A man walking with a woman on his arm. Shot almost front on, illuminated with a mix of off-camera strobe and natural light in black and white. He’s on the left, she’s on the right, and they’re cropped so tightly that their faces barely make it in the frame, which is reenforced by the photographer who has had the picture printed to include a black border.
The only breathing space is a touch of background between the couple’s heads. A construction site. We also catch a glimpse of the pavement and a two grainy pedestrians.
Bruce Gilden took this picture up close with a wide lens and slow shutter speed. He was probably no more than six feet away. The flash freezes the couple. The background, illuminated by natural light, has blurred from camera movement. This combination of flash and blurred background gives the picture energy and evokes the bustle of the street.
The couple have matching hair. Wigs? He has a black moustache. Fake? His eyes are hidden by giant sunglasses. He wears a sports jacket, zipped low over a golf shirt with the top button fastened. He could pass for a character from a Wes Anderson movie. And unlike a lot of street photography that invites us to smirk about characters living on the fringes of society, here the transaction is not so simple. Laughing at this unusual couple, I’m left with the uneasy feeling that perhaps the joke’s on me. Is he really crazy? Or is the guy in the big sunglasses and fake moustache with the woman on his arm actually playing an elaborate hoax? Pranking us and never breaking character like some kind of Andy Kaufman creation?
The beauty of this picture is that we’ll never know.