It’s always fascinating to hear photography greats talk about their own work and the ideas or motivations behind them, even if it’s the controversial Bruce Gilden. Whatever you want to think of his style as a street photographer, many of his works remain exemplary in street photography and documentary photography. Among these is the black and white Gangster Types and Tough Guys series, which shows us the culture and daily life of England’s brawlers and Japan’s infamous crooks. Who else can best tell us more about this body of work but Gilden himself?
The short video below by Gilden himself makes a fitting viewing companion to the series that he started in the mid-1990s — just a few years before he joined Magnum Photos in 1998. Candid, intriguing, and thought-provoking, it’s a fine example of radical projects that inspire us to peek into the very worlds we are told not to step into. Or mingle with people we’re not supposed to. If you’re curious about what he has to say on this body of work, he actually threw a lot of interesting stuff out there.
Gilden tells us a number of things that influenced and drove the entire series — from how his father was his first quintessential figure of the tough guy, to the often unspoken reality that even the meekest person has a “tough guy” or even a gangster in him. It’s also interesting how he fittingly differentiates a gangster from a tough guy and was able to show it in his work.
You’d think that Gilden wasn’t fazed at all by the “toughness” that surrounded him while shooting from this project. But his thoughts on how the tough guys in these places are tough in groups — so he had to pick his spots — give us a clue about the dangerous situations he found himself in. The Yakuza part of the project is certainly the most fascinating part of this project — and also the scariest, as he hinted in his commentary.
“The gangster type — I’m fascinated by them. I don’t judge them. In many ways I find them pure than supposedly honest people. These people are what they are, and they do what they do. And that’s it.”
Bruce Gilden has loads more of these commentary videos on his Vimeo page, so knock yourself out if you want to listen to him speak about his other projects.
Screenshot image from the video by Bruce Gilden