Magnum Photos features Bruce Davidson and Khalik Allah: NEW YORK until 29 January 2022. The exhibition brings together the work of two Magnum photographers who, generations apart, explored New York City’s energy through their lenses. The exhibition inaugurates Paris’ new gallery located in the 11th district.
Bruce Davidson and Khalik Allah offer two visions of urban life, above and underground, captured at different time periods, through two distinctive yet parallel viewpoints. The exhibition, which predominantly features Davidson’s vintage prints, explores themes of humanity, street life and perception, while highlighting the effects of transmission.
In 1980, Davidson found a new source of inspiration in the New York subway. It was a challenging and dangerous location, but the photographer managed to retrieve striking and colorful images of passengers from this dark underworld. “Color in the subway was different. I found that the strobe light reflecting off the metallic surfaces of the defaced subway cars created an iridescence I had seen in photographs of deep-sea fish thousands of fathoms below the ocean surface, glowing under electronic flash, never having been exposed to light before.” His underground expeditions eventually culminated in the publication of Subway in 1986, a seminal, epoch-defining series that served as both a captivating study of light and color as well as a historical document of an elemental part of New York.
Davidson paved the way for new generations of photographers including Khalik Allah who, more than 40 years after the publication of East 100th Street, shed light on a community in distress, riddled with poverty and addiction. Allah cites Davidson as one of his major influences and specifically focused his lens on the black community frequenting the corner of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. Beginning in 2012, Allah would return to this corner, shooting only at night. Through the flash of his camera and vibrant colors, he sought to restore the dignity of the dehumanized inhabitants of this area of the city. The resulting pieces are vibrant depictions of humanity. In Souls Against the Concrete, published in 2017, Allah comments: “This body of work is about redemption, strength, and resilience amid addiction, poverty, and street life.”
“When considered together, the work in these series are characterized by the same degree of directness and proximity with their subjects. There is neither judgment nor sentimentalism. These works do not impose any moralist vision; on the contrary, they convey honest empathy and rely on genuine immersion, placing the author on the side of his subjects. Highlights in the exhibition include both color and black and white prints including striking portraits from the late 1960s and Subway views from 1980 depicting individual statuesque poses in the streets and casual scenes featuring people inside the cars.” Samantha McCoy, Director of the Magnum Gallery commented.
Davidson and Allah offered a testimony of their time, respective places and moments in New York. If the gathering of their photographs shows the mutations and changes experienced by the city over time, it also attests to the immutability of many things, the city’s energy and, notably, the precarity experienced by certain communities of the city. Above all, these works are an ode to New York: the quintessential ‘melting pot,’ a city in whose history and posterity the grains of possibility are engraved.
Images: Views of the exhibition © Bruce Davidson/ Magnum Photos and © Khalik Allah/ Magnum Photos.