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Book Review: A Complete Examination of Middlesex


Book Review A Complete Examination of Middlesex By Bruce Gilden Reviewed by Colin Pantall There are worse things that can happen in life than being photographed by Bruce Gilden and, by the looks of things, most of them have happened to the people of Middlesex. The bruised, the battered, the blind, the insane, they are all the subject of Gilden’s lovely Leica.

A Complete Examination of Middlesex.
By Bruce Gilden. AMC Books, 2013.
 
A Complete Examination of Middlesex
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

A Complete Examination of Middlesex
By Bruce Gilden

$110.00
AMC Books, 2013. 104 pp., 76 color illustrations, 8¾x13¼". 

“What I’m searching for when I walk the street are people I can engage with: somebody whose face, and particularly eyes, scream a story.”

That’s the quote that greets you when you crack open the spine of Bruce Gilden’s A Complete Examination of Middlesex – Middlesex here meaning London.

And so you open the pages and the stories start coming. There are worse things that can happen in life than being photographed by Bruce Gilden and, by the looks of things, most of them have happened to the people of Middlesex. The bruised, the battered, the blind, the insane, they are all the subject of Gilden’s lovely Leica.

A Complete Examination of MiddlesexBy Bruce Gilden. AMC Books, 2013.


With skin ravaged by alcohol, tobacco and a lifestyle in which neither vegetables nor sunlight figure, the stories come flooding out. The second picture shows a man with a Zapata moustache glowering at the lens. His moustache matches his eyebrows, three pieces of facial hair that arch across his face in mimicry of the folds of the bags under his eyes and the jowls on his chin. He’s bald but he’s dressed well, with a tweed jacket and a patterned tie. His hands are large and seem almost to be reaching towards Gilden as he takes his snap. Who he is we have no idea but we get the feeling that he has lived a full and eventful life.

A Complete Examination of MiddlesexBy Bruce Gilden. AMC Books, 2013.

Right from the off, there’s a sense of menace in the air. It’s menace mixed with madness. Gilden chooses people who look to be on the fringes of society; people who have bad clothes, bad teeth and bad hair, people who have one eye looking one way and the other another, people who have flesh that hangs off them like slabs of fat on a shoulder of week-old slaughtered pig.

Over the years Gilden has got closer and closer to his subjects and perhaps this is at least partly where he gets his stories. Where other photographers instil nobility, fragility or enigma into their subjects, Gilden pulls out faces from the crowd and flips them straight into his film noir freak show.

A Complete Examination of MiddlesexBy Bruce Gilden. AMC Books, 2013.

A lot of the people he photographs are vulnerable. Maybe Gilden is, as Joel Meyerowitz claims, a bully. But at the same time, you get the feeling that if he photographed a choirboy from the welcoming committee of the Pearly Gates, there would be more than a touch of corruption, venality and cruelty shining around his heavenly eyes.

Best of all (or worst of all depending on how you look at it) are the color photographs. These are harsh, revealing every vein, every pore, every freckle, every hair, every wart, every everything. Almost all the faces are splendidly asymmetrical; a man with hooded eyes has a nose that is halfway across the other side of his face, a milky-eyed woman appears with tilted lips and bags that are collapsing down her cheeks.

A Complete Examination of MiddlesexBy Bruce Gilden. AMC Books, 2013.

Even when faces aren’t so marked by violence or age, they are strangely out of kilter; the girl in the curlers with the cigarette in her mouth, the woman with too much lipstick, eyeliner and foundation who may have had a little too much work done.

A Complete Examination of MiddlesexBy Bruce Gilden. AMC Books, 2013.

The faces in these pictures fill nearly all the frame, so they lose a bit of context. The faces become just lips and eyes and skin and bone. They become organic and almost animal like and in a strange way, very individual. If you get photographed by Bruce Gilden you’re not going to look like everybody else. You’re going to look like yourself but with a skin that is so alive with veins and pores and discoloration that it almost seems inside out. And that’s a kind of compliment I guess. I’d love to be photographed by Richard Avedon and come across all epic and noble, but there’s a sneaking part of me that begs for the Gilden treatment, a memento mori I could stick on my wall and look at whenever my vanity strikes.—COLIN PANTALL


COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport.http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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