Bruce Davidson: ‘Time of Change:
Civil Rights Photographs, 1961-1965’
By KEN JOHNSON
Published: August 15, 2013
41 East 57th Street, Manhattan
Through Aug. 31
In 1961 the photographer Bruce Davidson boarded a bus with a group of anti-segregationist Freedom Riders traveling from Montgomery, Ala., to Jackson, Miss. Two years later he was in Washington for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1965 he joined the historic five-day march from Selma to Montgomery. Photographs from those and other excursions to the South as well as from Mr. Davidson’s hometown New York were gathered together in the book “Time of Change: Civil Rights Photographs, 1961-1965,”published in 2002. This poignant exhibition presents 37 of them.
The photographs avoid partisan sensationalism. There are images of watchful National Guard soldiers among ordinary people, both black and white, made during the 1961 bus trip. One shows a group of white men heckling the Freedom Riders. Walker Evans-like pictures show people living in extreme poverty in sharecropper cabins. But few document instances of overt violence and many are not obviously political. The rail thin, elderly black woman in a bright dress holding an umbrella striding purposefully past a clapboard wall in South Carolina is not the sort of subject that incites righteous indignation. Is there racial tension between the two women sitting next to each other at a New York lunch counter in 1962, one black with pearls in her hair, the other white wearing pearls around her neck? Maybe, maybe not.
A lyrical, ruminative mood prevails. Looking at Mr. Davidson’s deeply humane photographs is like seeing the world through the eyes of a wandering poet, like Walt Whitman with a camera.
A version of this review appeared in print on August 16, 2013, on page C26 of the New York edition with the headline: Bruce Davidson: ‘Time of Change: Civil Rights Photographs, 1961-1965’.