Bruce Davidson is perhaps best known for his photo-essays documenting marginal and counter-culture groups in the United States. However, he produced a large body of work when he travelled across the UK in the early 1960s, encapsulating through his imagery a post-war country struggling with economic hardship. Providing a unique viewpoint as an outsider, Davidson was particularly drawn to the emerging youth culture, documenting a new brand of teenager in London, living in an era of female liberation and cultural revolution.
Davidson stumbled across this young girl in 1960, whilst driving through London. Standing on a street with two friends, the girl held a tiny stray kitten in her arms. Davidson, who usually spent a great deal of time with the subjects of his photographs, only briefly visited a club with the group before making the set of portraits. The young girl, however, left a lasting impression on the photographer himself. The photograph, taken with a normal 50mm lens, with a wide aperture, has become one of Davidson’s favourite images. He has since stated that, ‘I didn’t know where she had come from, and I didn’t get her name, but there was something about that face – the hopefulness, positivity and openness to life – it was the new face of Britain.’
The 1960s were an age of burgeoning youth culture, the post-war baby boom causing an unprecedented number of teenagers and young adults. Its movements and cultures saw a generation break free from traditions and societal norms. The tumultuous decade, now synonymous with societal change, resonates through this image. A tousled haired, androgynous-looking young woman with a hopeful gaze, she represents the uneasy transition between childhood and adulthood, as well as becoming a metaphor for post-war Britain, a country in the throws of a fraught transformation. The sleeping bag thrown over her shoulder further deepens the composition’s allusions to transience and displacement. Displaying both hope and hardship, Girl with Kitten is the epitome of Britain’s emerging youth culture