Bruce Gilden Takes Street Photos Like You’ve Never Seen Before
Bruce Gilden is most famous for his New York street photography. These days, that term might conjure up the idea of plonkers with DSLRs taking photos of Supreme-clad youths posing on street corners. But Gilden’s signature style of in-your-face street portraiture reveals far more about the world we live in than that. He’s taken photos of everyone from NYC locals to Haitian hurricane survivors to Japanese Yakuza members. We spoke to him about having thick skin, the state of modern America, and why Haiti is still his favorite place to shoot. You can see more of his work in VICE here.
VICE: “Street photography” is a term that’s become overused these days, and its meaning has changed somewhat. How you would describe what you do? Is that a term you’re happy with?
Bruce Gilden: You know the Fifth Amendment? I plead the Fifth Amendment: “I can’t answer that question on the grounds that it might incriminate me.” Anyway, I’ve been called—and I would call myself—a street photographer. But, in reality, what is a street photographer? Does that mean anything that’s taken or done in the street? To me, street photography is where you can smell the street, feel the dirt. Maybe that’s a bit of an unfair definition, but that’s what I feel.
I think it’s a very urban thing for me: my style is street photography all the way through, but are my pictures of Haiti really street photography? Even I have trouble defining that as such. But maybe they could be, because it’s about style. I can get really parochial about this. A good photograph for me is one that works in the frame and has strong emotional content.
Your style of photography is very up-close and personal, which I imagine could cause problems. How do those dangers and risks compare to those taken by other photographers who are, say, embedded in a warzone?
Well, look, when you’re embedded somewhere—or you’re allowed to be somewhere to take photographs—it’s always easier in some respects. People are mistaken about one thing: the closeness. If you work close and have a flash, that doesn’t mean that people are going to get more or less upset at you than if you were 12 feet away. You need a good bedside manner. What I mean is that you have to be comfortable, you have to know yourself. I look everybody in the eye. If you weren’t comfortable and you’re ten feet away and weren’t using flash, someone could look at you and say, “Wait a second, that guy’s taking a photo of me and he’s sneaking it!”
People assume something that isn’t always correct. Now, I’m close to people, I use a flash. Sometimes I’m so close that people don’t even think I took their picture—they’ll say, “He didn’t take a picture of me, did he?” But the thing is, as far as having problems, you can have a problem whenever you raise your camera.
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No One Knows Exactly Why the Canadian Military Is in Haiti
Perhaps understandably, the Canadian media has been having a hard time covering any news that doesn’t have to do with one of the following: the mayor of Toronto maybe smoking crack with a murdered drug dealer; the mayor of Montreal being charged with cavorting with the mafia; Calgary being swallowed by floods; and the Prime Minister allegedly paying off a corrupt senator to put out a political firestorm.
Which makes it the perfect time for the Canadian government to quietly announce the deployment of an infantry platoon of 34 soldiers to Haiti. The island nation, which is still dealing with the ramifications of the devastating 2010 earthquake, is currently controlled by the Brazilian troops who’ve led the UN peacekeeping effort in Haiti since 2004. The move to partake in a UN peacekeeping mission is significant: Stephen Harper’s conservative government is voluntarily getting back into the traditional peacekeeping game.
For a country that basically invented the concept of the peacekeeper, Harper has overseen a nose-dive to the point where the Canucks now rank 57 out of 114 troop-contributing nations worldwide. And throughout his time in office, Harper has rarely engaged in a foray abroad that he willingly signed up for. It was the Liberal Party that volunteered Canada for Afghanistan (and it was Harper’s decision to pull out), there was the limitedcontribution to the Nato Libya mission, and he’s been extremely hesitant of Syrian intervention. In fact, Harper has only seemed gung-ho about taking down Assad at the G8, when he was in a lion’s den of world leaders clamoring for Assad’s demise (although he still stopped short of advocating arming the rebels).
The change of heart for Harper certainly raises questions, even if 34 troops is only a minor contribution. So why now—and why Haiti?
Remember Haiti? Giles Clarke Does
On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, killing over 230,000 people, injuring many more, and leaving 1.5 million homeless. Although the media has since moved on for the most part, many Haitians are still struggling in scores of tent cities around Port-au-Prince and all along the coast. In Léogâne, a seaside town near the epicenter of the quake, 90 percent of the town’s buildings were destroyed and a quarter of its residents died. Many aid organizations such as Medicin sans Frontieres had two-year contracts from the Haitian government to provide services to the tent cities, but these contracts have quietly been allowed to expire, leaving thousands of families in dire straits. Many don’t like to talk about the earthquake and find solace in the spiritual—either in Christian churches or at voodoo ceremonies. There are now over 12,000 registered NGO organizations in Haiti, which is still the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Léogâne, 20 miles to the west of Port-au-Prince, was one of the hardest-hit towns. Survivors were treated on hospital ships that moored just off the coast in those first frantic few days following the quake.
The UN and many international aid agencies are actively helping the people rebuild their homes and lives. Many of the town’s surviving residents will never sleep in stone buildings again and now camp in tents and makeshift houses behind the dilapidated ruins of the few remaining buildings.
A bird’s eye view of Cité Soleil, a shanty town near Port-au-Prince that grew to an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 residents, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty. The area is generally regarded as one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the western hemisphere and it is one of the world’s largest slums. Cité Soleil has has a poorly maintained open canal system that serves as its sewage system, few formal businesses, sporadic but largely free electricity, a few hospitals, and a single government school, Lycee Nationale de Cite Soleil.
Children on the seawall in Cité Soleil. The boats in the background are laden with charcoal that is shipped in from an island just off the coast to the north.
Fresh Off the Boat - Season Finale
In the season finale of Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie follows Chef Creole to the heart of Little Haiti, where food is paramount to the neighborhood’s Creole roots. They stop at Creole’s kitchen and trade techniques before grilling up a 100-pound pig and serving it up at a Dolphins tailgate. Bookending Fresh Off the Boat’s season finale, Creole’s clan brings Eddie out on Biscayne Bay to barbecue steak and vibe out Haitian-style.
Watch the episode
Hamilton goes to speak with Wade Davis, author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, world renowned ethnobotanist and (don’t call him a) Zombieologist.
After being briefed on the history of the Haitian Zombie, Hamilton takes off for Port-Au-Prince on a quest for the secret poison.
See the rest at VBS.TV: Nzambi — Part 1 of 6 - Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia | VBS.TV