Time of Change

16 November 2002 - 25 January 2003

In 1961, Bruce Davidson traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to photograph the Freedom Riders. His experience there was the beginning of a five year entanglement with the Civil Rights Movement. Davidson's photographs, however, are not tributes to inviolate righteousness: they are a frank depiction of a tumultuous and disparate society whose future and whose character were still far from certain. The series' candor and scope belie the facile adages in which our memory of the movement risks becoming entrenched. It was undoubtedly frightening facing down policemen, firehoses, and angry mobs. But how much more terrifying must it have been to see looming behind them the immensity of history's inertia, against which one's only claim was an entitlement to a better life no one had ever substantiated? Davidson's eloquent photographs of the era are sometimes shocking, sometimes angry, and sometimes defiant. They can also be quiet, joyful, domestic, and contemplative. They encompass not only the conditions that precipitated the Civil Rights Movement, but the ambivalence and morass of daily life that had accommodated itself to those conditions. They provide a glimpse of the reality, not so unfamiliar, from which sprang so unlikely an accomplishment. They are evidence that a time of change risks leaving behind as much as it hopes to gain, and they are a testament to the astonishing willpower of those who delineated a path of resistance.