Critics’ Picks

Bruce Davidson, Subway (Woman in Fur Coat), 1980, archival pigment print, 20 x 24".

Bruce Davidson, Subway (Woman in Fur Coat), 1980, archival pigment print, 20 x 24".


Bruce Davidson

Jackson Fine Art
3115 E. Shadowlawn Avenue
May 15–August 1, 2015

Bruce Davidson has repudiated labeling his work as street photography, documentary, or photojournalism, identifying himself as “just a humanist” who prefers to evoke a mood rather than narrate or proselytize. This exhibition brings together early black-and-white images from 1959 with a selection of color images from 1965 to 1993, representing just a fraction of the eight hundred pictures in his three-volume collection Outside Inside, published by Steidl in 2011, but they exemplify his gift for capturing subjects in moments of transition through often precarious circumstances.

Since many of those pictured were lost to drug addictions or suicide, the images in the series “The Brooklyn Gang,” 1959, can seem presciently elegiac, but the photographs are more tender than tragic: young men and women lean against doorways, walls, and one another in gestures of comfort and support. Apprehension suffuses Davidson’s color photographs of children in South Wales, who are foregrounded alone against backdrops of factories and empty streets or playing on a green hillside. Their juxtaposition with other images of weary, coal-smeared miners emerging from black pits beneath those same hills foreshadows the uncertain arc of the children’s future.

Davidson’s prickliest shots are of passengers riding vividly grimy, graffiti-scrawled subway cars in lurid 1980s New York. In Subway (Woman in Fur Coat), 1980, the central figure pauses to offer a wary and self-contained gaze over the collar of her fur coat. The brief encounter is opaque, but Davidson’s humanism consists of striving for such halting, imperfect moments of connection in the chaotic motion of life in transit.