‘Every body of work I’ve done has a certain social dynamic – and I don’t put too much sugar on it.’ Bruce Davidson (Born 1933 – Chicago)
Brighton beach, 1960, Copyright Bruce Davidson
I have a copy of Davidson’s photobook ‘England/Scotland 1960’ on my shelf. Documenting the urban and rural life of that period, in many ways it’s different from most of his work. The subject matter is broad and slightly baggy, like a comfortable pair of trousers. Don’t get me wrong, I like the images – Brighton beach, 1960, is one of my favourites. But as Davidson has acknowledged : ‘In the early sixties, my work was Cartier-Bresson-ish, but later on it got harder and sharper.’
Typically he has worked on more clearly defined, long-term projects. For example, in the late 1960s he photographed the lives of people on one block in East Harlem, over a period of two years. Witnessing the poverty and hardship, he worked with the residents using a large format camera. Published in 1970 as ‘East 100th Street’, the book had a social impact, as well as a photographic one. As he recently explained : ‘The citizens’ committee was able to show it to the mayor to help fund renovations in an underserved community’.
Whilst many of his projects focus on social issues, it is Davidson’s personal connection to the subject that makes his work so distinctive : ‘If I am looking for a story at all, it is in my relationship to the subject – the story that tells me, rather than that I tell.’
If you’re in London between now and 27 May 2018, I warmly recommend the current group exhibition at The Barbican : ‘Another Kind of Life : Photography on the Margins’. Amongst other work, Davidson’s 1959 project ‘Brooklyn Gang’ is featured.
Birmingham, Alabama, 1965, Copyright Bruce Davidson
Still working in 2018, for me Bruce Davidson is an inspiring example – and I’m interested to know what you think of his work.