Davidson first travelled to the UK in the autumn of 1960, on commission for The Queen magazine. He was given free rein to create his own personal portrait of the UK and toured for over a two-month period, spending a number of weeks in London before visiting the South Coast and then heading north to Scotland. He found a country that, in parts, appeared untouched since the 1930s, and a society that was driven by difference whilst still emerging from post-war traumas and years of austerity. Davidson focused his essay on the extremes of city and country life, and on the shifting social attitudes to class and custom. He was particularly drawn to documenting a new brand of teenager emerging in London, representing a new era and with it, a growing disparity between youth and age. The photographs were published on 12 April 1961 under the title ‘Seeing Ourselves as an American Sees Us: A Picture Essay on Britain’.
The photographs in this exhibition, some widely seen and others lesser-known, reveal a photographer attuned to traditions and social cues, perhaps overlooked by the British themselves. With his perspective as an outsider, he looked to formal dress rituals and idiosyncratic customs, also capturing a sense of British stoicism and sense of humour. Collectively these photographs reveal the complexities of both the people and the country he encountered.
Bruce Davidson was born in 1933 in Illinois. He studied at Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University. A member of Magnum Photos since 1958, he is known for photo essays that document subcultures or those on the margins of society. Davidson has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962. His work has been exhibited at MoMA, and the International Centre for Photography, New York and is held in many major public and private art collections including Tate Gallery, London.