They were young, poor and reckless but the very embodiment of 1950s cool. Taken in the hot New York summer of 1959, Bruce Davidson’s classic essay Brooklyn Gang, New York, infiltrates a close-knit group of teenagers as they sunbathed, smoked and bloodied each other up. As Davidson tells TIME, the teens were “violent, sexual but full of life.”
TIME sat down with the pioneering photographer to discuss the harsh reality of his subjects’ lives. Davidson was just 25 when he made the series and says he got the arresting pictures because he was “close and stayed longer.” Though taken nearly 60 years ago, the images offer a timeless take on the teenage ballad of desolation, love and wild passion.
Davidson’s latest book Bruce Davidson: Survey, published by Aperture, is a comprehensive book that includes work from Brooklyn Gang, Subway, Central Park and East 100th Street among others.