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Monday, November 26th, 2001


Facing New York


A review by Ann Ellenbecker

As a "street photographer," Bruce Gilden's subjects have included New York, Ireland and Haiti; a book on the latter gained him a European Publishers Award for Photography. His photographs have been widely exhibited and are part of many permanent collections around the world, including that of the Museum of Modern Art. He says of his own technique, "I don't think when I take the picture. I just respond to something intuitively." Intuitive indeed. Gilden has an uncanny knack for finding extraordinary characters in a crowd and the uniqueness of an ordinary scene. "Many of the people that I photograph are people who have a certain individuality in the way they walk, the way they dress, the way they look. But the world is getting smaller and smaller, so people are tending to look more alike, dress more alike. All of these differences are disappearing....I believe I'm preserving that so maybe one day my pictures would be considered documentary photographs." Yet, it's obvious that his work is not the result of premeditated, measured plotting -- his art lies in the absence of all of the above. The process is a spontaneous action, from the initial spotting of his subject to the final flash, with as much contemplation as it takes to place one foot in front of the other. Gilden's photographs are the antithesis of contrivance.

But, despite his off-the-cuff style, the end product is beautifully composed. He captures the subject in his or her most natural state, unassuming, unaware, and transforms the moment into a work of art. As a native New Yorker, Gilden is very much in step with his subject matter in this collection. In essence, though, the intrigue of Facing New York lies in his technical expertise. His use of flash accentuates the questions that shadow these anonyms. Giving the passersby little to no time for reaction, his play on focus exaggerates their natural state of being. The pulse of the street, the noise, the movement, come across with the gritty feel of a New York thoroughfare. In his spectacular photographic translation, Gilden is capturing a reality that is easily missed, and the composition of such is perfectly unreal.

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