Bruce Davidson (photographer)

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Bruce Davidson
Born (1933-09-05) September 5, 1933 (age 81)
Oak Park, Illinois
Occupation Photographer
Notable work(s) Brooklyn Gang, The Dwarf, East 100th Street, Subway

Bruce Davidson (born September 5, 1933) is an American photographer. He has been a member of the Magnum Photos agency since 1958. His photographs, notably those taken in Harlem, New York City, have been widely exhibited and published.



Bruce Davidson was born on September 5, 1933 in Oak Park, Illinois. At age 10, his mother built him a darkroom in their basement and Davidson began taking photographs. Soon after, he approached a local photographer who taught him the technical nuances of photography, in addition to lighting and printing skills. His artistic influences included Robert Frank, Eugene Smith, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.[1]

At 16, Davidson won his first major photography award, the Kodak National High School snapshot contest, with a picture of an owl at a nature preserve. After he graduated from high school, Davidson attended the Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University, where one of his teachers was artist Josef Albers. Davidson showed Albers a box of prints of alcoholics on Skid Row; Albers told him to throw out his "sentimental" work and join his class in drawing and color. For his college thesis, Davidson created a photo essay that was published in Life in 1955, documenting the emotions of football players behind the scenes of the game.

Following college, Davidson was drafted into the US Army, where he served in the Signal Corps at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, attached to the post's photo pool. Initially, he was given routine photo assignments. Undaunted, Davidson created out of seemingly mundane material unique photo studies. An editor of the post's newspaper, recognizing his unique talents, asked that he be permanently assigned to the post newspaper. There, given a certain degree of autonomy, he was allowed to further hone his talents. Later, stationed in Paris, he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, a later colleague with the Magnum photo agency, sharing his portfolio and receiving advice from Cartier-Bresson. While in France, Davidson produced a photo essay on the Widow of Montmartre, an old Parisian woman.

Major works and joining Magnum Photos[edit]

After his military service, in 1957, Bruce Davidson worked briefly as a freelance photographer, before joining Magnum the following year. During the following few years, he photographed extensively, most notably producing Brooklyn Gang and The Dwarf. From 1961 to 1965, Davidson produced one of his most famous bodies of work as he chronicled the events and effects of the Civil Rights Movement around the country, in both the North and the South. In support of his project, Davidson received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962, and his finished project was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Upon the completion of his documentation of the Civil Rights Movement, Davidson received the first ever photography grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Exploration of New York City[edit]

Davidson’s next project, East 100th Street, is perhaps his most famous. East 100th Street was a two-year documentation of an infamous[vague] block in East Harlem. This project was also displayed at the Museum of Modern Art. Davidson followed this with Subway, a classic portrayal of the New York subway system, in the late 1970s. Using color to convey mood, Davidson documented a gritty and lively urban underworld. Over a decade later, in the early 1990s, Davidson completed a four-year exploration of Central Park, showing it as a beautiful and grand homage to New York City.

Recent activities[edit]

In 1998, Davidson returned to East 100th Street to document the revitalization, renewal and changes that occurred in the 30 years since he last documented it. For this visit, he presented a community slide show and received an Open Society Institute Individual Fellowship Award.

In addition to his best known publications, many of Davidson’s lesser known works have appeared around the world and in many museums. In 2008, a book appeared of his portraits of people, such as John Cage, Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein, Kiki Smith, Fannie Lou Hamer, Andy Warhol and Jack Kerouac.

Davidson continues to work as an editorial photographer. His photographs appear around the world and in many museums. Also, Davidson has directed two award-winning short films, a documentary titled Living off the Land and a more surreal tale titled Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko’s Beard.

An image from his Brooklyn Gang series was used as the cover for Bob Dylan's 2009 album Together Through Life.

He received the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the 2011 Sony World Photography Awards.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mary Blume, Bruce Davidson's 'encounters with the invisible', The New York Times, February 28, 2007.
  2. ^ Sean O'Hagan, "Outside Inside by Bruce Davidson", The Guardian, 13 June 2010.

External links[edit]