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YCBA debuts exhibition contrasting the work of influential American photographers working abroad
Bruce Davidson, London, 1960, gelatin silver print, Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund, © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos.

NEW HAVEN, CONN.- This summer the Yale Center for British Art pairs for the first time works by Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) and Bruce Davidson (b. 1933), two of the most distinguished and influential photographers of their generation. This exhibition presents approximately 150 works from their visits to Britain and Ireland in the 1960s and later, during which they turned their American eyes to the enduring landscapes and changing cultural scenes. In trips to Britain in 1960 and 1965, Davidson took an impressionistic portrait of the British people at work and play, while during numerous visits starting in 1967, Caponigro focused on the ancient stone circles, dolmens, and early churches in the British and Celtic landscape.

According to curator Scott Wilcox, “Caponigro and Davidson embody two very distinct American traditions: Davidson is a photojournalist and exponent of gritty street photography while Caponigro practices a pure, formalist approach to photographing landscape. If Davidson seeks to capture a specific moment in time, Caponigro dwells on the timeless phenomena of nature in relation to the enduring man-made structures of antiquity, such as Stonehenge.” Working in different artistic styles and temperaments, Caponigro and Davidson are nonetheless devoted to traditional photographic methods, using fi lm and developing black-and-white prints by hand.

Paul Caponigro, a protégé of Minor White and a follower of the West Coast movement inspired by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, has been an active photographer since 1952. Caponigro traveled to Ireland in 1966 on a Guggenheim Fellowship. He planned to explore Egypt as his subject, but was dissuaded by the photographer Dorothea Lange, who urged him to consider the megalithic structures of Ireland and Britain. As Caponigro recalled, “Ireland became my Egypt and the stones became my temples.” He visited Ireland and Britain fifteen times between 1966 and 1977, and has continued to make periodic visits.

While Caponigro’s work focuses on natural elements and primeval monuments, Bruce Davidson has said that he is “not a rocks and trees photographer.” Since 1958, Davidson has worked with Magnum Photos, the renowned photo agency co-founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and a group of like-minded photojournalists. Davidson’s work reflects Cartier-Bresson’s concept of capturing the “decisive moment”—a meaningful instant caught and isolated from the ongoing life flowing around the photographer. Following his highly acclaimed late 1950s Brooklyn Gang series, Davidson worked on commission for The Queen magazine in England and Scotland. He returned in 1965 to photograph Blackpool, a mecca for working-class British holidaymakers, and the mining communities of southern Wales.

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