Bruce Gilden Talks About the Powerful Influence of Street Photography

Images by Bruce Gilden. Used with permission.

“I think it’s fine if that’s who they are and as long as they’re comfortable working that way,” says Bruce Gilden when asked how he feels about photographers adopting his style. He continues, “For me, working in that style is natural.” Gilden is a leading mainstay in the street photography community. His work has polarized and revolutionized the candid frame. And as Magnum kicks off its annual Square Print Sale, we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with one of street photography’s most influential players.

Bruce Gilden on the Pandemic

For someone who has practiced photography for as long as Gilden, you would think the limitations of the current pandemic would be difficult to handle. But when asked how he felt about it all, his response was nothing but positive. “I have been photographing a lot during the pandemic,” he tells The Phoblographer. “Surprisingly, new venues have opened up to me. Not only because of the pandemic but also because of the protests that took place after the death of George Floyd.”

Unlike previous years, there’s a distinct change in his subjects. “I had to deal with the fact that people have been wearing masks. In some of my photographs, this became a useful addition, and in other shots, it worked against my photography.” The lesson to be taken here is that skilled, experienced photographers like Gilden constantly adapt to their environment, helping them create the best work possible.

On Sourcing Inspiration

Gilden is an inspiration to many street photographers. That comes with being successful. We were curious to understand where he got his inspiration from over the years. He tells us, “when I started my career, I learned a lot from looking at other photographers’ work. [I read all the] reviews, international photo magazines, and books that I could find.”

When asked if he found inspiration from younger photographers working today, his response, as always, was transparent. “…in the last 10 years, although I have seen a good amount of work by young photographers, I feel that I have been concentrating on how to get the best out of myself.”

Traveling the World and the Power of Print

Gilden’s no-nonsense, direct approach to street photography oozes the culture of New York. Born in Brooklyn, his work often depicts the place he calls home. But he’s also extremely well-traveled. How does photographing in a new space compare to shooting in familiar surroundings? In his words, “photographing in a new space is always welcome to me because you don’t know what you’re going to find there.” He continues, “obviously, some places are better than others.”

Moving the conversation to a topic that divides the industry, we spoke about the power of print vs the digital image. It’s important to remember, Gilden cut his teeth in photography when digital didn’t exist. He held his images, felt them, and understood what it was like to get an exposure worth keeping. It’s no surprise when we asked him how a physical photograph compares to an image on a digital screen, his answer was brief: “There is no comparison.”

You can buy a signed print by Bruce Gilden through the Magnum Square Print sale by clicking here.

On The Power of Street Photography

On Gilden’s website, a quote reads, “…the older I get, the closer I get,” in reference to his subjects. We wanted to know why that was, and what it meant in terms of the relationship he has with other people:

“When I first picked up a camera, I made Robert Capa’s sentence my mantra. And as I get older, my proximity to people has gotten closer. I feel best and more comfortable when I’m in the middle of a situation and very close to my subject, rather than sneaking a picture from far. I have a more intimate relationship with my subjects.”

Despite the close proximity to his subjects, Gilden has often said he is a shy person. Looking for him to give inspiration to others, we asked him how he felt street photography could help someone overcome shyness. “I think that street photography is a great confidence builder: you’re doing something for yourself, and it’s positive,” he explains. “Sometimes you’re in the middle of crowds, and you’re forced to be among people to achieve what you want to do.”

He closes with, “also, sometimes people approach you or make a comment, and you have to respond. And if you do it, it builds your confidence.”

We would like to thank Bruce Gilden for taking the time to speak with us.

The Magnum Square Print Sale lasts for one week. To get great discounts on prints from the world’s most celebrated photographers, click here.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.