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Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Lower East Side: Photographs by Bruce Davidson

September 16, 2007 - February 3, 2008

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Author and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer and acclaimed photographer Bruce Davidson were friends and neighbors in their Manhattan apartment building. In 1972, they collaborated on a humorous and surreal film, Isaac Singer's Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko's Beard, based on a story by Singer. During and after production, Davidson photographed Singer in his apartment and around the Upper West Side.

The following year, Davidson took a series of photographs on the Lower East Side. He created a black and white portfolio titled The Garden Cafeteria, depicting denizens of the East Broadway restaurant that Singer frequented on his trips to The Jewish Daily Forward. Later, he photographed local merchants, rabbis, and storefronts on Essex and Orchard Streets.

The exhibition Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Lower East Side presents Davidson's Garden Cafeteria portfolio with an introduction by Singer, a selection of his portraits of Singer and selections from his Lower East Side series. Intimate and unflinching, Davidson's photographs tell a moving New York story of émigrés and Holocaust survivors from the Lower East and Upper West sides of Manhattan.


Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991), the most revered Yiddish writer of the twentieth century, produced fiction serialized in The Jewish Daily Forward as well as political commentary, popular journalism, plays, children's books, and advice columns under assumed names. He was born in Poland and emigrated to the United States in 1935. Beginning with The Family Moskat (1950), his stories and novels were translated and published in English, bringing him to a wider audience in America and worldwide. His dozens of books include Satan in Goray (1955), Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (1957), The Magician of Lublin (1960), The Spinoza of Market Street and Other Stories (1961), The Slave (1962), Enemies: A Love Story (1972), A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories (1973), Shosha (1978), Yentl the Yeshiva Boy (1983), and Shadows on the Hudson (1998). An autobiographical account of his Warsaw childhood, My Father's Court, was published in 1966; his memoir Love and Exile appeared in 1984. In 1978 Singer became the ninth American and the only Yiddish writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Bruce Davidson (1933- ) began to photograph at the age of ten in Oak Park, Illinois, and continued to further his knowledge and develop his passion at Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University. In 1957, Davidson worked as a freelance photographer for Life magazine and in 1958 became a full member of Magnum Photos. From 1958 to 1961 he created such seminal bodies of work as "The Dwarf," "Brooklyn Gang," and the "Freedom Rides." He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962 to photograph what became a profound documentation of the Civil Rights Movement in America. In 1963, The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented his early work in a solo show. In 1967 he was awarded the first grant for photography form the National Endowment for the Arts, having spent two years bearing witness to the dire social conditions on one block in East Harlem, published in 1970 under the title East 100th Street. Classic bodies of work from his 50-year career have been extensively published in monographs and are included in many major public and private fine art collections around the world. His most recent book is Circus (2007).

The exhibition was organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.



Woman in front of the Garden Cafeteria, 1973Isaac Bashevis Singer reclining on a sofa, 1975
Woman in front of the Garden Cafeteria, 1973
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
Organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts

Isaac Bashevis Singer reclining on a sofa, 1975
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
Organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts

Mrs. Bessie Gakaubowicz, holding a photograph of her and her husband, taken before the war, 1973Isaac Bashevis Singer feeding pigeons on Broadway, 1975
Mrs. Bessie Gakaubowicz, holding a photograph of her
and her husband, taken before the war
, 1973
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
Organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts

Isaac Bashevis Singer feeding pigeons on Broadway, 1975
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
Organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts

Interior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue with 90 year-old Küster Markowitz in the foreground, 1990Heshy Stolzenberg and a carp at the Essex Street Market, 1990

Interior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue with 90 year-old Küster Markowitz in the foreground, 1990
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
Organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts

Heshy Stolzenberg and a carp at the Essex Street Market, 1990
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
Organized by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts

Related Links

The Eldridge Street Project celebrates
the restoration and 120th anniversary of
the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a
National Historic Landmark.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers
walking tours, every weekend through
December, that look at the neighborhood's
past and present.


Bruce Davidson
Isaac Bashevis Singer in his study, 1978
Lambda c-print
27 x 40 in. (68.6 x 101.6 cm)
Collection of the artist, © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos

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