Bruce Davidson (born 1933) is an American photographer. He has been a member of the Magnum Photos agency since 1958. His photographs, notably those taken in Harlem, New York City, have been widely exhibited and published.
Bruce Davidson was born to a single mother, who worked in a factory. At age 10, his mother built him a darkroom in their basement and Davidson began taking photographs. He was given the freedom to wander the streets of Oak Park alone. Soon after, he approached a local photographer who taught him the technical nuances of photography, in addition to lighting and printing skills. In his mid-teens, Davidson began to ride Chicago’s elevated train system into the city, exploring neighborhoods and the Chicago Loop, observing wide varieties of people, and most importantly developing skills and interests that would be seen in his later photographic works.
At 16, Davidson won his first major photography award, the Kodak National High School snapshot contest, with a picture of an owl at a nature preserve. After he graduated from high school, Davidson attended the Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University.
Following college, Davidson was drafted into the US Army, where he served in the Signal Corps at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, attached to the post’s photo pool. Initially, he was given routine photo assignments. Later, stationed in Paris, he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, a later colleague with the Magnum photo agency, sharing his portfolio and receiving advice from Cartier-Bresson.
When he left military service in 1957, Davidson worked as a freelance photographer for LIFE magazine and in 1958 became a full member of Magnum. From 1958 to 1961 he created such seminal bodies of work as “The Dwarf,” Brooklyn Gang,” and “Freedom Rides.” He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1962 and created a profound documentation of the civil rights movement in America. In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented his early work in a solo show.
In 1967, he received the first grant for photography from the National Endowment for the Arts, having spent two years witnessing the dire social conditions on one block in East Harlem. This work was published by Harvard University Press in 1970 under the title East 100th Street and was later republished and expanded by St. Ann’s Press. The work became an exhibition that same year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1980, he captured the vitality of the New York Metro’s underworld that was later published in a book, Subway, and exhibited at the International Center for Photography in 1982. From 1991-95 he photographed the landscape and layers of life in Central Park. In 2006, he completed a series of photographs titled “The Nature of Paris,” many of which have been shown and acquired by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Davidson received an Open Society Institute Individual Fellowship in 1998 to return to East 100th Street His awards include the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Photography in 2004 and a Gold Medal Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Arts Club in 2007. Classic bodies of work from his 50-year career have been extensively published in monographs and are included in many major public and private fine art collections around the world. He continues to photograph and produce new bodies of work [via wiki and Magnum]