last night i sat in the audience and listened to a master….a man i have respected my entire photographic life….humbling…..the man does not stop……and for  most of his work he never really left home….

bruce davidson’s lecture was concurrent  with his  exhibition "Time of Change"  at the Aperture Foundation  …bruce gave an "old fashioned" slide show with a carousel projector…ka klunk, ka klunk…each slide had to be focused….remember that??  but once the pictures were focused, all became "clear"….bruce is from chicago and started taking pictures when he was 10, but most of his work revolves around new york city where he and his wife emily and their two daughters have made their home for 50 years….

"East 100th Street" , "New York Gang" , "Subway", and "Central Park" are classics to be reckoned with.. and all photographed within 20 minutes of his home….his  current exhibition and  book "Time of Change" is  retrospective work from  the  50’s  to  the 70’s  and took bruce "out of town" to document  a changing time in the U.S. mostly involving the civil rights movement….but, last night he showed everything….his whole "portfolio"…his show flowed by in about 45 minutes….perfect…left us wanting more, left us realizing what a talent he is….i will publish some of this work in "family/friends" soonest…

bruce says he is going "retro"….he spends 6 hours in his darkroom everyday making black & white prints….the man is a machine……marathon man…..driven……a quiet renegade……yet a man who truly loves his wife of 40 years  ….when bruce stood up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were,  "does emily have a seat??"

when i first moved here 3 years ago , bruce and emily brought over food and wine to welcome me to the city….and i cherish the print on my wall (below)  he gave me from "East 100th Street"…i am proud to have bruce and emily as a friends…

oh yes, i almost forgot to tell you….i went extra early to Aperture,  hauling along my copy of "Subway" for him to sign…i have had that book for 20 years and have known bruce most of that time….what in the world took me so long??


17 Responses to “bruce”

  • Wow, man, a signed copy of “Subway”? That’s great. Wish i had one.
    A great spanish photographer, Eduardo Momeñe, showed me Bruce’s work not long ago (cause i love to shoot underground, too) and i think that was the moment when i began to realize there’s too many splendid ways of doing the same thing… It just depends on the look you’ve got.
    Bruce’s is indeed a master. And it’s good to know people still keep traditions alive. I ain’t got enough space for a darkroom, but i still love the smell, the warm sensation of being hours under the red light. The satin touch of the wet paper, the expectation for hitting the white light to see if it was worth to be there for so long. And despite of photos’ quality, it always was.

  • I love his “Central Park”!

  • I just have to thank you, once more, for keeping me “hungry”. I checked Bruce’s work just to understand the emotions from your words and now, after “diving” through his splendid b/w photographs so full of soul… I just can say that I WANT TO DO THAT!


    David, you’re keeping me alive. Thanks!!!


    PD- Edgard, I also miss the feelings inside the dark room. That was magic. Pure magic.

  • Dave, Bruce Davidson IS the Man!

  • thanks aga….just a slip of my fingers…i just put “central park” in where it belongs….

  • Thanks David for this sublime essay. It is so encouraging for all of us two learn a little more of Bruce Davidson´s career.


  • When I saw the title ( the picture took a little while to load ), I was thinking , it must be Bruce Davidson… he is amazing.. David, it is always nice to be within the group of masters… ( …and you are one of them..)… i wonder, how would be your days with all those masters you have mentioned here.. something we just can dream…
    Regards, Sandip

  • I took a workshop from Bruce in 1972. Alex Webb took that one, too. An incredible influence on me. Bruce signed my then new hardbound copy of “East 100th Street” saying to me, “John, you have an eye.” It’s always meant a lot to me. His work means a lot to me. The picture I learned the most from was his New York City gang picture of the kids in front of the mirrored cigarette machine. Alot happening there. And alot not happening. Just a wonderful quiet moment. Thanks for featuring him.

  • john…

    one interesting thing i found out last night, is that bruce still knows that guy!! the gang member turned at first into a successful drug dealer, but is now a successful drug counselor!! i am sure he took a cut in pay, but at least he is still here…

    furthermore, the man on the cover of “subway”, who was just a random character down on the train, is a physical trainer for bruce now!!

  • He made me become a photographer.

  • Bruce was my greatest early influence. My first name is Bruce and I was advised early on in my career to use my middle name…which I have.

    His Circus photographs are a huge inspiration to me! The East 100th Street images became my map for learning portraiture.

  • I’ve just realised that I’ve not been to Aperture since they moved. Not good.

  • it reminded me of that recent interview with Martin Parr, when he mentions our urge for the “extraordinary”, of only taking the camera out when there’s something very extraordinary.

    “within 20 minutes of his home…”… the extraordinary in the ordinary… and vice versa.

  • robert wiedenfeld

    Bruce is the MAN & the LEGEND>gosh; he has it all an education
    & the best job in the World. N.Y.C. subway portraits 80’s say no
    more; a fan 4 life. MR.DAVIDSON you are immortal in my mind.
    David; i can’t thank you enough 4 this wonderful treasure(blog).
    PRICELESS>U really do GIVE 2 the fotographic community. All of your entries are demonstrative & telling of your TRUE nature. PURE
    & True.

  • Let me ask you a question… I was looking at the “subway” pictures and realized that, at least in Spain, it is no way to take such a pictures unless you speak with people before. I mean, if somebody sees you taking a direct picture without his permission, you are in a big trouble, but Bruce pictures (Subway photos) seem so casual, like people did not know in advance that he was taking the picture in most cases (maybe they just noticed right in the moment he was shooting…) Did he had to ask them, before or after?

  • I saw his “East 100th Street” and “Time of Change” in the Foundation HCB, and I found it really shockingly good. Incredibly good mix of more classical photojournalism and closeness to people. It really made me think (although stating all this makes me feel a bit silly… he’s just so obviously good!)

  • Bruce Davidson is a living legend and also a very down to earth man. His personality is just like his photo’s. Deep, generous and most of all so tender. It took me 25 years to muster the courage to call him on a trip to NYC in October 2001. He made time to see me- even with his darkroom schedule on short notice. Besides being one of my all time favorite photographers Bruce Davidson is a Mench.

    Geoff Hiller

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