Although the history of street photography is full of stolen glances, photographers who engage directly with their subjects require a well of trust. Bruce Davidson draws from both traditions, and Boston viewers enjoyed a treasure trove of his best work in three separate venues.
The Museum of Fine Arts is showing a recent acquisition of 43 vintage prints from the East 100th Street portfolio (1966-68). Close-up scrutiny is required for these dark silver prints, and the enforced intimacy makes it feel like we’ve been invited to informal gatherings all over the neighborhood. Groups of musicians gather around a kitchen table, young lovers quietly embrace on a bed, and the streets are a backdrop for a panoply of human emotions. A young boy flies a kite on a rooftop with miles of the urban landscape receding behind him. This rare moment of solitude in a busy city is broken by a couple walking on the darkened street below.
A two-fold exhibition of earlier works were on view concurrently at the Robert Klein Gallery and Ars Libris. Both offered a nostalgic reminder of the preening men and women that belonged to Brooklyn Gang (1959). By capturing private moments of quiet introspection Davidson provides us with a glimpse of the innocence and youth that resides underneath their posturing. Robert Klein Gallery went further with a selection of images documenting the Civil Rights movement across the south in the early 1960s. In one particularly riveting photograph, two identically dressed white policemen wearing helmets and bowties pull the arms of a young black woman in opposite directions; Damn the Defiant! is advertised on the movie marquee behind them. Recalling his experiences, Davidson said, I came away with a lot more than photographs.”