Joel Meyerowitz Says He Despises Bruce Gilden’s Attitude, Calls Him a Bully

Sean O’Hagan over at The Observer has published an interesting profile of famed NYC street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who had some pretty harsh things to say about his fellow NYC street shooter, Bruce Gilden:

I ask Meyerowitz about the combative, confrontational style of street photography espoused by the likes of fellow New Yorker Bruce Gilden, and he grows visibly angry for the only time in our conversation. “He’s a f**king bully. I despise the work, I despise the attitude, he’s an aggressive bully and all the pictures look alike because he only has one idea – ‘I’m gonna embarrass you, I’m going to humiliate you.’ I’m sorry, but no.”

Meyerowitz says that his street photography style is based on his boxer father’s advice to “pay attention” and anticipate the actions of the people he photographed. So here’s the difference between these two famous street photographers: one anticipates, and the other instigates.

Joel Meyerowitz: ‘brilliant mistakes … amazing accidents’ [The Observer]

P.S. Last month we wrote on how Gilden’s street photography attitude carries over into his teaching persona as well.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Phil!

Image credit: Joel Meyerowitz portrait 11/03/2012 reception by Jill Gewirtz

  • wickerprints

    Joel Meyerowitz just earned my utmost respect.

  • Bill E. Lytton

    Love Meyerowitz and Gilden. Two different styles, two different approaches. There’s no “right” way with anything. Gilden’s images evoke something that Meyerowitz’ don’t and vice versa. Without contention and differences, there would be no diversity.

  • JD

    I agree, I am sure a lot of people do also. But hey, it works for him. Doesn’t change the face that JM is spot on with his feels about Bruce.

  • wickerprints

    The problem is, it’s not merely about the validity of the work. If that were all that mattered in this world, if attitude meant nothing, then Gilden would be all right to do what he does. But some people–like Meyerowitz–believe that such things DO count. Whether you leave your mark on the world at the expense of others, whether you use your status as a means to look down upon others, whether you believe that it is possible to do good work without being a complete douche, may not say much about your photographic talent, but it says EVERYTHING about your integrity as a human being living among other human beings.

    In short, to claim that GIlden’s obnoxious behavior is justifiable for the sake of “diversity” of approaches, is not that much different than saying that it is okay for some people to capriciously inflict suffering on others simply because everyone is entitled to their differences.

    As for the claim that GIlden’s hard-a** approach “pushes” others to reevaluate their work and challenge themselves, I don’t buy it. If that is what it takes for you to be self-critical and improve yourself, then you have never really seen things for what they are. Egos like Gilden are a dime a dozen in art schools. One never needs to have that kind of feedback in order to grow as an artist–that is no better than the opposite extreme of having no criticism at all. Genuine critique comes from a place of honesty and integrity–to others as well as to oneself. Gilden’s criticism, by definition, cannot, because he inserts his ego into his commentary, with every intentional insult. He can point at anything, call it crap without having to explain why, and then the artist eventually discovers for himself what he could improve–then gives Gilden the credit, when it was his own insight all along that was responsible for his development.

  • eraserhead12

    Gilden embodies everything that people hate about street photography. takes a certain someone to take photos of peoples’ crotches on the beach, stick a camera in a disfigured person’s face, go to a hospital and happily snap away at burn victims, etc.

  • Matahor

    who said what about whom?
    sorry but for me…. street photographer are just a bit better then paparazzis.

  • Goofball Jones

    Gilden just seems like a jerk all the way around. From his street photography techniques to his teaching style. And I’ve heard this from several people. There’s no need for it.

  • Ítalo Brito

    Meyerowitz is awesome and he’s obviously is correct. Bruce Gilden is the Terry Richardson of the photojournalism world.

  • Burnin Biomass

    All I really care about the photographer is the photo they get. Past that, I don’t care if they are a sinner or a saint.

    I like both mens work and respect both the same.

  • Aaron Tsuru

    What’s wrong with Richardson? I think his work has become boring over the past few years, but he’s got some amazing photos.

  • Manwithacamera

    Bruce Gilden and Eric Kim are overrated photographers. Likewise, in photography forums and sharing websites some people talk lot about photography. But their photos are often not so good.

  • Bill E. Lytton

    Life is gritty.

  • wickerprints

    Yeah, it is. Does that mean it needs to be made even “grittier” by people who enjoy demeaning and humiliating and exploiting others out of a sense of what they consider their “artistic vision?”

  • Montreal1808

    Someone here compared Bruce Gilden to Eric Kim. That’s nonsense. Eric Kim is a kid who talks on youtube. He’s a techie. Bruce Gilden is a legend on the streets. I know both Bruce and Joel and I think they’re just very different. So they don’t like one another. Fine. But they are both great photographers.

  • Toronto2

    Meyerowitz is good. Gilden is good. Very different work actually.

    Check out Michael Ernest Sweet for street photography. A fellow Canadian with a truly unique style. A rising star in the streets but he stays quiet on the internet.

    Markus Hartel has good stuff too. He’s a NYC guy.

  • eraserhead12

    I think the contents of a street photog’s photos say a lot about what they choose to see in the world. There are gritty scenes, juxtaposed next to a million happy ones. The lens tends to isolate, and post-processing tends to dramatize.

    What’s ‘gritty’ about a disabled person on a typical day in the city, other than the person exploiting them for photos? What’s ‘gritty’ about an old person, when a photog HDR’s the heck out of their wrinkles to make them look worse?

  • jill gewirtz

    thanx Michael for using my photo
    jill gewirtz

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for taking and sharing it! :)

  • wickerprints

    You continue to willfully ignore the crucial issue here, and that is BEHAVIOR and ATTITUDE. Instead, you focus on the subject matter, which is not the end-all and be-all to the work, especially as viewed in context. In fact, what makes Gilden’s work what it is, his “idea,” as Meyerowitz refers to it, is precisely that he IS deliberately and obnoxiously intrusive. That is why the work garners attention, not simply because of its subject matter. It’s because Gilden is an active participant in the creation of the reactions of those around him–the act of taking the exposure becomes inextricably entwined with the act of causing the subjects’ surprise and displeasure.

    And the reality is that Gilden derives enjoyment from being abrasive and in-your-face. He enjoys the air of superiority he holds over others who look up to him as if he somehow knows better simply because others choose to laud him for his methods. A war photographer generally doesn’t get his rocks off because he documents murder, death, and despair. He does it out of a sense of duty and urgency. And he does NOT intervene. He’s NOT the one doing the killing, then passing it off as “real life.” Gilden, by contrast, clearly has no such moral compass. No, he’s not killing anyone, but how do you justify a photographer who upsets others and then proudly documents that provocation?

  • eraserhead12

    lol actually, I do think pestering homeless people is along the lines of what Gilden does. you’re saying that the photographer in no way contributes to the ‘grittiness’, he simply captures it. I know it’s out there, but I’m saying that the speck of grittiness that exists is exploited, dramatized, and distorted through his lens.

    by the very process of filtering stimuli, he’s making it grittier than it was. also, by being the type of d*ckwad to shove a camera in a sleeping girl’s crotch, he’s often the SOURCE of it :P.

  • Tomasz Kulbowski

    I agree! Even if I’m closer to JM than BG in my approach and method, I appreciate both.

    All these recent talk about what is and what is not street photography, who is a real street photographer, who’s not, as well as the huge and still growing number of “specialists” in this genre – all this proves only how misunderstood street photography is…

  • jill gewirtz

    i have a bunch from his opening at HG several days after the hurricane

  • jill gewirtz

    could you credit my photo jill gewirtz instead of justjill 1962. That’s my flickr name. thanx

  • R Pottis

    You’re blending a master of street photography (Gilden) and a pro-am (Kim)…

  • richard handwerk

    gilden’s work speaks for itself. he is actually quite good.

  • Steve

    Nothing against the guy but I fail to see how Michael Sweet is truly unique. You really think that after seeing Gilden, Klien and Moriyama doing what they did, so many years ago?

  • flightofbooks

    They’re both over-rated in their respective leagues, is the point he’s making.