About the Photographer
American, b. 1933 Oak Park, IL
My way of working is to enter an unknown world, explore it over a period of time, and learn from it. I was twenty-five and they were about sixteen. I could easily have been taken for one of them … I found myself involved with a group of unpredictable youths who were mostly indifferent to me. In time they allowed me to witness their fear, depression and anger. I soon realized that I, too, was feeling some of their pain. In staying close to them, I uncovered my own feelings of failure, frustration, and rage.
— Bruce Davidson on The Brooklyn Gang
Bruce Davidson spent two years photographing in the apartments, on the streets, and in the lives of the people of East Harlem. This project, published as East 100th Street (1970), examines poverty in urban America. The portrait reproduced here is relatively simple and straightforward: the tenuous smile of the young girl contrasts with the glare of her boyish companion, speaking to both the normalcy and particular stresses of life in the urban environment. His series The Brooklyn Gang, 1959, documented Davidson's similar immersion into a group of Brooklyn teenagers who called themselves "The Jokers." Introduced to the group by a social worker, Davidson followed them around their Prospect Park and Coney Island neighborhoods, examining the young men and their girlfriends. Full of period details, such as slicked-back hair, cigarette machines, tattoos, and old-fashioned soda bottles, the photographs serve not only as records of a past age but also as a lasting tribute to the youths' search for love and excitement while revealing their surprising vulnerability and desperation.
Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1933, Bruce Davidson was introduced to photography at age ten when he purchased a camera with money earned from a paper route. Influenced by the photojournalistic and documentary work of W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Davidson is well known for his photographs of East 100th Street in Harlem, of circus dwarfs, and of Welsh coal miners and village life. A member of the prestigious Magnum Photo agency, Davidson studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University. His photographs and films have been exhibited internationally. Exhibition venues include the International Center of Photography, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.