JTF (just the facts): A total of 3 large scale black and white photographs, mounted and unframed, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 2012. Each print is sized roughly 65×47 and is available in an edition of 1. A monograph of this body of work (entitled A Complete Examination of Middlesex) was recently published by Archive of Modern Conflict Books (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Over the years, Bruce Gilden’s invasive approach to street photography has had a remarkably polarizing effect on fellow photographers and viewers alike. Some see his work as an outright attack, a swoop up from underneath with a blast of flash on an unaware subject, something akin to a combination of mockery and stealing when compared to the trust and cooperation of many portrait sittings. Others have seen brash innovation in his flight or flight style, a willingness to tread into startling grotesquerie in search of something unguarded and real. His work has never lent itself to middling, ambivalent opinions, and his newest pictures aren’t likely gather any more consensus than his previous work.
Gilden’s recent photographs find him on the streets of London, on a commission to document the local community. For the first time, Gilden requested permission from his subjects, and that acceptance led him to get even closer, right up in their faces and beyond the borders of normal personal distance. The result is a set of larger than life sized images that stare down from the walls with imposing power, every pore, wrinkle, and wisp of hair seen in uncompromising, often blinding detail.
Gilden’s unsmiling, pedestrian faces are narratives unto themselves, each a map of personal history, with crooked teeth or a damaged eye as physical landmarks. This show only has three prints in it, but any more would have made the intimate room feel overstuffed and overwhelmed – the portraits are that intense and demanding. When seen amid the larger edit of the book from this project, it’s clear that Gilden doesn’t flinch when it comes to injury, deformity, and age – his Middlesex faces are a parade of quirks, walking the line between ugliness and overlooked eccentricity. Each subject has a sense of being a true original, culled from the endless crowd as an example of someone unexpected and unusual with a story worth hearing.
While extra large faces like these have nearly become a norm in contemporary photography these days, Gilden’s portraits pack far more punch than most of the big studio portraits we’re used to seeing. They have a swaggering immediacy that comes from the streets, a rough, physical collision of humanity that seems far less tightly controlled and composed. In Gilden’s world, the people aren’t perfect, but their energy and emotion simmers just below the surface, ready to burst forth at any moment. His version of real may often push us beyond our comfort zone, but it’s nearly impossible to look away.
Collector’s POV: The prints on view in this show are priced at $15000 each. Surprisingly, Bruce Gilden’s work has very little secondary market presence; as such, gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.