Bruce Davidson Retrospective
April 12, 2016
by Bruce Davidson
Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona, presents from May 26th to August 28th an impressive retrospective of American photographer Bruce Davidson.
Bruce Davidson (born Chicago, 1933) considers himself a humanist photographer, with a philosophy of life based on his particular relationship with reality. This can be considered the fundamental theme behind a body of work that constitutes an interaction between the world and the photographer and which reveals his perception of reality, his intentions and his value system. It is the defining element behind Bruce Davidson’s work, rather than his style or the specific subjects that he depicts. The present exhibition surveys more than fifty years of his output, and while the choice of techniques, processes, subjects and uses of his photography are numerous and various, it is the continuity of Davidson’s value system which gives it unity and coherence.
The decades encompassed by this exhibition were as intense and fascinating for American photography as they were for the history of the country itself and, as a result of its force and power of visual penetration, Davidson’s work has become part of the iconography of his times. Even today it remains an ongoing source of inspiration for subsequent generations. The strength of Davidson’s art lies not just in the individual image (although we encounter memorable ones of remarkable density), but is rather located in the accumulation that arises from reiteration and in the juxtaposition of ideas/images which construct the world of the protagonists of his photographs. We establish a closeness with them which is only made possible through the charismatic presence of Davidson, who won their trust and was able to enter into the lives of the people he photographed with remarkable ease, even with regard to his most conflict-ridden subjects. The surprisingly natural way in which these individuals present themselves reflects this cooperation and mutual commitment: a process of quest and discovery by the artist of which we are privileged spectators. In this sense, it should be noted that Davidson never takes a photograph without asking permission beforehand; he may enter into his subjects’ private lives but never in an intrusive way and always with prior agreement.
While permanent features in his work include attention to detail and a poetic gaze (which never descends into sentimental, moralising or overly compassionate excess), Davidson’s work reveals the emergence of a growing ethical commitment in relation to the harsh reality and precarious, vulnerable environments in which his subjects lived out their daily lives. These sometimes marginal worlds were almost absent from American visual culture of the 1950s but they were ones that a few photographers started to make visible through their particular interpretations.
Carlos Gollonet, curator of the exhibition