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Thursday, 02 September 2010

Comments

I honestly think that if this photo was made today it wouldn't be half as interesting. Most of the appeal is in its age, in its view into the past.

Two of the faces are cut in half. The closest and hence largest one is turned away. The hair and pants lose all shadow detail. The street sign is cut off. The top 1/3 of the frame has little of interest in it -- in fact this would probably work better as a horizontal.

If the value of this photo is as a document of a time and place, with many of the people involved not wanting to really be shown, this might be the best that could be done in that time and place. But still, the end result tells me very little.

I've always loved Bruce Davidson, and particularly "Brooklyn Gang", although they weren't really a gang in the proper sense of the word. Just a bunch of kids hanging out together.

Right now I love on the block that this shot was taken, I've taken hundreds of photos around this block, so it's always great to see what it looked like 50 years ago when I was two years old (not that much different, actually!)

Thanks to TOP, I ordered the Davidson set and whoo-ee it's awesome

"Two of the faces are cut in half. The closest and hence largest one is turned away. The hair and pants lose all shadow detail. The street sign is cut off. The top 1/3 of the frame has little of interest...[snip]"

I think that's the wrong way to look at Davidson. In a strange way his pictures aren't even entirely visual--he's not at all about "composing" or "designing" pictures in the usual sense. Think of it this way--his pictures are the complete opposite of staged. What he's going for are real moments absolutely caught on the fly--gestures, expressions--what he wants to be "perfectly composed" is the emotional tone, the feeling in the air almost. As long as he gets that he could care less about the formal arrangements or the various conventions as to how to show objects best. As pictures they're very imperfect, sort of an equivalent of lo-fi music or improvised poetry. It's only as photographs they work.

Mike

Pork Taco,
Believe it or not, *75* TOP readers have bought that set, which is pretty incredible considering how expensive it is.

Mike

Yes!
Bruce Davidson is one of my favorite photographers (reporters) of all times.

P.S. I meant the "Lo-Fi" movement, not just bad sound. Two great Lo-Fi tunes: "Strayed" by Smog, from the album Dongs of Sevotion, and "Associate" by Jack Logan, from the album Nature's Assembly Line.

Two more: "I Remember" by Low, from Secret Name, and "See America Right" by the Mountain Goats, from Tallahassee.

All-time favorite Lo-Fi album: The Texas Campfire Tapes by Michelle Shocked. Recorded in one pass on a Walkman, if I remember right. You can hear the same cricket in the background all the way through.

Mike

Two of the faces are cut in half. The closest and hence largest one is turned away. The hair and pants lose all shadow detail. The street sign is cut off. The top 1/3 of the frame has little of interest...

Are you serious? This battle has been fought long ago. You don't have to single out Davidson for cutting off faces and objects or lack of deatail. Just go back to some famous 19th century painters: Degas' Les Musiciens à l'orchestre, 1872 and Au café, c. 1877-80; and Manet's landmark Un bar au Folies-Bergère, 1862, in which the man speaking with the barmaid that is shown only indistinctly in the mirror, with the back of his head cut. (You can probably can find these paintings in the web; I looked them up in my copy of T.J. Clark's The Painting of Modern Life.)

Indeed, the above comment reminds me of Mike's spoof a few years ago of flckr comments on famous photographs.

—Mitch/Bangkok

@ David: Of course there's no "wrong" way to look at a photograph and, indeed, this lone image presented like a fish out of water may not be able to swim on its own.

Bruce's most prominent work was performed as bodies of work, rather than singles. The project from which this image is taken, for example, had him immersed in this teen "gang" to the point where they no longer noticed him as an outsider. Viewed as a whole it's very effective at creating a broad, texture-rich flavor of the subject. All of his series are effective in this regard, at least in my experience.

For those interested in other excellent work done on this 1950's/1960's teen scene, you'll love Joseph Sterling's "Age of Adolescence". Sterling, a contemporary of Davidson's, studied at the famed Institute of Design here in Chicago under Harry Callahan and other luminaries of the day. His work in this book is simply wonderful, the equal of Davidson's project in my opinion. Like Davidson, Sterling is a very low-key, congenial fellow, the kind of guy you could sit and chat with for hours.

I met Davidson many years ago on the Arizona location of a Frank Sinatra western. I was just a naive young lad with a camera slung around my neck, hoping to see some movie stars. When Davidson spotted me, he immediately ran up and anxiously said, "Whatever you do kid, don't point that camera at Sinatra...if he sees you, we'll both get kicked outta here".

'As pictures they're very imperfect, sort of an equivalent of lo-fi music or improvised poetry. It's only as photographs they work.'

To me, this picture isn't technicaly imperfect at all - just look at the perfectly straight verticals in this totally uncropped image, and the way the strong backlight is dealt with. But I agree that that is not what makes it a great photograph and a joy to look at. There is so much to be seen - from the shopping ladies across the street to the boy forever landing on the curb, to the back of the standing bloke that is telling maybe more than his face would. And then there's the typical boys in the schoolyard-fight going on. And I like the almost total white upper half of the photo - works a bit like white space in a poem.

And David, if I may say so, don't photographs always cut something/someone in half somewhere (unless they are 360 degree panorama's and almost always a bore)?

"...Believe it or not, *75* TOP readers have bought that set,..."

And some of us already have early (E 100th St.) and recently re-Steidled Davidson materials. But the chance of seeing more, or seeing it well presented is enough to get me to load up the cart and head for the exit.

scott

Pork Taco,

Believe it or not, *75* TOP readers have bought that set, which is pretty incredible considering how expensive it is.

Mike

it's like 15 movies. not as expensive as $140 once was.

Mitch Alland wrote:
> David Dyer-Bennet wrote:
>> Two of the faces are cut in half. The closest and hence largest one is
>> turned away. The hair and pants lose all shadow detail. The street sign
>> is cut off. The top 1/3 of the frame has little of interest...
>
> Are you serious? ... Indeed, the above comment reminds me of Mike's
> spoof a few years ago of flckr comments on famous photographs.

+1. Exactly what I thought as well when I read that comment :).

Davidson's "Dwarf" series is the one I remember most strongly, though it's pretty brutal and very possibly a total mischaracterization as well.

"Two of the faces are cut in half. The closest and hence largest one is turned away. The hair and pants lose all shadow detail. The street sign is cut off. The top 1/3 of the frame has little of interest in it -- in fact this would probably work better as a horizontal."

Priceless.

Well, I was certainly stating things provocatively. Hoping to get some responses suggesting why anybody sees value in this photograph (thanks, Mike!).

But, Mike, you say "expressions", and they're notably absent from this photo, consistently enough and in enough different ways that I have to consider it deliberate.

The title let me decide, eventually, that perhaps the two people down on the sidewalk were having a fight of some sort (though it doesn't look like it). If there's an interesting thing about the photo, it's that nobody else is showing any reaction to them. If that's the point, then it does convey that. But that feels like a stunt, or something presented as "weird" rather than something presented to be understood.

Since it's "officially" presented as part of a group of photos, picking too hard on the individual photo is certainly unfair.

Hey! I also found this photo impossible to understand! Well thanks to David Dyer-Bennet for having more guts than me to voice his views because his comment provoked a strong response to his views which finally helped me appreciate this image. Also thanks and top points to you Mike for expounding on Bruce Davidson's image because I now can enjoy it.
Paul

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