Daily Art Moment: Bruce Davidson

A horizontal rectangular black-and-white photograph of a young Black woman being detained by two male police officers. The woman is at center, flanked by the officers. Each holds the woman by her outstretched arms. The woman faces front but her head is turned to the right. She has dark skin, short wavy hair and wears a bright white, round earring. Her expression is neutral. Over her dark dress, she wears a light-colored cardigan sweater which is torn at the shoulder and front. The officers wear their police uniform of light shirts, dark pants, helmets, dark bow ties, duty belts with straps crossing the chest from shoulder to belt, holsters, and guns. The officer at left uses two hands to hold the woman’s arms, one hand on her upper arm and one hand on her wrist. The officer at right holds the woman’s wrist. Behind the three figures we see cars of the time, and a large movie marquee. The marquee reads “SUSPENSE! EXCITEMENT! SUSAN HAYWARD IN ‘BACK STREET ‘ AND ‘DAMN THE DEFIANT.' " People are crowded beneath the marquee.

“Last week, when federal troops entered Portland and began injuring and detaining protestors, I was already thinking about the deeply important but dangerous and ethically complex work of photographing at protests. It is critical to bear witness to the struggle for Black lives and record protests for the world to see, but law enforcement organizations now use advanced technologies to scan photographs and identify protestors, potentially subjecting them to arrest, prosecution, and conviction. How can photographers, or anyone present at protests using recording devices, ethically document these flashpoint moments in our city and country’s histories? How can social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram both inform the public and protect the wellbeing of the protestors included in each posted image?

These questions reminded me of Bruce Davidson’s well-known 1963 image of Mattie Howard, a high school student and protestor under arrest in Birmingham, Alabama, her arm twisted painfully by two white law enforcement officers. This scene of civil protest resonates even more deeply with the loss on Friday of civil rights leader John Lewis (1940–2020). The many photographs of Lewis peacefully protesting, being beaten by police, under arrest, speaking at the 1963 March on Washington, and later working in Congress, are invaluable. How do we keep those who continue Lewis’s work today from harm while also recording their efforts for posterity?”

—Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography

Bruce Davidson (American, born 1933). Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. Gelatin silver print. Gift of an Anonymous Donor, 2018.75.326 © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

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