The months of anticipation were over. At last, we were on our way to the BIG CAREER RETROSPECTIVE of a renowned photographer on display at one of the city’s biggest and most prestigious museums. This was going to be great!
As we briskly walked Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, enjoying the first sting of winter and were taking in the happy, wind blistered faces of out-of-towners craning their necks to get a glimpse of holiday windows along the buyway, one face was not at all like the others. It was decidedly local. And it wasn’t looking at holiday windows.
This face had darting eyes and wore a mischievous grin, peaking out under its hat and up turned collars. Each of his hands gripped tools — a Leica camera in the right, a speedlight in the left. This face belonged to one of our heroes.
This face was Bruce Gilden‘s. And he was on the prowl.
Slicing his way through the throng on Fifth like a prizefighter making his way to the ring, he’d pounce on an unsuspecting pedestrian, jabbing the Leica to his face and flashing blitzing him with a roundhouse. BLAM! Before his victim could regain his vision and his bearings, Gilden was gone, and the photo was taken. He wasn’t “making” photos. He was taking them. With impunity.
He clocked us watching him pretty quickly, so we didn’t even try to “become invisible — to blend in with the crowd” any more than he does. Instead, we extended a hand and said hello.
He was very generous with a laugh and in our chat, even taking an interest in our tiny micro-four thirds, Lumix GM5, and tolerating a fan photo or three before we parted ways.
A few minutes later, we were walking the exhibition, thoroughly underwhelmed by what we were seeing. In truth, we were bored out of our skulls within the confines of the museum and its white walls, looking at the images someone “made.” Room after room after room after room — it all seemed so dull — especially after seeing Bruce Gilden in action, taking photos in the wild. What’s better than that?
Coney Island Baby
Our very favorite work of Gilden’s goes back to the 60s and 70s and his work in Coney Island. While we save (and save and save) for a copy of his amazing book, we’ve had to be content to watch and rewatch (and watch again) this great video on that period of his work:
Gilden is a real New Yorker. And despite being a long standing member of the highly prestigious artists’ collective, Magnum Photos, there’s nothing “artsy” in Gilden’s manner or approach.
You’ve gotta admire his nerve: