When it comes to street photography, the first thing that often comes to mind is showing a slice of life with people going about their daily activities. Some photographers also do well in introducing us to interesting people through street portraits.

However, if you’re more interested in depicting fascinating characters instead of just eye-catching faces, it may be a bit challenging. Here’s where a collection of street portraits by Los Angeles-based Michael Goldberg comes into the picture. I’m sure it will give you some ideas for the next time you hit the streets!

Channeling Bruce Gilden

Goldberg’s work immediately reminded me of New Yorker Bruce Gilden and his “in your face” style, so I won’t be surprised if he was actually inspired by the street photography icon. His collection of portraits bring the same mood and energy that Gilden achieved by getting really close to his subjects.

Aside from the fact that he had picked really interesting subjects, I also like how Goldberg was able to capture a dynamic spirit in his snaps. It’s evidently a different approach from most conventional street portraits. Whether it’s the unusual expressions or the subjects captured mid-movement, there’s no doubt that they bring an energy to this visual style. I find it really effective in catching the viewer’s attention.

Is this close too close?

Since we’re on the subject of Gilden, the apprehension against his iconic style can’t be avoided. Many feel that his approach is brazen and too intrusive. HIs street portraits are also often shot with strong flash to prominently separate the subjects from the background and highlight their features. It’s another detail that is often disliked about his approach. All these elements are also present in Goldberg’s street portraits, and I can imagine how he could have gotten the same response for these photos as Gilden did.

This led me to think, is this close indeed too intrusive? I get that it can be annoying to have a stranger pop out of nowhere while you’re out in the streets and point a camera with a strong flash in front of you. A lot of street photographers have also been weighing in on the topic, and their viewpoints remain split.

However, I also noticed a slight difference in Goldberg’s set: Most of his subjects are aware of him taking their photos. Or at least, aware of his presence. There’s still a look of surprise or unreadiness in some of them, but it still looks like they didn’t mind.

In the end, I think what makes this style work is the authentic expressions and gestures immortalized in the photos. They also elevate subjects into interesting characters instead of people that simply happened to pass by into the frame. However, it still depends on your own values and ethics as a photographer. If you can find a way around the boldness of the process and still get the same effect, I say go for it!

All photos by Michael Goldberg. Used with Creative Commons permission.