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Sunday Salon -- Bruce Gilden

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It'sGreg is a group administrator It'sGreg says:

Bruce Gilden offends me. His photographs offend me. His approach to photography offends me. Even his success as a photographer offends me.

I like that about Bruce Gilden. I'm actually glad he's out there offending me. I think it's important for the craft and art of photography that photographers like Gilden exist. I'll come back to that in a bit – but first let's try to understand how and why Bruce Gilden became Bruce Gilden.

gilden1
Coney Island, 1977

He was born in Brooklyn in 1946. Brooklyn in the 1940s was largely a white ethic borough: first and second generation immigrants – Italians, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Ukrainians, Poles. This was the era that gave birth to the stereotypical 'guy from Brooklyn' so often seen in the movies – a brash, tough, street-wise smart ass who said things like "Yeah, my fadda said he'd moidah me if I joined da ahmy." That stereotype turned Brooklyn into something of a national joke. It was a borough of underdogs -- and sometimes resentful underdogs -- and that helped shape the way Gilden saw the world.

He has described his childhood family as "a total mess". Gilden says, "Emotionally I was beaten up as a kid. I had a tough upbringing…. I have that inside of me. You know, that anger. That I’ll always have." That information is telling when you consider the way Gilden talks about his photography. "My pictures are me. Whatever I take a picture of, it’s me. It’s about how I feel and I don’t have to think about it."

gilden6
London, 2011

His childhood may have been rough, but Gilden was able to get into Penn State University, where he studied sociology. At some point he saw the Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up, about a London fashion photographer who accidentally photographs a murder. That was apparently enough for Gilden to decide he wanted to be a photographer. In 1968 Gilden was 22 years old and back in New York. He bought an inexpensive Miranda camera and began taking evening classes at the School of Visual Arts.

At that time, most street photography fell into two different approaches. There was the Cartier-Bresson approach – the photographer as ninja, moving gracefully and invisible, silently catching intimate but decisive moments. And there was the Garry Winogrand approach -- a more New York City style, open and direct and overt. Where HC-B was a ghost, Winogrand was a sort thumb. He just didn't care if his subjects saw him taking their photograph. In fact, in many of Winogrand's best photographs the subjects are looking directly at the photographer.
Gilden, the Brooklyn boy, took the Winogrand approach. Took it and eventually pushed it as far as it was possible to go.

gilden2
Coney Island, 1986

Gilden's first major project was sort of classically Winograndian; he photographed people at Coney Island, just a subway ride away. In all, he spent a couple of decades shooting the Coney Island beaches, mostly where the old and poor gathered to enjoy the sun and the waves. Even in the earlier images, you can see where Gilden began to expand the Winogrand universe.

Gilden got close to most of his subjects, using a wide angle lens, and often filling the entire frame with something for the eye to see. He started getting even closer than Winogrand would. Uncomfortably, intrusively, compulsively close.

This is the beginning of the Bruce Gilden we all know and…well, love or hate. Moving from the beach to the street, Gilden created his signature style. "My style evolved because I liked being among the common man,” Gilden has said. “I like characters. I always have. When I was five, I liked the ugliest wrestler, so it was easy for me to pick what I wanted to photograph.”

gilden8
Moscow, 2001

Gilden's street photos – the work that made him famous (or notorious) -- grew out of his Coney Island experience. They're an aggressive, sometimes confrontational, style of street portraiture. Videos of Gilden at work (and there are a lot of them available on YouTube) show him walking the streets looking for 'characters' – people who attract his attention for some reason. Maybe it's a physical feature, maybe a style of dress, maybe the way they move. When he spots a 'character' he gets close, steps in front of the person, and with his camera in one hand and an old Vivitar flash in the other, he snaps a photo. In effect, this is photography by ambush.

Everything about this approach is intrusive. The subject is surprised, often startled or alarmed, sometimes angry. That spontaneous emotion is what drives Gilden's work. When I say he gets close, I mean really close. He usually shoots with a 28mm wide angle lens, often at a distance of an arm's length or less. He generally squats a bit, giving the image an upward angle that tends to exaggerate the facial contortions of many of his subjects. The flash effect adds to the overall grotesquerie.

The effect is startling. And raw. And powerful.

gilden3
New York City, 1984

"[S]ince I work in a spontaneous way, I have to be a little bit sneaky because I don’t want them to know that I’m going to take a picture of them." The ethics and morality of that approach (or the lack of ethics/morality) offends and outrages a lot of people. Gilden doesn't care. He's shooting the photographs he wants to shoot, and he's getting the results he wants.

What I found most surprising, though, is that when you listen to Gilden talk about the people he photographs – not about his approach, but about the actual subjects – there's a very obvious affection for them. "All these people I photograph, they're like my friends.... I was drawn to them somehow." These are Gilden's people – the anxious, the distracted, the frustrated, the unusual, the uncertain, the damaged. "There are a lot of things wrong with this world, and I feel that, so that’s what my pictures are about. I always liked the underdog—the guy who’s not the average person—and I see a lot of pathos out there."

gilden9
Ireland, 1996

Gilden has, of course, a broader body of work. He's not just a New York street photographer. He's worked in Ireland, Portugal, India, Japan. He's probably spent more time photographing Haiti than any traditional documentary photographer. He did a wonderful series of landscapes of foreclosed properties. Gilden has even done a series on state fair food.
He's largely moved on from his street ambush work. Part of that decision was based on age. "I’m old. I mean, I function well, but I changed. I started to do the portraits, because I can’t beat up my legs. " All that squatting takes its toll on the knees. Now he's focusing more on actual portraiture – though with a Gildenesque twist. He's still working incredibly close, he's still concentrating on 'characters', and he still tends to emphasize the grotesque. This IS Bruce Gilden, after all.

In the end, I'd say Gilden is a realist. He's said there are no geniuses in photography; there are just people with talent and people without talent. He's got a solid grasp on his place in the photographic firmament. "How many good pictures does anyone have? Maybe about twenty, twenty-five over forty-some years. I mean you don't have a lot."
gilden10
Detroit, 2016

At the beginning of this salon I said Gilden offends me, but that I'm glad he's out there making his photographs. I said I thought Gilden was important for the craft and art of photography. Here's why I say that.
Gilden's work expands the range of the possible. In just about every creative human endeavor, it's the deviants who drive change. Civil rights expanded because there were deviants who broke the law. Science expanded because there were deviants who refused to abide by the constraints of religion. Art expanded because there were deviants who ignored the rules of perspective, who splashed paint wildly and randomly, who ignored oils and watercolors and used spray paints on subway cars and alleyway walls.

By pushing at the extreme edges of photography, Bruce Gilden broadens the center. That's where the vast majority of us work. Very few of us will ever attempt to emulate Gilden (and let's face it, very few of us would want to), but his existence emboldens us just a wee bit. He relaxes the scope of what's possible, and encourages us to at least think about the limits of what's acceptable. He may offend us, but he also opens up new arenas of creativity. Bruce Gilden's extremism protects our more modest creative steps.

Even though that's true, I suspect Gilden would call bullshit on it.
10:20AM, 30 July 2017 PST (permalink)

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J_CH* says:

Thank You Greg!
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

There is more to it than that.

All photography that has human subjects has an element of voyeurism, and street photography has a large element (as you pointed out in your Sunday Salon on Kohei Yoshiyuki, although in that case ... well, Japanese voyeurism is different; I don't know if you have read Tanizaki's The Key or Kawabata's The House of Sleeping Beauties). Photographs in which the subject is unaware of being the subject are quite different to those in which the subject poses (eg, the fact that Francesca Woodman and Cindy Sherman photograph themselves changes the way we see the images, because the element of voyeurism is removed).

There are things darker than voyeurism, and that is where Gilden comes in. The point of Gilden's photographs is that they confront the subject - and so us - with their inability to refuse to be photographed, a metaphor for their helplessness in the face of more harmful violence.

"Civil rights expanded because there were deviants who broke the law. Science expanded because there were deviants who refused to abide by the constraints of religion." No, as a matter of fact.
29 months ago (permalink)

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-masru- is a group administrator -masru- says:

Upfront reading it I would like to say: Thank you for another
Sunday Salon.
29 months ago (permalink)

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ronet is a group administrator ronet says:

Oh Greg, how I missed the Sunday Salon. Back with a bang (or flash!). I'm reminded of Martin Parr, who I don't like for his middle class contempt of working class and nouveau riche alike. But unlike Parr, I can see something of the affection in these examples.
29 months ago (permalink)

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Mary Jane 2040 is a group administrator Mary Jane 2040 says:

Although the description of his technique makes me feel that I'd obviously be un-nerved by being his subject, he does seem to be part of the pack he shoots. The earlier crowd shots in particular are wonderful. I like the role that Coney Island plays in his work. When folk go to urban pleasure beaches, from Blackpool to Coney they let themselves go a bit. You're there to relax, you're not in your Sunday best, and you've shlepped your way out there, with the baby and the cooler and Uncle Tom Cobley and all so you're going to squeeze yourself between the rest of weekend beach flesh, into whatever patch of sand you can grab. He totally captured that quality of -I'm here to enjoy myself however hard I have to work at it goddammit-. I love the composition of those Coney Island crowd pictures; the hard shadows, the packed frames, that squished up humanity, it reminds me of Hogarth's Beer Street and Gin Lane. There's one with an old guy sitting in the foreground, with a nose shield, and a young guy lying sprawled on the sand next to him, and somehow you feel like they talked to Gilden before/during/after, even if it was just to say. "what the fuck".

The portraits of individuals don't grab my attention so much.

Thanks for this Greg.
29 months ago (permalink)

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It'sGreg is a group administrator It'sGreg says:

Absence de Marquage:

"Civil rights expanded because there were deviants who broke the law. Science expanded because there were deviants who refused to abide by the constraints of religion." No, as a matter of fact.

As an actual matter of easily verifiable fact, yes. Rosa Parks violated a local ordinance segregating city buses and was arrested. Martin Luther King and others violated an injunction banning mass protests; they were arrested. The Stonewall riots in NYC were the beginning of the gay rights movement. Civil rights expanded because people were willing to disobey laws.

The same is true of science. Google Galileo and 'yet it moves'. Google the Scopes trial.

ronet:
how I missed the Sunday Salon.

I don't think I'll be doing them on a regular basis, but I may do a few now and then as the mood takes me.

ronet:
unlike Parr, I can see something of the affection in these examples.

Yes...I really wasn't expecting that. Like most folks, I'd seen a few example of Gilden's work and was offended (and I still am, to some extent), but once I began to look at the totality of his work I began to sense he feels some connection to the people he photographs. Maybe not so much a connection to them as individuals (how could he -- he's only with most of them for 1/60th of a second), but a connection to them as structural outsiders. Maybe? I'm still not sure about this.

Mary Jane 2040:
love the composition of those Coney Island crowd pictures; the hard shadows, the packed frames, that squished up humanity,

They really are good, aren't they. I'm still offended by them in some ways, but I feel much more of a connection to Gilden's subjects than I feel to Winogrand's. I'm not sure why that is.

Mary Jane 2040:
The portraits of individuals don't grab my attention so much.

They're much harder for me to look at. They're so relentless.
29 months ago (permalink)

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Metrix X says:

I find this Vice article on Bruce interesting: www.vice.com/en_ca/article/ppq78g/bruce-gilden-is-comfort...
29 months ago (permalink)

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Lake Effect says:

Thanks for educating me once again. Many good thoughts from you and those who have commented.
29 months ago (permalink)

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Maureen Bond says:

Such a great read, thank you Greg! Bruce is definitely one of a kind street shooter and he recently selected one of my images for a gallery show which really thrilled me! thanks for another wonderful Sunday Salon.
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

It'sGreg:

As an actual matter of easily verifiable fact, yes. Rosa Parks violated a local ordinance segregating city buses and was arrested. Martin Luther King and others violated an injunction banning mass protests; they were arrested. The Stonewall riots in NYC were the beginning of the gay rights movement. Civil rights expanded because people were willing to disobey laws.

The same is true of science. Google Galileo and 'yet it moves'. Google the Scopes trial.


There is a difference between civil disobedience as a tactic used by a civil rights movement and a civil rights movement. Civil disobedience gets a lot of press, not least because that is where the best photographs were taken, but the civil rights movement was as much about getting white folk to obey the law - on voter registration, eg - as on getting Black folk to break it. And people resisting civil rights were also willing to break the law, not excluding murder: if breaking the law is how you get what you want, how come they lost? To the extent they did, of course.

The Irish Republic was not the sole achievement of the "physical force men", as they were called, and the reason Ulster remains part of the UK is not that the IRA in Belfast was afraid to break the law.

There is a difference between an icon and a cause. The Stonewall riot had as much to do with Gay Liberation as John Brown's raid had to do with the abolition of slavery.

As for Galileo, there is no evidence whatever that he said "Eppur si muove" before, during or after his appearance before the Inquisition. And the Church's position, at least before 1633, was that heliocentrism could not be presented as "the truth", but could be discussed as a hypothesis which made astronomical calculations easier. Modern commentators have often noted that in this respect the Church understood science better then Galileo.

The Scopes trial is not an event in the history of science: it is an event in the history of Tennessee. And not much of one at that: the trial was fabricated to give the town of Dayton publicity. It was an early example of what would become an American speciality: "pseudo-events", as Daniel Boorstin called them, things that happen solely in order to be reported, like a Kardashian wedding.
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

It'sGreg:

He's largely moved on from his street ambush work. Part of that decision was based on age. "I’m old. I mean, I function well, but I changed. I started to do the portraits, because I can’t beat up my legs. " All that squatting takes its toll on the knees. Now he's focusing more on actual portraiture – though with a Gildenesque twist. He's still working incredibly close, he's still concentrating on 'characters', and he still tends to emphasize the grotesque. This IS Bruce Gilden, after all.


For the recent books, Face and Point of No Return, Gilden got permission to photograph his subjects. Not only because of his knees, but also because his interest in ugliness has become more personal, a process of coming to terms with his mother's suicide. Gilden said about Point of No Return that "In all of these women, I see my own mother – ravaged by pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol and her lifestyle. [...] I began asking them if I could photograph them. [...] It’s always interesting when people say they can’t look at these faces. But now just imagine that you have to look at your mother’s face." I guess not even Bruce Gilden wants to stick a flash in his own mother's face.

As DH Lawrence said, "One sheds one's sicknesses in books - repeats and presents again one's emotions, to be master of them."
29 months ago (permalink)

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Seldon, is a group administrator Seldon, says:

It'sGreg:

He's largely moved on from his street ambush work. Part of that decision was based on age. "I’m old. I mean, I function well, but I changed. I started to do the portraits, because I can’t beat up my legs. "


And the potential for a punch in the snoot gets far less attractive as you get older. It's not an uncommon theme in aging artists. What feels edgy and a somewhat romantic idea, putting yourself on the line, risking physical harm for your art eventually becomes seeking out pain for the sake of it. I can respect Gilden for that aspect of his past practice. He's not hiding from the potential harm of the flash in the face, there's a good chance that he'll suffer more than his targets. But it doesn't excuse the practice, merely mitigates my negative judgement of it a little. I don't like it but at least he isn't Philip-Lorca diCorcia.


ronet:
Martin Parr, who I don't like for his middle class contempt of working class and nouveau riche alike


I used to feel the same way but the more I look at his work the more I soften, especially since I saw 'The Last Resort' in a gallery setting a few years ago. In that context his work looked less like contempt for the subject and more like a challenge to his bourgeois, art loving audience to look again at working class and nouveau riche culture. Yes the photos aren't flattering, yes his style is gaudy, even vulgar, but in a gallery context it seemed to me he was working in the tradition of Gustave Courbet or Edouard Manet as much as any photographer. He offers up an interpretation that might be seen as contempuous but does he actually deliver? For me, no he doesn't. There's a little chink in his work that makes me want to peel away the vulgar facade and see something, well, not heroic or anything so grandiose, but affection for the ordinary. A heroism of everyday, mundane reality, if that makes sense.



It'sGreg:
As an actual matter of easily verifiable fact, yes. Rosa Parks violated a local ordinance segregating city buses and was arrested. Martin Luther King and others violated an injunction banning mass protests; they were arrested.


I fall between the two camps here. Generally I'd agree with the Marxist view of history (as opposed to his specific political philosophy) that sees broad sweeps and undercurrents that drive progress (or regression) before it. But individuals do make a quantifiable difference to how these things play out. To get back to Gilden, he did the things you describe but if he hadn't, the likelihood is that someone else would have come along and done something similar sooner or later.

The danger with a strictly Marxist reading is that it's easy to construct a teleological narrative, that is, one of inevitability. That's what Marx himself did and what I could be accused of with my 'sooner or later' argument above. Individuals are important, they do affect real and lasting change but only ever within the mileau of their times. The undercurrents are there, individuals pop up and materially change things, others pop up and get lost in the turbulence. It's a bit of a lottery as to who changes things and how they change.
Originally posted 29 months ago. (permalink)
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Seldon, is a group administrator Seldon, says:

Absence de Marquage:

I guess not even Bruce Gilden wants to stick a flash in his own mother's face.


It's often argued that art-making is a process of sublimation. You carry your experiences with you, bury them in your subconscious and they pop up later as art. You don't have to conjecture whether or not someone would do something to their mother to understand that.
29 months ago (permalink)

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Seldon, is a group administrator Seldon, says:

And finally I'll add one more thought that isn't explored here. Ok not finally but you know what I mean.

I find the difference between Gilden's black and white and colour photography is marked. His colour photography takes his in your face style and pushes it firmly in the viewers face. I suppose from the subject's pov, that of being photographed by Gilden, it doesn't matter what type of film in the camera. But it certainly makes a difference to the final product. He steps up the effect more than a notch or two with colour.
29 months ago (permalink)

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Hyla Levy says:

Fascinating Salon, Greg!

It'sGreg:

He's said there are no geniuses in photography; there are just people with talent and people without talent.


Not sure I agree with that. There have been plenty of innovators in photography. I would describe Andre Kertesz, for example, as a (photographic) genius.

"Emotionally I was beaten up as a kid. I had a tough upbringing…. I have that inside of me.


"All these people I photograph, they're like my friends.... "There are a lot of things wrong with this world, and I feel that, so that’s what my pictures are about. I always liked the underdog—the guy who’s not the average person—and I see a lot of pathos out there."


That's a crappy way to treat your "friends"! I don't buy that part (though maybe if I knew more about him, I would). To me, he's a case of the abused becoming the abuser.
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

Seldon,:

It's often argued that art-making is a process of sublimation.


Not by Marxists. Not by anyone, actually, except Freudians, if there are any left, and all they ever did was speculate about what people want to do to their mothers.

Mind you, another theme that comes up repeatedly in Gilden's discussions of his own work is his interest in women with hidden stories, especially involving prostitution. He has also described his father as "a racketeer type".
29 months ago (permalink)

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It'sGreg is a group administrator It'sGreg says:

Seldon,:

affection for the ordinary

That's pretty much how I've always viewed Parr's work. I feel the same about Eggleston.

Seldon,:
Gilden, he did the things you describe but if he hadn't, the likelihood is that someone else would have come along and done something similar sooner or later.

Yeah, that's true. I'm operating from a sociological standpoint here, in which deviance is defined as a violation of social norms. So for me, the concept of deviance driving change is more important than the identity of any specific deviant or any specific form of change.

Hyla Levy:
That's a crappy way to treat your "friends"!

Yes. I suspect he's using a very very loose definition of 'friend' here. My sense is that he simply means there's something about those people that attracts him.
29 months ago (permalink)

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*CA* says:

Oh, yay, an unexpected Sunday Salon. I do love these. Thank you, Greg, for taking the time.

I like the photos you've chosen to highlight and, based on that sample I am not offended by the photos. The range of the expressions is remarkable and I find some of the images endearing, even when the expression is a scowl. I will have to look at more of his work to finalize my opinion. If I hadn't known about how close and invasive Gilden was for many of them I would put them in a category with, perhaps, National Geographic images. I do have some hesitations about the extreme in-your-face-ness about his process, although I find that approach much more honest and transparent than that chosen by "stealth" photographers. Finally, I thought at first to frame these photos as similar to those by Diane Arbus because of the emphasis on human expressions and scenes we usually don't see in photographs. Gilden's, however, seem to show much more compassion and, yes, affection, than Arbus'.
29 months ago (permalink)

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It'sGreg is a group administrator It'sGreg says:

*CA*:

I like the photos you've chosen to highlight

That's always one of the most difficult facets of these salons -- picking which particular photographs to feature. It's especially difficult when you've got somebody like Gilden, who's known for one specific style of photography, but who actually has a much broader oeuvre. For example, I was completely unaware that Gilden had done a series of images of foreclosed houses. Should I include one of those? Would it be a distraction? Should I include some of his color work? It's not what he's known for, but would it give more insight into Gilden as a photographer? A single photo from a project series doesn't really give anybody a sense of the project itself. -- so maybe it's better to ignore some projects altogether?

No matter what you choose to include or exclude, you always feel like you're omitting something important.
29 months ago (permalink)

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Seldon, is a group administrator Seldon, says:

Absence de Marquage:

Not by Marxists. Not by anyone, actually, except Freudians, if there are any left, and all they ever did was speculate about what people want to do to their mothers.


I may have misunderstood your original comment (the one I highlighted in the reply) but it seemed like you were the one speculating on what Gilden would and wouldn't do to his mother. There was nothing in my reply to you to suggest I believe either a Marxist or Freudian interpretation applies so I guess we agree on both those counts.

However, and this was my point, contemporary artists stating their life experiences resurface unbidden in their work is so common as to be a cliche.
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

Seldon,:

contemporary artists stating their life experiences resurface unbidden in their work is so common as to be a cliche.


Yes, but it is cliche because debased Freudian ideas are cliches. "Debased" because the whole point of Freud's idea was that the artist - or anyone else - did not - and could not - know that it was early life experiences surfacing in their work until that was revealed during a formal psychoanalysis.

There is nothing unconscious or sublimated about how Gilden links his feelings about his childhood to his work. But the days when self-expression was regarded as the hallmark of art being, mercifully, over, the question is not whether Gilden's photographs are useful for him in his efforts to come to terms with his childhood, but whether they are valuable for the rest of us.

It is easy to read Gilden as wanting to show us these people because they remind him of what his mother was and what he might have become, and he both hates them for that and loves them for that. The hate accounts, at least, for the aggression of his methods and the freak-show aspect of his presentation. But the point is not to ask what he gets from showing us the photographs, but what we get from seeing them.

We are all taught as children that it is rude to stare, especially at the people we see in Gilden's photographs. Not wishing to stare is a good excuse to ignore, to mask indifference, and Gilden's photographs have been read by his sympathisers as telling us that we should not ignore these people, that we must not be indifferent to them. The problem with that reading is that it is not consistent with the style.

Although we know it is rude to stare, we want to stare. Greg said in the other thread that photography is a frozen look, and sometimes it is - in Cartier-Bresson, eg. Gilden's photography is a frozen stare - a child's stare, horrified, fascinated, at once drawn in and repelled. That reading is consistent with the style.

Looking at Gilden's photographs allows people, at one remove, to stare all they like. Maybe Gilden is showing us that about ourselves: we want to stare. It is not the people who are repelled or disgusted by Gilden's photographs who do not want to stare, it is the people who are not aroused at all ("The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference").
29 months ago (permalink)

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Seldon, is a group administrator Seldon, says:

Absence de Marquage:

Yes, but it is cliche because debased Freudian ideas are cliches


Sublimation has a wider meaning than Freudian sublimation. Drop the Freudian bit and you're almost there.


Absence de Marquage:
But the days when self-expression was regarded as the hallmark of art being, mercifully, over


Those days may be over for you but self expression in art is still a thing for many. That's what post-modernism, the expanded field and all that stuff is about. It isn't exclusive, you can't do this or that. It's inclusive, everyone has a right to bring whatever they want into their work and be judged not according to some exterior set of rules but on their own terms. Self expression isn't wrong or an out-moded idea, it's just not the only game in town anymore.

Absence de Marquage:
the point is not to ask what he gets from showing us the photographs, but what we get from seeing them.


That might be the point for you but I am interested in what he gets from it. I'm interested in all of the how's why's and wherefore's of these things. Whatever we might think of his style, Gilden is an interesting photographer. Sometimes I'm interested to a level of what others might find mind-numbingly boring or irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Absence de Marquage:
Gilden's photography is a frozen stare - a child's stare, horrified, fascinated, at once drawn in and repelled.


Now that's a great call. The Frozen Stare- I like it. It explains a lot of what I feel when I look at Gilden's photography.
Originally posted 29 months ago. (permalink)
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It'sGreg is a group administrator It'sGreg says:

Absence de Marquage:

Although we know it is rude to stare, we want to stare.

First, a bit of an apology. I tend to skim over your comments because it often feels to me that you're treating your opinion as established, indisputable fact instead of just another viewpoint.

But comments like this are (to me, at any rate) what make these discussions worthwhile. This is an invitation to think and consider something from a new perspective. We know there's a distinction between a look and a stare, but at what point does a look become a stare? Why is a stare considered more rude or creepy than a look, and why is a look more of a challenge than a glance? And is there a point at which a stare becomes something more somehow?

Looking at Gilden's color portraiture is, for me, both discomfiting and discomforting. At least initially. I wonder, though, if I looked at them -- stared at them -- longer, would I feel something different?
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

Seldon,:

Absence de Marquage:

the point is not to ask what he gets from showing us the photographs, but what we get from seeing them.

That might be the point for you but I am interested in what he gets from it.


Which is fine. It is not surprising that someone looking voyeuristically at photographs would look voyeuristically at the photographer as well. It is unusual, however. There is a sort of professional reticence among photographers about interrogating their colleagues' cover stories, or their psyches.

So, what is it about Gilden, or his photography, that makes people interested in what itch he is scratching?
29 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

It'sGreg:

at what point does a look become a stare?


When you decide to take a photograph?

A photograph is the result of a process: it starts with looking, then noticing and being interested, then the business with the camera. A photograph that looks like a look - a Cartier-Bresson decisive moment - is a result of craft that compresses the process in time, not of a different process.

A stare starts with looking, then noticing and being interested, then you don't have a camera, so you keep looking.

It is the noticing and being interested that separates a look and a stare/photograph, and the stare and the photograph are just alternative ways of embodying interest.

There is another important issue: the reason for the interest. A photographer/starer may be interested in the play of the light, or the human interaction, or what he can see of a woman's underwear. The object of interest does not know which, but, inevitably, will guess. In that situation, "look" and "stare" may be used like "quickly" and "hurriedly", or "hit" and "bash": the choice reflects not just an objective appraisal of the act, but also a guess about the reason for it. That is, it is not only that to stare is creepy: a "stare" is what you call a look from someone you find creepy or threatening, and "look" is what you call a stare from someone you find attractive. (It is often noted that when a lion, eg, looks fixedly and intently at another lion - stares, in other words - it is thinking either about fighting, if the other lion is male, or having sex, if the other lion is female, and staring makes us uneasy because we assume humans have the same limited range of thoughts).

Photographers sometimes choose not to photograph things they are interested in - just as people without cameras choose not to stare. One common reason they make that choice is a sense that the subject would find it embarrassing or humiliating to be photographed. Gilden has often been supposed to make the opposite choice: to photograph people because they will be embarrassed or humiliated. But maybe Gilden is asking "Why should these people be embarrassed or humiliated? They are just people: aren't you, the viewer who finds the photographs repulsive, the one who should be embarrassed?" In that case, staring at them a while might change your view of them.

Or maybe Gilden is saying "Here is the full, unvarnished horror of my childhood, that I still see around me" - a sort of Brooklyn Goya (my two cents worth is that this is the reading that makes most sense both of what Gilden has said and of the photographs). In that case, the question is whether staring at the photographs will allow you to get beyond the immediate reaction of horror and find interesting or complex stories in them. My two cents worth is you won't, because I don't think they are there.

Or maybe he is just a pimp, offering us the guilty pleasure of staring at freaks. In that case, staring more will make it worse.
28 months ago (permalink)

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clariposa says:

ups! lost in translation :D
what i wanted to say was:
I love sunday salons. They make my brain work in a different way.
(And get to know photographers I've never heard about before.)
Thank you, Greg!
Originally posted 28 months ago. (permalink)
clariposa edited this topic 28 months ago.

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-masru- is a group administrator -masru- says:

Absence de Marquage:

A photograph is the result of a process: it starts with looking, then noticing and being interested, then the business with the camera.


This is not the only thinkable process, right?
28 months ago (permalink)

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Seldon, is a group administrator Seldon, says:

It'sGreg:

I wonder, though, if I looked at them -- stared at them -- longer, would I feel something different?


I find it hard to think of a work where some kind of prolonged engagement hasn't changed the way I feel about it. That includes reading your Sunday Salon's.

And I'd add that the context in which you see a work is important. Looking at printed photos over the internet is a second hand experience. It seems an obvious truth when you think of painting, sculpture or other artform but I've found it to be true for photography too. I mentioned 'The Last Resort' above but it also happened last year when I stumbled across a retrospective of Bernd and Hilla Becher typologies. I'd read about them and their importance but never quite understood it all at a gut level. Seeing their work printed and framed as they should be, each series complete and hung together and having the luxury to spend some time with them made a world of difference to me. Suddenly I 'got' it.

That kind of thing happens too often to me to be a coincidence. It keeps me returning to galleries and I'll definitely be on the lookout for a Bruce Gilden show.
28 months ago (permalink)

wretched celery [deleted] says:

-masru-:

This is not the only thinkable process, right?


Sure. The one with the longest pedigree is probably that you don't choose what you photograph: you set the camera up on a (say) street corner and set it to record an image every 30 seconds. You can then choose from among the images, like Mishka Henner using Google street view, or you can not choose - you can channel John Cage's piano work 4 ' 33" or Tracey Emin's My Bed - or you can choose at random and create a photographic equivalent of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain.

You can radically modify images in post-processing. You can use film but not a camera, like Justine Varga (www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/aug/02/just...). You can photograph although you cannot see, like John Dugdale (johndugdalestudio.com/).

But that is not what most of us do, most of the time. There is something quite odd about answering the question "Why did you photograph that?" by saying "No reason", and meaning it.
28 months ago (permalink)

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It'sGreg is a group administrator It'sGreg says:

Seldon,:

I find it hard to think of a work where some kind of prolonged engagement hasn't changed the way I feel about it.

Yes. One of the odd things I've noticed about that 'prolonged engagement' is that it rarely reinforces my first impression. There's probably some sort of lesson there.

Absence de Marquage:
There is something quite odd about answering the question "Why did you photograph that?" by saying "No reason", and meaning it.

I'm not entirely convinced it's possible to say that and actually mean it -- unless you're talking about a single photo. You couldn't do it as a project. Even the automatic Google Street View photos were shot for a reason, though artists like Henner or Rafman use those photos for entirely different and unrelated reasons.

Sure, somebody can take a photograph by accident -- to shoot a photo inadvertently. But you can't reproduce that accident by accident. If that makes sense.
28 months ago (permalink)

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