Bruce Gilden has been documenting the fabulous creatures that bestride the sidewalks of New York, his hometown, since the early 1970s.
Although Gilden can’t be sure exactly when his photographic odyssey began, he knows he was on roll number 900 in 1981, and that the first picture of his he considered decent was taken during a trip to Coney Island in 1969. Apart from that, the origins of his street- photography habit are all a bit hazy.
‘My father was a bit of a tough guy,’ says Gilden, ‘and my mother was unambitious. There were no books in the house, and the stuff I was taught was how to fight and lock my car door to avoid being robbed. I was great at sports but my dad was negative towards me, and in photography I found something I was good at – something that would prove to him that I could be artistic, stick at it and succeed.’
Always conscious of the need to move on creatively, Gilden decided to see if he could utilize his skills outside New York, concluding in 1985 that Haiti had potential. Since then, Gilden has produced books and exhibitions from trips to Ireland, Japan and the UK, among other places, but it was Haiti that would become his favourite.
‘It’s a unique place, the only country in the world to have liberated itself as a slave colony, and the people are very artistic. Of course, the government is totally corrupt and the majority of the population are really poor, but I’ve never felt threatened once. I’m good at what I do and I read situations well, but I’m also friendly with people and can be self-deprecating when I have to.’
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