In 1959, Bruce Davidson read about the teenage gangs of New York City. Connecting with a social worker to make initial contact with a gang in Brooklyn called The Jokers, Davidson became a daily observer and photographer of this alienated youth culture.
The 1950s are often considered passive and pale by our standards of urban reality, but Davidson’s photographs prove otherwise. Nearly 70 sheet-fed gravure plates show images of tough people, tough lives, tough lovers, all trying to be cool. They are followed by a short recollection by the photographer and a lengthier interview with Bengie, a surviving gang member, who is now a drug counselor. These photographs of Brooklyn gangs, Davidson’s first project, were undertaken when he was not much older than the boys depicted in the work. Never before published as a whole, though frequently excerpted in collections, this gritty monograph is photo-documentation at its best.