April 23, 2009

Bruce Davidson: East 100th Street


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Giving subjects respect and acting with humanism, Bruce Davidson has captured the small details of urban life. His book East 100th Street depicts the often harsh reality of the American dream. Beginning as an outsider in East Harlem, after two years spent on the street, Davidson became part of their world. Growing up in a single-parent, factory working home and often left alone, Davidson used photography to achieve freedom and detachment from his family. His childhood experience gives him the ability to expose the hardships and brutal reality of the less fortunate with a certain sensitivity and understanding.


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

With no individual picture names and only a title to the collection, Bruce Davidson attempts to convey what it must be like to be part of this ghetto. As John Szarkowski notes, Davidson “has shown us true and specific people, photographed in those private moments of suspended action in which the complexity and ambiguity of lives triumphs over abstraction.” He illustrates the struggles of becoming free in a free world. Beginning the book with a picture of a broken sidewalk along an almost empty street, he seems like an outsider. He depicts himself looking at the people of East 100th street from a far initially, as shown by the picture of the fa├žade of a building looking down at the street level activity.


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Before long he begins to delve into the struggling lives, as we see apparent in the picture of the little boy resting on a cot amidst tons of rubble. If you fail to look closely, the little boy gets grouped into the trash, making you question if the city views the lives of these people as disposable. As we continue to turn the pages, there are numerous photos of a family inside their home. Davidson fostered relationships of trust and a degree of acceptance with these people who allowed him to enter into their home, a space that is sacred to most families.


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970


Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

East 100th Street
is filled with faces of somewhat broken lives and yet the beauty and sense of hope in those same lives jumps off the pages. Davidson shows a mother and son peering out from a window with bars almost as if they are trapped in a cage, trying to achieve the freedom they believed America would hold. Amongst all of these hardships you see two pictures of children flying kites. The kite soaring to the sky might represent the new heights that the young generation may be able to reach during their time.

--Jessica Sarter

2 comments:

  1. Those are great photos. It really shows how bad things can get and have gotten.

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  2. Looking at these photos, it immediately reminds me of many of the photos we have taken as a photo class. The broken, trashed, dirty landscapes in these photos (mainly in the street and trash heap photos) reminds me of New Orleans. In a way we are like Bruce Davidson: we started out as outsiders with pictures of New Orleans that had far-away perspectives, but as the semester went on began to delve into the lives of New Orleanians more specifically. I believe that if we were here for longer we could achieve the sense of relationship and trust that Davidson achieved with his subjects.

    The way that he was able to photograph in such a gritty, raw way that manages to convey such emotion is incredible. Even though the subjects are surrounded by depressing surroundings, in each photo you can really see a glimpse of hope that each subject has for the future.

    (by the way this is Amanda G in case there is another amanda in the other class)

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