"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Monday, May 16, 2016

bruce davidson

“I have done what I wanted to do, I have seen everything: misery, celebrity, the beautiful people, the wicked ones, generosity and hatred. But I think I have gone beyond my vision.... in the heart of my own life, in the heart of other people's lives. Perhaps that is the most important thing I have done.” 
– Bruce Davidson

Bruce Davidson, born in 1933, received his first camera as a gift from his mother at age seven. He used it to take photographs in his suburban neighborhood, Oak Park, Illinois. “Most boys my age had a dog. I had a camera.”

By age 10, he’d convinced his mom, an independent single mother, to build him a darkroom. He worked as a photographer throughout high school, at RIT and Yale, in the Army, and afterward, as a freelancer. Some 75 years after his first photos, Davidson is considered one of the most influential photographers of the last half-century.

Davidson cites Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus as influences. When he left military service in 1957, he did freelance work for Life Magazine, and in 1958 he became a full member of Magnum (having been invited by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself). From 1958 to 1961 he created such groundbreaking and influential works as “The Dwarf,” “Brooklyn Gang” and “Freedom Rides.” He received a Guggenheim in 1962 and created a body of work about the civil rights movement. Davidson was given a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1963.

In 1970 he published East 100th Street, now considered a classic. He worked on the project for two years, documenting with a 4x5 large-format view camera, life on one block in East Harlem. In 1980, he published Subway, a book of color pictures made on the New York City subway during a time when the subway was a dangerous place to be. Davidson directed two award-winning short films: a documentary called Living Off the Land and a more surreal piece titled Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko’s Beard. In 2010, his book Outside Inside, a three-volume boxed set, was published by Gerhard Steidl.

Davidson continues to work today as an editorial photographer. What makes a good photograph?  He has a simple answer: “What makes a good picture is almost subliminal. It could be a look on a face or a detail on a piece of clothing. You just have to go with the flow sometimes.”

His influence on countless photographers who have worked on the street is immeasurable. He’s a photographer’s photographer; his work and his persona are beloved by legions of people, myself included.

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