Bruce Davidson. Photographing the soul

Català Castellano

The recently released headquarters of Fundación Mapfre in Barcelona in the Casa Carriga Nogués has already presented three really interesting exhibitions in less than a year! They started with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art -that never fail-, of which we did an article here. It was followed by the japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. Now it is the turn of the United States Bruce Davidson, reference figure of photography, called human, in the second half of the 20th century in the United States, who is already ninety years old and travels all over the world and even he comes to the press conference. Such a character!

Cultius attended the press conference and also did a tour through the exhibition. The hidden modernist rooms of the bourgeois architecture of the Casa Garriga Nogués combined in a shocking way with the harshness -but also tenderness- of Davidson’s photographs. Again, container and contents joined to move us a bit further.

This is the first monographic exhibition of the artist in Spain, and the largest, with the most emblematic series, many of them from more than 50 years of experience, displayed chronologically altogether with the latest photographs of the natural heritage of Paris and Los Angeles.

The exhibition commissioner, Carlos Gollonet, speaks about the naturalness and humanity of his photography, claiming artistic experimentation, somewhat away from the traditional photo report at the time  as documentary photography was much colder and distant.

In his early career the photography was full of chiaroscuro effects, with personal stories that affected him. He involved the world of photography almost as a chance: in 1955 asked an old man if he could photograph him while he was doing the military service in Arizona. That created a bond of friendship between them and a narrative daily nature which he would experiment with the photography.

He began working for several advertising magazines, and finally for Life magazine by capturing series of United States quotidian people and especially photographing the youth being lost; smoking and drinking and taking drugs. It was at this time that he wanted to leave this magazine in search for more freedom of expression, with the help of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He introduced him to Magnum company traveling by United States and Europe, photographing the society at the time. Two of his most emblematic series were made within this company. On the one hand, “Time of change” (1961-1965) reflected the moment when he left the north of the country to go to the southern states, particularly Mississippi, where he portrayed the black people fighting for their rights and the social and ideological divide it entailed.

USA. Alabama. Selma. 1965. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., a group of civil rights demonstrators march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for black sufferage.
USA. Alabama. Selma. 1965. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., a group of civil rights demonstrators march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for black sufferage. © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

The other emblematic serie was “East 100th Street” of “Spanish Harlem”, which made him most famous. His technique was nearby, depth into people’s life, creating a bond that would enable him to knew the portrayed and photograph them and also their souls. He used techniques of empathy very important in social photography, as remote photography could neither capture the feelings of people nor have the same power.

USA. New York. New York City. 1966. East 100 St. ©Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos
USA. New York. New York City. 1966. East 100 St.
©Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

All in all, it is an exhibition that teaches us in a fairly visceral form the whole life of Davidson, from his beginnings until the present, still continuing photographing and as he says, experimenting with digital photography which he considers “comfortable and which makes accessible darker places”. One of the things that Davidson explained anecdotically was his intrusions in the Natural History Museum in New York to photograph the diorama giving us another sight of what already existing in museums. We can see a whole life dedicated to photography, which we can find largely in Fundació Mapfre of Barcelona, from 28 May to 28 August, in Casa Garriga Nogués, Carrer Diputació, 250.

More information: in the webpage of Fundació Mapfre you can find logistic information and the keys to understand theand discover the artist in the section “Prepare your visit”. Many congratulations to the pre-visit didactic part!

Here you can find the storify of the press conference: #expo_Davidson

Guiomar Sánchez Pallarès

Translated by Paola López

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