What’s great about looking at your work is the emotion comes back. The emotion comes back. The rhythm of what you were photographing comes back. It’s almost like a musical score. You can see where I may have quit too soon, or stayed too long. Or was bored and took a lot of pictures of nothing because I wanted to put film through the camera. All kinds of things are working when you’re looking at the contact sheet.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Not everyone wants his picture taken. I began to photograph a man collecting junk in a yard. He saves the metal and sells it. He wouldn’t let me photograph him. I found out why. He was receiving welfare and he thought that if I took a picture of him collecting junk to sell, he might have his welfare taken from him.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

That often what makes a good picture is almost subliminal. It could be a look on a face or a detail on a piece of clothing. You just have to go with the flow sometimes. When I was a kid, I played baseball and you heard the sound the bat made when it really connected with the ball; you knew you had a great hit. It’s the same with photography: sometimes you hear that click of the shutter and you know you’ve caught something really special.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

An old man said to me one day, ‘Oh, I don’t want a picture like that. I want to get dressed up and I want to put a Bible in my hand. That’s how I want my picture taken. I’ll tell you when I want my picture taken, when I’m feeling good.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

I came to 100th Street with a large format camera on a tripod. I wanted depth and detail and I wanted to meet the people eye to eye. I wanted the photograph to happen without intruding. The children called me the “picture man.” They said take my picture. I took their picture. I took photographs of them, they took my photographs. Can I have another picture? I gave them another picture. Can you make a couple of more prints? I gave them a couple of more prints. They received their pictures and I received mine. I saw my pictures hanging all over the place. Sometimes when I photographed a family of a person again, I had to take down my own pictures.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

The problem is that, you’ve got to stay around for a while; you’ve got to earn your dues. Poverty is kind of sexy, poverty is photographic, it’s what photographers look for. In the case of East 100th street, I had an entrée, the picture librarian at magnum photos, Sam Holmes, had a cousin who was a white minister living and raising his children in Spanish Harlem, so I was introduced to him. But he said he couldn’t give me permission to take pictures here, you have to appear in front of the citizens committee and they will either say yes or no. So I did, I presented myself and they said, “we have photographers coming through here all the time because we’re poor, and that’s very photogenic to them but they come and they go and we never see the pictures and we never see anything change.” I said I work a little differently, I work eye-to-eye, I have a large-format camera where I need quiet and things to settle down and I need to be there because I have this heavy camera and a tripod and a strobe, and I will give prints to people. They said they would try me out and I said, if you can find a family of ten, I’ll photograph them as an example of my work, and I did. It took three weeks because I’d arrive on a Sunday but there would only be eight. I had to come a couple of times before they really got all their family together. So that was really the beginning where I was really in the picture myself, with the cable release on the camera and the eye to eye relationship, and I would bring back prints and give the prints to the people. That took two years; it sustained me for two years. And that’s basically how I work; I just keep going back and back.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Then there’s the man who runs the luncheonette. He let me take his picture once, but I made it too dark and he never let me take his picture again. I know you’re prejudiced, he said, because you made it too dark. You make all the people here look too dark. When you make pictures look light, then I’ll put your pictures on the walls. But I know he likes me. He lets me use the bathroom in his luncheonette. He doesn’t let anyone do that.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Despite my fantasies of being a hunter stalking a wild animal, I was still afraid. It was hard for me to approach even a little old lady. There’s a barrier between people riding the subway – eyes are averted, a wall is set up. To break through this painful tension I had to act quickly on impulse, for if I hesitated, my subject might get off at the next station and be lost forever.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Quite a few kids on the block are interested in photography. I lent a boy who had been helping me a camera and my developing tank. I gave him some film and I’m teaching him things. The kids and the people who take photographs don’t photograph the slums. They photograph their friends. You know, this boy kissing that girl.. All sorts of things all sorts of possibilities, without sentimality. They photograph the life they know, not its horrors.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

I’m not trying to glorify the ghetto. In many ways, it’s a horrible place, full of scars and pain. It taught me how much I ‘d taken for granted. I’m not wealthy by any means, but by contrast I am. I have hot water. I don’t have ten children to support. My life, my work is full of possibilities. I can in some ways affect my destiny.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Arnold Newman once told me that to photograph someone, they have to feel equal to you. And that’s true. Sometimes, a magazine you’re on assignment for is so prestigious that it allows you to be at a level where you’re not just someone coming over to take pictures.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

In ’52, when I was in college at R.I.T. photography school, that’s when I first saw a Cartier-Bresson photograph. It was with one of the two girls in our class, Joan. I was courting her a little bit and we were sitting in a girl’s dorm and she had brought out “The Decisive Moment.” I laughed. She was pointing out the pictures that really moved her and said that Cartier-Bresson was her true love. So I went out and I bought a little Leica, a used Leica, and started to imitate his images in some way. What I did was photograph the Lighthouse Mission, which was all drunks. They gave them a sermon and a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee. And when they left, they’d pull out the bottle again. But those pictures, were a little Cartier-Bressonish.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

Each day I would appear on the block with my 4×5 view camera and a bag containing film holders, accessories, and a powerful strobe. The presence of a large format camera on a tripod, with its bellows and back focusing cloth, gave sense of dignity to the act of taking pictures. I didn’t want to be the unobserved observer. I wanted to be with my subjects face to face and for them to collaborate in making the picture. I wanted the images to have a depth, tonality, and level of detail that could convey the mood of lives poised in a moment of time. During the two years I photographed East 100th Street, NASA was sending probes into pouter space, to the moon and to Mars. Instead, I wanted to see into the inner space of the city and to focus sharply on people here on earth.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

There was a boy who helped me a lot. He carried my camera bag around. He knew who might want to attack me and steal my camera. He knew many of the people who let me into their homes to photograph them. I relied on him. He made me feel safe.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

We were living in Hartsdale and we took that train. At one point, it skims the South Bronx and you can see into — you get glimpses of life inside those rooms. That drew me to 100th Street.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

What if trying to do, what I would like to do is to keep my life in balance. I walk the streets with my handheld camera, interact with people, discover, question, know, understand- and then I come back into my darkroom and make impressions of what i experienced during the day.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

I didn’t play the art world at all. I didn’t even play the fashion world. I could have easily become an incredible fashion photographer. I threw it aside because I felt a calling. It seemed real to me. And I think I learned that from Cartier-Bresson. He didn’t do any perfume ads. There was also the Magnum climate. There were serious photographers there: Ernst Haas, Elliott Erwitt.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

My true love is silver gelatin. My history in photography, which spans over fifty years, it is all basically silver gelatin. In my imagination there’s nothing more beautiful than a beautifully printed 11×14 print on good paper. Now the paper quality is diminished but we find a way of making it almost as good as it could have been with a lot of silver.

– Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson

East 100th Street, c. 1966-68 © Bruce Davidson