Bruce Davidson – Brooklyn Gang

I was seventeen when I first came across the work of Bruce Davidson. I had inherited my father's weather-beaten Leica M6 and possessed all but a passing interest in photography. Accustomed as I already was to the immediacy of digital photography, I spent close to a year  getting to grips with the rigours of 35mm rangefinder cameras. Encouraged by the incremental progress, however, the passing interest in film photography and Leicas developed into a fixation.

The change can be attributed almost entirely to the work of Magnum photographer Bruce Davidson and in particular his timelessly cool and graphically evocative series Brooklyn Gang. Davidson's series was the purest, saddest and most honest documentation of inner-city youth culture I had ever seen. I was instantly transfixed.

Davidson met 'The Jokers' when he was twenty-five and they were sixteen. The so often discussed boundary between professional objectivity and immersion slowly eroded over the course of a series in which Davidson captured the shared sadness, rebellion and love of the teenagers from Prospect Park.

Much as with the subjects in his other series East 100th Street or The Dwarf, Davidson remains unparalleled in his bringing the world of his subjects (in this case working-class, Catholic teens) to life with brutal cinematic immediacy. Lefty was the first of the gang to die as heroin usage trickled down from older gang members, and the James Dean-handsome Jimmie followed soon after. Cathy, the blonde heroine of the piece put a shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. These sad stories, captured in imperfect, out-of-focus, heartbreakingly beautiful black and white will stay with me forever thanks to the mastery and craft of the inimitable Bruce Davidson.

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