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Daily Art Moment: Bruce Davidson

“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