Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang and non-layering over time…
I remember seeing Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang book back when it was published – being drawn to the cover, the 1950s imagery and quiffs but something stopped me from buying it, despite at the time being somewhat taken by culture that in part drew from such times and style…
Now, on a recent wander through the work, I think I know in part what that something was.
As the years pass, previous era’s culture, imagery, photograpy and style can gain a romantic layering, come to represent or be reinterpreted as something other than the day-to-day life it once portrayed.
But with the passing of the years, Bruce Davidson’s photographs have remained what they were originally: there is a certain brooding style to those in the photographs but this is a somewhat gritty, documentary view of life amongst alienated youth.
I don’t know enough of the story to speak definitively but for me there is in part a desperation, a dead-end feeling to these photographs and the lives in them, even though they are often set amongst the symbols of fun, youth and frivolity such as tattoo parlours, fairgrounds, the seaside, smiling soft drink adverts, jukeboxes and coupling.
In a way they remind me of Tom Wood’s Looking For Love photography book of early to mid-1980s nightclub documentation of working life, love, coupling and escapes or possibly the subcultural snapshot that is Chris Steele-Perkins and Richard Smiths The Teds book…
However, Brooklyn Gang is different; there isn’t the same escapist, raucous sense of life and fun that can be found in Looking For Love and The Teds.
That is not to be dismissive of them at all. They’re fine images but not necessarily suitable source material for a young mind interested in the creation of imagined otherly worlds.
The book itself has become one of those photography books that you will need a pretty penny or two to own nowadays – printed once, now long out of print. You can peruse it here and visit its publishers Twin Palms here.