A photographer looks back at his work in New York City in the 1980s

New York, 1980. (Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos)

Bruce Gilden calls the photo “The Strangler.” The long-time Magnum photographer was just walking down a street of New York when he came across the scene. “It’s one of the few pictures where I can remember the scenario,” he said. “These two guys were having this battle in the street. They were so drunk and one had his hand on the other’s neck for a minute.”

The photo looks surreal – almost as if the two men were acting for Gilden’s camera. “It’s quite captivating. It’s weird,” he said. “And I get asked a lot: did you stage that. I didn’t.” Like most of Gilden’s work, this is a moment stolen from the streets of New York, where he grew up – both as a person and as a photographer.

This particular photo is one of hundreds that hadn’t seen the light of day until Gilden went back through his archives two summers ago. “I used to separate all my really good negatives from the rest,” he said. The thousands of negatives that were once cast aside were moved into boxes. Some stayed with him, while others ended up at his agency’s New York office. One afternoon, as he looked through the boxes, Gilden found one “really nice picture,” he said. “You can imagine how stressed I was: how did I miss this picture.”

That exploration has given birth to “Lost and Found,” a book of 75 photographs shot between 1978 and 1984 published by Éditions Xavier Barral. The photos will also go on show at the 10 Corso Como gallery in New York from Feb. 7.

For Gilden, these photos show how he transitioned from a street photographer, where New York City is a major character of his work, to one focused on people. “You feel the heartbeat of the city when, in my later pictures, you feel the heartbeat of the individuals because I moved much, much closer,” he said. And that might help explain why he missed these images the first time around, as Gilden was becoming a different kind of photographer. “When I work on something, I take it until I’m ready to do something else.”

Today, Gilden doesn’t feel he’d be able to produce the same kind of work in New York. “The city is soulless to me now,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving around but I don’t find the people interesting.”

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