Review (of sorts): East 100th Street by Bruce Davidson


Book Reviews, Photobooks


I had been familiar with a lot of images by Bruce Davidson, but most of them never got me very excited. I know, people love the subway pictures, or the circus ones, or the gang ones, but I never had any connection with those images. Needless to say, a recent exhibition at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery provided a good opportunity to see many of the photographer’s images. Of course I went, because looking at something you still need to discover can be so much more rewarding than seeing something you already know. For the most part, the show did not change my impression of the work very much, though. But I noticed that there were some images, which really stood out for me, work that I was unfamiliar with.

Work that I have not seen before usually comes in two varieties. The obvious case consists of photographs by artists I am unfamiliar with. But there is another case, namely photographs by well-known artists that just doesn’t get shown much. It seems that especially very established artists are connected with a rather small set of images (you know the smoking clown or the Beastie Boys album cover), with large parts of their body of work being, well, let’s say ignored (for whatever reason).

Making a connection with photography by artists usually is a thrill. Making one with photography by artists I thought I knew reasonably well - now that’s where it gets really exciting! Fortunately, there was another exhibition of Davidson’s work up, at Howard Greenberg Gallery, of East 100th Street, the body of work whose images had me so excited at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.

Just as a quick aside, I thought the Greenberg show was vastly better than the Wolkowitz one, not just because the former had mostly tremendous work, but also because the prints were so much nicer. If I remember correctly, for the latter (some?) new prints had been made, and the very big ones did not look very good. See DLK’s review of the shows here and here, respectively.

Even before seeing the Greenberg show, I realized that East 100th Street definitely was a body of work I needed to have a book of. As it turned out very quickly, there was no book to be had: all the various editions, the original ones as well as a somewhat recent re-print, were out of print. So I ended up having the option of either buying a signed rare copy at one of the galleries for $350 or trying my luck elsewhere.

I tried Amazon, and under “Paperback”, it listed a copy, in “good” condition, for $65. That sounded like an OK price - so I went for it. As much as I am a book collector, I usually buy books for the images. Just a little while, later it arrived in the mail - a softcover copy of the 1970 edition in actually very good condition. The book shows its age, but other than that it’s fine. What a pleasant surprise!

Of course, there is a slight catch, namely that the print quality is what you’d get in 1970 - there often is very little, if any, detail in the shadows. Other than that, it’s a fantastic book, which showcases an amazing body of work, a large part of which almost have a contemporary look-and-feel (of course, the clothes and decor - in some case, one hesitates using that word - always give away the time), and I can’t recommend this book more (now that I managed to get my $65 Amazon copy, the currently available ones are about twice as expensive, though).

PS: If you don’t mind the clowns, there appears to be a massive 800 page all-the-best-and-more Steidl opus due out, entitled Journey of Consciousness, which I haven’t seen, yet.