Bruce Davidson (born September 5, 1933 in Oak Park, Illinois) is an American photographer. He has been a member of Magnum since 1958. His photographs, notably those taken in Harlem, have been widely exhibited and published in a number of books. Began photography at the age of ten in Oak Park, Illinois. As a youth, Davidson was given the freedom to explore the streets of the city alone with his camera and in 1949, at the age of 16, he won first prize in the Kodak National High School Competition. He went on to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University. His college thesis pictured the emotions of football players behind the scenes of the game, and it was published in Life magazine in October 1955. Later he was drafted into the army and was stationed in Paris where he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the four founders of the renowned international cooperative photo agency, Magnum Photos. After military service, in 1957, Davidson worked as a freelance photographer for Life Magazine and in 1958 became a member of Magnum Photos.
Bruce Davidson photographs people on an eye-to-eye level, portraying and inducing powerful emotion, while focusing his lens on people in the midst of transition and a search for meaning.
In all of Davidson’s works, instead of objectifying his subjects – as objects of pity, subjects of curiosity, or specimens for analysis – he humanizes them, portraying them with a sense of vigor and vitality, as we are given insight to their lives, struggles, and desires. In particular, Davidson often documents the human search for meaning among people who face potentially ruinous social obstacles and economic strife. This type of documentation is especially evident in East 100th Street, Brooklyn Gang, and Davidson’s Civil Rights Era photography.
He induces and portrays powerful emotion in all of his major works; emotions such as loneliness, despair, love, determination, and uncertainty, while his realism induces social concern and sympathy for complete strangers.
Bruce Davidson is extremely adept at documenting people or subjects in transition, whether rebellious teenagers coming of age, persecuted people fighting for equality, the urban poor amid soon-to-be demolished, a gritty underworld soon to be sterilized, a traveling circus soon to be disbanded, or the passage of the seasons amid the magnificence, grandeur, and human heartache evident within Central Park.
Davidson creates an expression of the human condition by capturing his diverse subjects and settings in a personal and lyrical visual language, as he is able to transcend race, culture, and background, thereby uniting all his subjects in a shared poetic human experience. He allows us to see both beauty and pieces of ourselves in wide ranges of people. Through Davidson’s works we see how everyone shares similar experiences, how we are all united, and therefore how everyone can truly relate to one another.
Davidson continues to work as an editorial photographer and his work has appeared regularly in publications around the world for over fifty years. His photographs have been acquired by many major museums and private collectors worldwide, including Topan’s “Masters of Photography”; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum Ludwig Koln, Germany; the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; and the Smithsonian, and the International Center of Photography.
He lives in New York with his wife and has two daughters.