Rethinking Bruce Gilden's 'Face'

Bruce Gilden, Face, Professional Photography magazine

My original reaction to Bruce Gilden's latest work Face was negative. Like many I disliked it and felt it was exploitative or even dehumanising. But as I wrote on a Facebook group "To be creative it is necessary to view work that you do not like, or even causes discomfort. Let yourself be challenged"

I try to live by that maxim and so I have spent more time being challenged by Mr Gilden's faces. It should be stressed that I have only seen the work as published in magazines. Hopefully in due course, I will get chance to review the book, Face, and form a properly considered view on the whole body of the work. But my view is changing.

I still cannot say that I like the work, that I enjoy it. However I have to come to appreciate it and the idea behind it. I no longer feel that it is exploitative, the subjects gave their permission and Gilden has not manipulated the images for effect. They may be highly detailed but they are exactly what the subject sees when they look in a mirror. So I have changed my view and see them as very honest, more honest than many portraits.

Similarly my view on the dehumanising, or not, debate is much the same. By their honesty and straightforwardness these pictures emphasise humanity, our differences and similarities; we are not all pretty and perfect. Surely then Gilden's faces are far less dehumanising than the manipulated images of celebrity and fashion that distort our view of what humanity looks like; and the harm it does to so many people's self-image.

I do still have some reservations. I get the impression that Bruce Gilden has gone to the opposite extreme to the over-perfect portrait and may have sought to produce a body of work for effect. Without seeing the full work I leave my final judgement open. I still worry that it is just another book that seeks sensational impact by focussing on just a single "type", "characters" rather than reflecting the broad sweep of humanity.

I will continue to challenge myself to understand photographic possibilities and how I might develop as a photographer.

Professional Photography magazine

As an aside: this blog post was inspired by the second edition of Professional Photography, a new magazine in the UK and fills the gap left by the demise of Professional Photographer. First impressions are positive in that it seems to have more substance than its erstwhile predecessor with a good balance of portfolio, technical and business coverage. Time will tell whether the good start can be maintained.

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