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Bruce Davidson: 1964 / 2012

This exhibition marries two series, the wry and the romantic, to present a multifaceted portrait of our city. Through September 14 with an artist reception September 7 at RoseGallery.

Bruce Davidson: 1964 / 2012

Bruce Davidson first came to Los Angeles in 1964 on assignment for Esquire magazine. As a young New Yorker in LA, he found himself at odds with what he described as a “cultural desert with acrid air, bumper-to-bumper traffic, tall palms, and seedy Hollywood types.” Davidson approached this foreign landscape with the sardonic eye of an outsider looking in. The resulting images, shot with a 35mm camera, play with archetypes and stereotypes of the city with a quick and clever irony: bodybuilders and starlets; sunbathers and signwavers; the similarly glimmering cars and glistening surf of a beach parking lot; desperate hopefuls walking the streets in search of something more.

Nearly 45 years after Davidson first visited Los Angeles, he returned to the city with a vastly different shooting agenda. The crowded and buzzing social landscape of 1964 now serves as a distant backdrop for the quiet integrity of Davidson’s clawed up yuccas, attenuated palms, and parched hillsides. The Nature of LA looks at plant life and the politics of water in Los Angeles with a newfound compassion and patience. Using a 4×5 view camera on a tripod slows his photographic process and allows these contemplative images to take shape. The word nature’s dual meaning— both flora and fauna, and character or temperament—situates the work within a broader scope than straight photographic representation. The series speaks to man’s impact on the land and nature’s prevailing will. He writes, “hundreds of towering palm trees reach to the sky and give poetic posture to concrete freeways, tacky strip malls, and the endless grid of local streets.” No longer at odds with a foreign landscape, Davidson lets the “pockets of beauty” emerge from the so-called “cultural desert” of his youth.

In the intervening years between these bodies of work, the culture of Los Angeles has not changed significantly, but rather the artist’s experience of it. This exhibition marries the two series, the wry and the romantic, to present a multifaceted portrait of our city.

Bruce Davidson (b. Oak Park, Illinois) began taking photographs at the age of ten in Oak Park, Illinois.

While attending Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University, he continued to further his knowledge and develop his passion. He was later drafted into the army and stationed near Paris. There he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of the renowned cooperative photography agency, Magnum Photos. When he left military service in 1957, Davidson worked as a freelance photographer for LIFE magazine and in 1958 became a full member of Magnum. From 1958 to 1961 he created such seminal bodies of work as The Dwarf, Brooklyn Gang, and Freedom Rides. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1962 and created a profound documentation of the Civil Rights movement in America. In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented his early work in a solo show.

In 1967, he received the first grant for photography from the National Endowment for the Arts, having spent two years witnessing the dire social conditions on one block in East Harlem. This work was published by Harvard University Press in 1970 under the title East 100th Street and was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1980, he captured the vitality of the New York Metro’s underworld that was later published in a book, Subway, and exhibited at the International Center for Photography in 1982. From 1991-95 he photographed the landscape and layers of life in Central Park. In 2006, he completed a series of photographs titled The Nature of Paris, many of which have been shown and acquired by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2012, Steidl published Outside Inside, a retrospective two volume set spanning his career to date. 1964/2012 is the first time Davidson’s Los Angeles work has been shown.