It is a tribute to the tenacity of art-historical thought, if not to its receptivity, that the adjective photographic is still used to describe a style of pictorial indication that was perfected by Jan van Eyck four centuries before Daguerre. The fact of the matter is that photography has managed only infrequently and with difficulty (most often in the studio) to approximate the airless and precisely measured cataloguing of discrete facts that was so handsomely achieved by the painters of the fifteenth century. It is true that for a century most photographers actually did their best to match the neat and conceptual descriptiveness of traditional paintings; and they were regularly frustrated by the fact that their pictures so seldom looked quite as they should --- meaning quite as they would have if rendered according to the pictorial conventions of the Renaissance.
Judged by these rules, the photographs almost always seemed flawed: The sky was too bright, or the shadows too black; the foliage was not clean-edged and distinct, but burned out by flare and blurred by the wind; even mountains and stone monuments turned to putty if seen against a bright sky; often it was impossible to get the whole picture sharp; perhaps worst of all, the several elements of the picture were scarcely ever in proper hierarchical proportion to one another.
Toward the end of the century, with the rise of the casual snapshooter, the gap between most photographs and accepted pictorial standards widened radically. Most of the countless millions of little pictures that were made with George Eastman's new Kodak were so sketchy and obscure that only with the help of the legend on the back could one distinguish confidently between Aunt Margaret and the native guide. They were, however, pure and unadulterated photographs, and sometimes they hinted at the existence of visual truths that had escaped all other systems of detection.
It was many years before sophisticated photographers began to pursue with intention the clues that the casual amateur had provided by accident. When the attempt was finally made, it meant the beginning of a new adventure for photography. Characteristics of the medium that had formerly been only problems to avoid were now potential plastic controls, adding a new richness to the ways in which a photographer could describe the look and the feel of experience.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
For two years in the 1960s, Bruce Davidson photographed one block in East Harlem. He went back day after day, standing on sidewalks, knocking on doors, asking permission to photograph a face, a child, a room, a family. Through his skill, his extraordinary vision, and his deep respect for his subjects, Davidson's portrait of the people of East 100th Street is a powerful statement of the dignity and humanity that is in all people.
In 1959 Davidson read about the teenage gangs of New York City. Connecting with a social worker to make initial contact with a gang called the Jokers, Davidson became a daily observer and photographer of this alienated youth culture.
Bruce Davidson's groundbreaking Subway, first published by Aperture in 1986, has garnered critical acclaim both as a documentation of a unique moment in the cultural fabric of New York City and for its phenomenal use of extremes of color and shadow set against flash-lit skin. In this third edition of what is now a classic of photographic literature, a sequence of 118 (including 25 previously unpublished) images transport the viewer through a landscape at times menacing, and at other times lyrical and soulful.
One of the world's most influential photographers, Bruce Davidson takes readers inside three midcentury big tops in images that are poetic, realistic and profound. He reveals not only the swiftly vanishing cultural phenomenon of the circus, but what might be called the eternal human circus.
Bruce Davidson, intrepid explorer of the urban terrain, has taken on a project of extraordinary visual and metaphorical scope. His approach to Central Park's wildlife --- human and otherwise --- varies as much in format as it does in emotional quality; Davidson discovers a multiplicity of mysteries, eccentricities, and characters, a microcosm of the remarkable city of which Central Park is the heart.
- Most of my pictures are compassionate, gentle and personal. They tend to let the viewer see for himself. They tend not to preach. And they tend not to pose as art.