Bruce Gilden’s Coney Island Collection

Brue Gilden, Magnum photographer, shot extensively at Coney Island, producing a collection that is anything but a mundane day at the beach. Though walking the boardwalk on this famous beach could easily yield shots of crowds, sand and waves, and maybe an ice cream stand, Gilden’s lens reveals beach-goers’ personas through very unique portraits. The effect? A bizarre, yet extremely honest view of a small slice of New Yorkers laying out on a Saturday afternoon.

The eerie and almost invasive aura from these photos come from the visual strategies Gilden uses to frame and capture his subjects. Some things I noticed include:

Tight shots that focus succeed in capturing expressions that are wholly natural. It seems as if Gilden’s comfort with the camera translates well to comfort and seemingly familiarity with all his subjects. However, faces are a rarity in Gilden’s collection.

– Inclusion of photos with backs or cut off heads or obstructed faces. Focusing the frame around someone’s back would usually be a cardinal sin in photojournalism. But with select photos, Gilden still manages to make the message a compelling one. How does he do this? It seems as though his subjects are so emotionally vibrant, or that he is so acutely aware of their vibrance and subtleties, that occasionally he does not need to include their face in order to convey their personalities to the viewer.

– Intelligent framing that puts the subject in context or conveys more clearly to the viewer the subject’s emotional relationship with their surroundings. From viewing this collection, it seems that Gilden does not view the frame simply as the necessary boundary for where the photo must end. Instead, he works with the frame. Instead of letting the lines dictate and define what he can and cannot include, Gilden takes control of the frame, making what is included more meaningful and making conscious decisions about what to include and what to leave out.

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