NYC103226 © Bruce Gilden / MAGNUM Photos

Gilden makes no bones about his style. He’s brash and in-yer-face. It’s his visual brand.

He doesn’t change his brand. With his surprise tactics, Gilden makes fun of New Yorkers as much as Texan millionaires as much as Guantanamo soldiers. (Might he also employ subtler approaches than the video below suggests?)

And why should he change his visual brand? He’s worked hard at it and we have supported it his whole career.

On the front page of today are a few of his shots from the Haiti earthquake aftermath. Should Gilden have changed his approach for his 2010 Haiti portfolio?

No, I don’t think Gilden should change his style; I think Gilden should’ve just stayed away.

This is my own personal opinion and I am not interested in any crusade against Gilden’s assumed approach or ethics. I just didn’t want to let his work pass without saying that I find it quite uncomfortable. This project isn’t the sort of thing I want to look at.


A couple of weeks ago John Sevigny had a serious pop at Larry Towell (also of Magnum) for “gratuitous, racist and disgusting” work. I posted it, the Click picked it up and there was a short discussion at Lightstalkers.

I see where Sevigny’s coming from but I also appreciate comments which add a bit more subtlety to the debate – namely that exposed breasts are not always to be sexualised or considered part of an unequal power dynamic. This is just imposing ones own sensitivity upon another culture. More problematic is the fact the bare-chested woman is unable to move from the hospital bed away from Towell’s directed lens. Anyway, I digress, Gilden’s Haiti work is the topic at issue.

The situation with Gilden is slightly different. I must pause here and state that Gilden has photographed Haiti many times before (1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995); he has perhaps been as many as a dozen times? And yet, I feel as though Gilden’s images of victims (many amputees) in the MSF hospital are feeding the same distant disdain we reserve for drunk and bloodied hipsters in our faux-fashion magazines (Vice). Isn’t Gilden’s work going to get caught up in a visual culture that often replaces even slightly careful representation with the thrill of gore and body fluids?

I take issue with Gilden’s style as used in Haiti, now. To me personally, Gilden’s style mocks its subjects. I can’t get away from that. I would fully anticipate Gilden arguing (very well) just the opposite – that he cares deeply about different shapes, colours, countenances and circumstances of all the people at whom he launches his lens and flash.

NYC103269 © Bruce Gilden / MAGNUM Photos

After the MSF hospital Gilden goes on to make a typology of survivors’ structures and portraits of beggars, tent city dwellers and the mentally ill.

So, I want to ask. Do I have a point? Do you share my aversion to Gilden’s work in the aftermath of this natural disaster of a quarter-million fatalities?

Magnum has made a public commitment to funding work in Haiti, but should we maybe have hoped that the members had encouraged Gilden to perhaps sit this one out?