Black Country Faces

Bruce Gilden

“The people that I photograph are out there”, says Gilden. “I didn’t invent them, I didn’t put make-up on them. They are who they are, pimples, warts and all … there’s something beautiful in how these people look, and in their soul, and I don’t believe you can change anything in the world that’s not right if you don’t look at it. It can’t stay invisible.

Bruce Gilden, from a 2015 interview with Colin Pantall

In 2013, Multistory invited American photographer Bruce Gilden to continue his Face series in the Black Country, where he worked in colour for the first time in over fifty years. Bruce’s idea was to focus his lens on what he calls ‘the left behind’; the ‘invisible people’ who are often on the periphery, under presented and marginalised.

Working in the tradition of street photography, Bruce was accompanied by his own assistant and a researcher / fixer from Multistory to meet people and to take portraits on the streets of West Bromwich, Dudley and Wolverhampton from 2013 to 2014

By taking close-up portraits of the face, devoid of any background, his images encourage a direct and intense ‘eye-to-eye’ encounter between the person in the photograph and the person who is viewing the photograph – much like Bruce’s experience when he takes the image.  In his vision, says his wife Sophie Gilden, “these are his truthful storytellers”.

Bruce’s portraits show the details of the face – every hair, freckle and blood vessel.  As Magnum photographer Martin Parr writes in his introduction to the Barbican exhibition Strange and Familiar, Bruce “hones in on some of the characters of the area, bringing alive the idea that a face can read like a book”.

You can find out more about Bruce’s Black Country work and his photographic approach in the specially commissioned Multistory film ‘Bruce Gilden at Work’.

A selection of Bruce’s work was shown as part of Strange and Familiar at The Barbican from 16 March to 19 June, 2016. This major exhibition, curated by Martin Parr, considers how international photographers from the 1930s onwards have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK. The exhibition is at Manchester Art Gallery from 25 November 2016 to 29 May, 2017

A selection of portraits taken in the Black Country are included in Face, a book published by Dewi Lewis in 2015.

Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden is a street photographer who has travelled and exhibited widely around the world.  He has received numerous awards, including the European Award for Photography, three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Japan Foundation fellowship.  He lives in New York.

Bruce Gilden is joined in conversation by Emma Chetcuti, Director at Multistory, to discuss his distinct approach to photography on Tues 10 July at the Barbican. Visit their website to buy tickets.