Something has gotten into Bruce Gilden. The Magnum photographer has always preferred to take pictures “close,” working not by classic fly-on-the-wall documentarian methodology but by getting so up in the action that there’s little chance anything can be lost in the distance between point A (subject) and point B (lens). But recently, he’s been getting even closer, obsessively collecting images of faces made as close as the frame will possibly allow. And the thing is, he can’t explain what the fuck has gotten into him except by reaffirming his favorite personal aphorism: “The older I get, the closer I get.”
Few photographers are more familiar with the urban underbelly than Gilden, who has spent much of his career documenting the fringes of society worldwide and “tough guys” born in tougher circumstances. So, for the True Crime issue, VICE sent him down to Camden, New Jersey, the city that was declared the most dangerous in America after it surpassed the violent-crime rate of Flint, Michigan, in 2012. There, Gilden spent time with Camden men who had two things in common: They all served time, and they all wanted to see their broken city fixed. Guys like Anthony Dillard want to bring “some industry back to Camden.” Guys like Niger Ali organize “programming for the youth.” Guys like smooth-talking Gary Frazier Jr. are running for public office, and Jermaine Wilson simply wants to bring people into the workforce. These are faces of checkered pasts, of rehabilitated presents, of the tricky shades of gray in between.
See, in Camden, your relationship to crime, whatever it may be, is an inextricable part of your identity. Posing for a picture becomes an exercise in presenting some version of not who you are but who you are not—or, sometimes, who you’re not anymore.