We tend to think of portraits as flattering portrayals of people we love, or celebrities, or of people in power. The selfies and self-portraits that people post on Facebook tend to glamorize their lives and to present themselves as attractive, impressive and desirable according to visual characteristics that are valued in our status-conscious, media-saturated societies. With his new book of portraits of less-than-glamorous people, Bruce Gilden puts us uncomfortably close to people whose faces contradict the idealized faces we encounter in magazines, movies and social media websites.
He once described the way he photographs as “flash in one hand and jumping at people”. On YouTube you can see him on the streets of New York, striding purposefully through the crowds and suddenly thrusting his camera into the faces of unsuspecting subjects. It’s a very old-school New York style of photography: tough, confrontational, literally in-your-face and, after 40 years of doing it, he is a master of sorts. You love his photographs or you hate them. He probably doesn’t give a damn either way.