Exhibit | Bevan Davies – Lower Manhattan: Vintage Photographs 1975-77

Hudson Street, New York, 1975, vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver print, paper 16 x 20″ (40.6 x 25.8 cm) signed, titled & dated in pencil on verso

1975 marked the turning point in American landscape photography with the exhibition “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape”. Reduced to their essential topographic state, the photographs stripped away aesthetic mystique and forced people to confront the cold, hard facts of urban and suburban reality, while offering an either objective or critical perspective of the subject in the work. The exhibition had an incredible effect on photography as a whole, influencing generations of artists in both the United States and Europe.

bdav-310 652 broadway, new york, 1976

652 Broadway, New York, 1976, vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver print, paper 16 x 20″ (40.6 x 25.8 cm) signed, titled & dated in pencil on verso

At the same time, Bevan Davies had been working in New York, taking large-format black-and-white architectural views of downtown New York. Davies, who had studied photography with Bruce Davidson at the University of Chicago in the early 196os, went on to be mentored by none other than Diane Arbus later in the decade. After a period of work as a street photographer, documenting the odd and unusual misfits who roamed the city’s streets heavily in those days, Davies turned his eye to the buildings themselves.

bdav-250 broome + wooster st., new york, 1975

250 Broome Street, New York, 1975, vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver print, paper 16 x 20″ (40.6 x 25.8 cm) signed, titled & dated in pencil on verso

Like many artists of the time, Davies was drawn to the industrial buildings of Soho and Tribeca. As manufacturing was on the wane, these ones vibrant buildings began to fade away, leaving open the possibility for a new world to emerge. It was at this juncture in New York City history that Davies took his photographs, working to describe the physical character of the city through the building façades, alleys, and streets, using a tripod mounted 5 x 7-inch view camera to take these quietly majestic photographs. A selection of work from this period is now on view at “Bevan Davies /  Lower Manhattan: Vintage Photographs 1975-77” , now through February 27, 2016, at Deborah Bell Photographs, New York.

bdav-248 35 greene st., new york, 1975

35 Greene Street, New York, 1975, vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver print, paper 16 x 20″ (40.6 x 25.8 cm) signed, titled & dated in pencil on verso

In Davies’ New York, we return to a city that was on the verge of bankruptcy. Abandoned by the federal government, the Big Apple had been pitted to the core.  Photographing in the early morning hours, Davies shows us a barren New York, devoid of people and stripped down to its barest self. We are forced to look at the city as it really was, a slumping giant, bearing down on itself.

bdav-180 109 prince st., new york, 1975

109 Prince Street, New York, 1975 , vintage ferrotyped gelatin silver print, paper 16 x 20″ (40.6 x 25.8 cm) signed, titled & dated in pencil on verso

Here, we see a New York that no longer exists, a place of transformation made possible by extreme economic decline. There is a stately sense of grace in Davies’ photographs, as the buildings testify to the steel grid that lies within. At the time, no one could imagine that these buildings would become multi-million dollar properties for commercial and residential use. Rather, they were simply remnants of a time that was, while simultaneously showing the unvarnished face of what the city had become.

“Bevan Davies /  Lower Manhattan: Vintage Photographs 1975-77” is on view now through February 27, 2016, at Deborah Bell Photographs, New York.
Photos © Bevan Davies/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs & Joseph Bellows Gallery.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.