From 1961 to 1965, Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) recorded the civil rights movement and the effects of segregation throughout the United States in his series Time of Change. He initiated the project after receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship to document “Youth in America” and joined the Freedom Riders, Black and white activists, most of college age, who confronted segregation by organizing interstate bus rides throughout the American South. Davidson was profoundly impacted by the violent resistance the group encountered, as well as by the glaring inequity in the communities they visited. “Riding on that bus with the Freedom Riders,” recalled the photographer, “I became sensitized, and the exposure developed my perception.” Davidson continued the series for four years in both northern and southern American cities.
In this series, there are images of Mother Brown, a former slave living in Harlem, aboard the Circle Line boat tour as it passes the Statue of Liberty (2010-019.28); a member of the Ku Klux Klan handing out pamphlets on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia (2010-019.15); and demonstrators marching from Selma to Montgomery in late March 1965, during their third attempt to reach the state capital of Alabama. Davidson has explained that he sought to portray “these dedicated protestors as individuals and not just faces in the crowd,” an approach that distinguished his work from other images of the civil rights movement circulated widely in the press. According to John Lewis, one of the leaders of the desegregation struggles who later became a United States congressman, “Bruce’s courageous photographs helped to educate and sensitize individuals beyond our southern borders. They shone a national spotlight on the signs, symbols, and scars of racial segregation.”
Davidson grew up in Oak Park near Chicago 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.