Bruce Davidson photographs, 1955-2008

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Davidson, Bruce, 1933-
Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) is an American-born photographer, and a member of the Magnum Photo cooperative agency. Collection consists of 229 photographic prints, mostly black-and-white, with color work present in several series. Subjects range widely, with a focus on human interactions, minority and disenfranchised communities, urban street photography, and landscapes influenced by human activity. Locations include Chicago; Paris; England, Wales, and Scotland; Sicily and Venice; Los Angeles and the California Pacific Coast Highway; and New York City, including East Harlem, Central Park, the subway, and other locations. Also included is a large series of portraits chiefly of celebrities, and images deriving from commercial assignments. Several portraits of African Americans from Mississippi, South Carolina, and New York City were taken in 1962 while Davidson was documenting civil rights actions. Other short series feature nude female studies, French fashion shows, and scenes from the film production of Zabriskie Point by Antonioni. Sizes range from approximately 6x9 to 20x24 inches. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
6 Linear Feet (4 boxes)
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The images in this collection were taken by photographer Bruce Davidson over the course of his career, from 1955 to 2008. Genres include street photography, interiors, landscapes, and portraits, all offering a complex view into interactions between people, and between humans and natural and built environments. Most were shot in black-and-white with a large-format camera, though there are also chromogenic and dye transfer color prints in several series. Most of the series in the collection house a small selection of prints from each project; the largest series, Portraits, contains almost 50 prints.

Some of Davidson's earliest photographs were shot in Montmartre, Paris in the 1950s, where he documented the solitary life of the widow of an Impressionist painter. He later returned to Paris in 1962, 1999, and 2005. He traveled the streets of New York City in the 1960s, exploring life in the Lower East Side, East Harlem, and Central Park, and continued this work from the 1970s into the 2000s. There are several series exploring Los Angeles, dating from the 1960s to the 2000s, as well as a series of images taken in Chicago during a visit in 1989. A few images are from Venice and Sicily.

Also present is a large series featuring portraits of U.S. actors, authors, politicians, artists, a conductor, and a rock musician. This series contains the earliest work in the collection, several portraits taken in 1955 of an aging couple in Arizona. A separate series, Time of Change, contains three portraits of African American rural and urban citizens in Mississippi, South Carolina, and New York City, taken in 1962 while Davidson documented the civil rights and suffrage movements in those locations.

Other series in this collection feature images of people, animals, and landscapes in England, Scotland, and coal mining communities in Wales; portraits of passengers on the New York subways; and photographs taken at fashion shoots and at filming locations for Zabriskie Point. Also included is a series of images from commercial assignments and commissions (1983-1997).

Image titles were taken from the prints or from the Magnum Photos website; a few other titles and captions derive from donor notes. Prints with no known titles are noted as such. Significant markings on the prints are also noted, as are legacy identifiers, which include various alphanumberic codes assigned by Davidson, the Magnum cooperative, and a private collector.

The prints are unmounted and were created with traditional processes, chiefly silver gelatin (black-and-white) on paper, with large-format color work present in the Chicago and Subway series, and a few smaller color prints scattered in the Commercial and California series. Print sheet dimensions are given to the nearest 1/8 inch and include variations on 8x10, 8 1/2 x 11, 11x14, 16x20, and 20x24 sizes.

Many of the images in this collection were published in photobooks and in journalistic publications, and have been exhibited widely.

Biographical / historical:

Bruce Davidson (1933- ) is an American-born photographer and photojournalist. A member of the Magnum Photo cooperative agency since 1958, his photographs have been published and exhibited widely, and are part of major museum holdings around the world.

Acquisition information:
The Bruce Davidson photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2019.
Processing information:

Processed by Paula Jeannet and Alanna Styer, 2020.

Accession(s) represented in this collection guide: 2019-0064.


The prints are organized by bodies of work, in alphabetical order by series title. Within the series, prints are arranged in rough date order by year.

Physical facet:
229 photographic prints
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

Images may only be used for educational, non-commercial purposes; any other use requires the photographer's permission.

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Bruce Davidson photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.