Jane Livingston, in her excellent book 'The New York School', suggests that many photographers regard the medium of the photo book as something to aim for and in the section dealing with Bruce Davidson she quotes him: 'My work is about being bodies of work. You have to see the whole thing to see each part'. Steidl, with these remarkable three volumes of 944 pages and 834 photos, now make this possible.
A couple of Davidson's photo books are now very expensive so it could be that these three books are about as close as you'll get to see some of his great photos but it's worth saying that the original 'East 100 Street' book with 123 photos has ninety-one here and 'Brooklyn Gang' with seventy in the original has fifty-one here. Other books with extensive coverage in these pages include: Circus 1958, sixty-three; England/Scotland 1960, sixty-five; New York Subway 1980, nineteen; Central Park 1992-1995 eighty-three.
Book one 1954-1961, with fifteen sections gets off to a beautiful start with photos of John and Kate Wall who Davidson met by chance in 1955 while on military service in Arizona. John was ninety-four and Kate seventy-nine and in just thirteen superb photos Davidson reveals the depth of love between these two. One photo on page thirty has an extraordinary close-up of their holding hands. Another essay in this first book, that grabbed me, was England/Scotland 1960 which captured the tiredness of the country after years of austerity and before the Swinging England of the Sixties.
Book two 1961-1966, with twenty-three sections has some powerful photos of: Freedom Riders 1961; South 1962; Freedom March 1963; Birmingham, Alabama 1963; March to Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March 1965. In all 109 reportage photos covering the race politics of the era. The Chicago Loop 1963 with just seven photos reveals Davidson's ability to capture vibrant street imagery.
Book three 1966-2009, with fourteen sections which vary enormously. Eight deal with various aspects of New York (including the extensive East 100 Street and Central Park and twenty pages on the NYC subway). Others cover Senator Max Cleland 1999, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam which Davidson photographed for Esquire magazine, two short essays, with thirty-eight photos on trees and plants in Paris 2005-2006 and Los Angeles 2008-2009.
Steidl have turned out their usual impeccable product with the 834 photos printed as 175 screen tritones on matt art. The page design is simple and straightforward: one photo a page with generous margins and the books come in a sturdy slipcase. The only downside, in my view, is the placing, in each book, of Davidson's thoughtful notes and observations in the back pages instead of placing these short pieces on the virtually empty title pages that kick-off each photo section.
The fifty-two photo essays in the three books are as wide ranging as possible yet they all show Davidson's unique ability to capture the essence of a subject and reveal it in page after page of remarkable photos. Looking through these books at a photographic life is a rare treat.
A Worthy Collection of Photographs by One of America's Great Photographers.2010/10/16
James R. Holland
Like most of the photography fans that completely packed Morse Auditorium on Boston University's campus to hear and see Bruce Davidson's illustrated lecture and later book signing, I was honored to be there. Davidson was a famous photographer who documented many of the great social changes sweeping the USA while working first for LIFE magazine and then for the Magnum Photo Agency since 1958. He was already a master of his visual art when I was a college student 45 years ago. His early work, especially his mid-1950s coverage of Brooklyn Teenage Gangs, the civil rights struggle, his pictures of the Circus, and his England and Scotland coverage's were widely circulated. Most people who have never heard the photographer's name have probably seen many of his photographs. He was a master of black and white. His mother gave him a camera and built a darkroom for him when he was 10 years old, so he his been taking pictures for 67 years. One of the questions a member of the lecture audience asked was whether he was still taking picture assignments. He said he still took photos, but usually only for his own projects that usually last for at least a year. He said for the past seven years he has been attempting to catalogue and find repositories for his more than a million negatives. He said he first realized he needed to undertake that job when his relatives inquired whether he was planning to leave a big mess for them to clean up. He and his wife had been living in the same Upper West Side apartment for forty years and Davidson admits that he is not a neat-nick. Davidson realized that it was time to personally arrange and protect his life's work or it probably wasn't going to get done properly. Outside Inside is one of the results of that realization. The three-volume collection of many of his best pictures (834 different images of his favorites to be exact) are reproduced one picture to a page on 944 pages. It is an impressive legacy of fine photographs. Davidson apologized for only having time to show 200 of the pictures during his lecture--and even then he had to move rapidly through them. Those audience members unfamiliar with the images would probably have preferred to see less images, but for a longer time? Bruce Davidson is a very humble guy. While giving his PRC and Art Institute of Boston's Photography Master's Lecture at Boston University he was dressed more like a fly fisherman with a wardrobe from L.L. Bean than a very famous photographer. That's probably one of the reasons he was able to survive coverage's of the Civil Right's Movement, New York Street Gangs, 100 East Street Harlem where like Eugene Atget he used a large format camera with a heavy duty tripod and another year-long story comprised of portraits of people riding the graffiti covered NYC subway system. He was never mugged, but he did admit to having one close call. He carried a 5 X 7 inch wedding album of this subway photographs he could show them to some of the people he wanted to photograph so that they would not feel threatened by him or feel he might be some kind of stool pigeon. That collection allowed him to take pictures of some very, very scaring looking characters. He also said he always tried to get copies of his pictures to each of his subjects. He didn't always succeed, but he tried. He also became involved with his subjects and is still in contact with many of them. His wife has been working on a book for forty years with one of the former gang members he photographed in the 1950's. The three books in this set are chronological. Book one is pictures from 1954 to 1961. Book Two is photographs from 1961-1966. Book Three contains images from 1966-2009. One thing the books don't contain is a lot of pretty landscapes. People are what have always interested Davidson. Most of his environment photos are of people in their environment. He does have a collection of photos of trees and plants in Paris taken between 2005-2006 and Los Angeles 2008-2009. It's nice to see Davidson expanding his photographic subject matter, but it will no doubt be his people and event photographs that will comprise his legacy. He was documenting great changes in the life of Americans when most other photographers were afraid to risk their lives documenting those potentially dangerous events. As I was leaving the book signing and lugging my boxed set of Outside Inside to the nearby trolley car stop, it was amusing to see so many people having trouble just carrying the 22.2 pound boxed set of books. The trilogy may not be heavy reading, but it's definitely heavy viewing. Even with the strong, stiff cardboard carrying case with a built-in handle, most folks had to use both hands to carry the bulky monograph trilogy home. People really have to like a photographer to put themselves through a gym-like workout just carrying their newly acquired, autographed box set of photography books and it wasn't just to see Bruce's famous photographs of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities. He did manage to photograph a lot of very famous people during his 67 years of photography. Most of those famous faces are included in an earlier Monograph called "Portraits."
TO SEE SOME COLOR PICTURES FROM THIS LECTURE/BOOK SIGNING click "Customer Images" under the cover picture in the upper left hand corner of the Amazon listing. Those color photos will start with image number 11 or 12.
A Visual Historical Diary2010/7/14
Richard D. Zakia
This is a monumental book of classic black-and-white photographs in three large volumes covering the work of one of America's outstanding photographer whose work parallels that of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Smith and Robert Frank. It is a visual diary, a historical diary covering important events between the years 1954 to 2009. Davidson's photographs reflect compassion, conviction and concern, for the people he photographs. For 55 years, he has been an advocate for the less fortunate in all walks of life and continues to be so. May some of our younger photographers follow in his footsteps. How Davidson has been able to edit the thousands of his photographs to just over 800 is a major accomplishment in itself. To this, add the many concise commentaries he has composed for each section in the three volumes. He writes as he photographs, with compassion from both heart and soul.
The must have book, Davidson's life2010/9/18
Bruce Davidson is one of my favorites photographers. In 1981, I had the chance to exhibit his work in Switzerland. Since then, I have been collecting almost all his books. This one is the most definitive, well printed by Steidl and the more complete, from the first pictures to the most recent work. If you want to have only one Davidson book, it will be this one. It is the must have book.
Stunning Photo Books2010/9/13
This is an absolutely stunning collection of Bruce Davidson's photography. The quality is outstanding and I am tempted to say that these books are a relative bargain, even though they are by no means inexpensive. I should point that the books come in a cardboard box with a plastic handle. Be careful about using the handle because mine pulled out when I attempted to extricate the box from its shipping container. Oh yes, this is a hefty series of books owing to the heavy paper used. One more thing, the books are on the large side and may not fit on your bookshelf. So you may have to make special arrangements for storing them as I had to do. I am far from an expert on Davidson's work so I will leave aesthetic critiques to other more knowledgeable reviewers. But, I must say that the photography is outstanding, well presented and beautifully printed. I think Steidl deserves a round of applause for these books.