For the series Brooklyn Gang, 1959, Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) followed a group of teenagers called the Jokers. He sought them out after reading an article about a skirmish they had instigated in Prospect Park. He earned their trust by standing with them on street corners late at night and joining them on excursions to Coney Island. Made using a 35mm Leica, the resulting photos—which Davidson took over the course of eleven months—have a lyrical quality yet retain a sustained focus on his subjects. Of this work, Davidson said, “These photographs are not about gangs, they’re really about being a teenager.” First published in Esquire magazine in 1960, the series received international acclaim and Davidson was subsequently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to document “Youth in America.”
Davidson grew up near Chicago in Oak Park and became interested in photography at a young age. He studied the medium at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University. When drafted into the U.S. Army, Davidson was stationed in the photography lab of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe outside of Paris. There he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, who became his friend and mentor. Two years later, in 1958, Davidson joined the renowned agency Magnum Photos (cofounded by Cartier-Bresson), becoming, at 24 years old, the youngest member. Throughout his career, he has displayed a sustained engagement with social and political concerns, working in series over extended periods of time.