A Closer Look at Bruce Gilden: Depth of Field 2023


Bruce Gilden is a street-photography icon. With summer in full swing and International Street Photography Day (otherwise known as Henry Cartier-Bresson’s birthday) looming on the horizon, what better time to feature a lively chat with the master himself, recorded at B&H’s 2023 Depth of Field Conference, just before the Magnum photographer’s keynote lecture.

Gilden’s emotionally fraught depictions of real people up close are an acquired taste, and we address this aspect of his work during our chat, with Allan admitting that Gilden’s work has terrified him in the past. We also touch on a somewhat surprising facet of Gilden’s career—fashion photography—as he discusses making pictures for high-end clients such as Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, and Diesel. From the influence of early 20th-century mugshots in Gilden’s aesthetic to the importance of making, and living with, visual choices to keep the photography fresh, our discussion covers a lot of ground. Stay to the end to learn about Gilden’s long held photographic wish—photographing murder in a beautiful way.

And for anyone who’s ever fantasized about a taking workshop with Gilden, check out the link below to his upcoming street photography workshop in New York!

Above photograph © Bruce Gilden

Guest: Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden

Sponsored by

Bruce Gilden in action
Bruce Gilden in action
Little Italy, New York City, 1984
Little Italy, New York City, 1984
Yakusa lighting his partner's cigarette, Ginza, Tokyo, 1998
Yakusa lighting his partner's cigarette, Ginza, Tokyo, 1998

Episode Timeline:

  • 2:27: How Bruce Gilden’s attitude and approach has changed in the past 58 years.
  • 5:10: Gilden’s work in fashion photography for clients such as Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, and Diesel.
  • 6:34: Shooting projects in black-and-white vs. color and how Gilden decides on which approach to take.
  • 8:29: The inspiration behind Gilden’s portraits—early 20th-century mugshots—and his preferred tools for this look: a Leica S and 70mm lens.
  • 10:58: Street knowledge and how Gilden first approaches strangers about making a portrait.
  • 14:51: What carried over from Gilden’s study of acting: His life—you can learn something in school but it’s where you come from that counts.
  • 16:40: How taking breaks from photography has influenced Gilden’s approach, plus his incorporation of flash with close-up portraits.
  • 20:09: Making visual choices and being prepared to live with them, plus Gilden’s fast working speed and his approach to learning by looking.
  • 23:24: Gilden’s long held desire to shoot murders or other violent acts in a beautiful way.
  • 26:32: A key to understanding Bruce Gilden’s work: Look at the pictures and make up a little story.

Guest Bio:

Bruce Gilden was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946. He briefly toyed with the idea of being an actor, but in 1967 he decided to buy a camera. Although he did attend evening classes at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Gilden is substantially a self-taught photographer.

A legendary street photographer with a unique style, Gilden has always been fascinated by life on the streets and the complicated and fascinating motion it involves. This was the spark that inspired his first long-term personal projects, photographing in Coney Island and during the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Over the years he has produced long and detailed photographic projects in New York, Haiti, France, Ireland, India, Russia, Japan, England, and now in the US.

His photographic style is defined by the dynamic accent of special graphic qualities, and his original and direct manner of shooting the faces of passers-by with a flash. Gilden’s powerful images in black-and-white, and now in color, have brought him worldwide fame.

Gilden has received many awards and grants for his work, including National Endowments for the Arts fellowships (1980, 1984, and 1992), French “Villa Medicis Hors les Murs” grant (1995), grants from the New York State Foundation for the Arts (1979, 1992, and 2000), a Japan Foundation Artist Fellowship (1999), and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2013. His work has been exhibited in museums and art galleries worldwide and is part of many collections.

Bruce Gilden has published 27 monographs, among them: Facing New York, 1992; Bleus, 1994; Haiti, 1996 (European Publishers Award for Photography); After The Off, 1999; Go, 2000; Coney Island, 2002; A Beautiful Catastrophe, 2004; Foreclosures, 2013; A Complete Examination of Middlesex, 2014. In 2015, Gilden published Face, and Hey Mister Throw Me Some Beads! In April 2016, he released Un Nouveau Regard Sur la Mobilité Urbaine featuring a commission for the French transportation system RATP. Gilden’s most recent books include Only God Can Judge Me, 2018, Lost and Found, 2019, Palermo Gilden, 2020, Cherry Blossom, 2021, Black Country and The Circuit, both published in 2022.

Bruce Gilden joined Magnum Photos in 1998. He lives in Beacon, New York.

Stay Connected:

Bruce Gilden Website: https://www.brucegilden.com
Bruce Gilden Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BruceGilden
Bruce Gilden Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bruce_gilden
Bruce Gilden Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/brucegilden
Bruce Gilden’s Magnum page: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/bruce-gilden/
Bruce Gilden’s Upcoming New York Workshop: https://www.miamistreetphotographyfestival.org/bruce-gilden

Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman
Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner