what he's doing. Can all of those nattering nabobs of negativity claim that about their work? Also, I find it interesting that so many people disparaged him without even really knowing much about his work. It's hard to do what Gilden does. Remember, what was shown on the video does not define the compelling body of work that the man has amassed over the past 30 or so years. He is unique as an artist and an individual, and his work stands on it's own. You don't have to love the work, but you do have to respect what he has done.

all that is missing in this vulnereable world is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. all wars would end. all exploitation would end. stealing mug shots on the street is a violation of one's privacy. disrespect for the individual without the given approval by the subject. would the photographer himself agree to being used in such an aggressive manner? if yes, o.k. if no, not o.k. in any case, it is rude. what muse is being entertained here with stolen closeups?

I must see a dozen different people every day who make me think "great portrait subject," but only if they aren't posing. Taking a sneaky picture, either by quickly grabbing it like Gilden or taking it surreptitiously with a telephoto gets the picture without the pose.

Still, I'd prefer to ask permission and expect the question back: "What are you going to do with it?" That gets back to the question of context that Kate raised earlier.

Imagine reactions to possible answers. "It's going to be part of a very tasteful coffee table book." "I'm going to make a huge print of it and display it in my living room." "It's going on a web gallery of street photos." "It's going to be the sole picture of a web site I'm building."

The answers that put the picture among the context of many sound OK to me. The ones that isolate the subject sound creepy.


For the same reason, a picture of a crowd feels less invasive than a picture of a single person.

I could not do this to other people, which is a different issue than whether one might suffer a violent consequence. Gilden is missing a front tooth, though; perhaps the price of confrontation?

I have the same question as one of the other posters -- I wonder whether he can publish such photos without a model release. It is one thing to have the right to make photographs on a public street, which seems to be clear. It is another to appropriate and publish someone's image for commercial gain, like NY Civil Rights Law Section 51 seems to prohibit. If something is remotely newsworthy, the statute's protection for the subject seems to fall away completely. Is "everyone" on the streets of NYC newsworthy or is everyone an example of social trends that their image is publishable after meeting Gilden? Does looking like a character make one free fodder for another to publish? I am not sure where I fall on this question myself.

Try that in Brussels and you end up in hospital before noon.

"I have the same question as one of the other posters -- I wonder whether he can publish such photos without a model release."

Yes, he can. In the U.S., at least. And so can you. He can't misrepresent the individual (i.e., you can't take a picture of a stranger and publish it with an untrue caption) and he can't use it for commercial advertising (and no, selling it as art is *not* commercial use), but he's not breaking any laws taking, printing, exhibiting, publishing, or selling pictures of strangers.

Mike J.

I don't want to spin this thread too far away from Gilden's work, but in response to those who complain about a pedestrian's "privacy" being invaded, exactly how much "privacy" do you expect to have on a public street that you share with hundreds if not thousands of other people? Do you believe that no one should have the right to photograph you without your permission, ever? If so, what about cities like London, where there are surveillance cameras aimed at every major public thoroughfare? Does the government have the right to observe you but individuals don't?

Complaints about Gilden's aggressive style are a different matter. I agree it's rude. But if rudeness was a crime, the majority of the people living in New York city would have criminal records.

If it's possible, Bruce is an even bigger schmuck today then when I met him 10-15 years ago at Galerie Agathe Guillard. Same 28mm in your face/same smart mouth mentality. Hopefully Magnum will send him to cover the Gazan Invasion. Lou

Wonder what this guy was photographying in the video?
People and the environment? NYC?
Nothing more than people who freaked out by invasive photo taking with flash.

I don't see much value in this.

Carl the groundskeeper, post gopher chasing ...

When this sort of issue comes up I'm always astonished by the ignorant and reactionary views expressed.

When in public you are open to public scrutiny. It's one of the benefits of living in a free society. There are all sorts of obvious reasons why this is a good idea.

Once you accept that being able to photograph freely in public is a good idea, it's just a question of approach. Gilden's approach is pretty direct, straightforward and honest. He's not sneaking about - you know he's taken the shot and it's over in a split second. Would I be able to do what he does? I don't think so - but I'd defend his right to do it.

And yes, as far as I'm aware he can use the photos for editorial or artistic purposes (prints, photobook etc.) without a model release.

"Surprise me" interest me, is the advice from pro's on how to take better pictures. I keep seeing differences between my photography and the good stuff. I don't even want to be seen in public taking pictures because I can almost sense people who see me thinking "right, he thinks he is a photographer". I could not imaging how he gets the courage to take these photos, or how often he gets yelled at or even punched but my hat is off to him. Thank you for posting this clip.

"what about cities like London, where there are surveillance cameras aimed at every major public thoroughfare? Does the government have the right to observe you but individuals don't?"

I wouldn't be surprised. If you go to Iraq and shoot a man, you're a murderer. If your government sends you to do it, you're a hero.

"he's not breaking any laws taking, printing, exhibiting, publishing, or selling pictures of strangers."

Why do film makers then seemingly always get a release from somebody they film on the street?

This subject may be worth an article.

I'm always amazed by the self-righteousness people display when critiquing the methods and results of street photography. It's absurd that some people consider this kind of shooting to be equivalent to theft (and thus an unpardonable sin) yet claim that an appropriate reaction would be physical punishment.

For crying out loud. I thought we weren't stone age people here worrying about getting our souls stolen by magic whenever our image is recorded by a camera. You can't walk into a building without having your moving picture taken. Or public transportation, or many street corners. Do you ask your bank managers to present you with a release form? Do you punch out the mayor?

All Gilden is doing is recording what he sees in a public place. He's absolutely right to question whether these people think they own the street. So the real 'ethical' question in my mind is not about the image that gets recorded. It's whether it's some sort of assault to have your picture taken at close quarters quickly and before you even realise what's going on. Well... these people walk away from the experience with everything that had before the encounter. They weren't touched, manhandled or stalked. They also have a story to tell their friends.

Still, I wouldn't feel right about doing it in many locations. I do some street shooting, and I greatly admire people like him, but I recognise that it's very context-based. I think if I had the huevos, I could get away with something similar (maybe sans flash) in certain parts of Toronto, but not everywhere.

Thanks for the inspiration and the discussion. Mostly I shake my head at the (predictable) moral outrage at what is actually a harmless activity with often wonderful results. Don't like those results - fine, don't look at them; but drama works better with confrontation, and some of us enjoy visual art with a touch of drama as well.

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