Photographer seeks 'Girl Holding Kitten'

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: We turn our attention now to another moment from London's past. It wasn't as historic as a royal wedding, but the moment has endured for more than 50 years through an iconic photograph. It's a picture of a girl holding a kitten. There's something about the girl's face, her expression, you can see what we're talking about. The photo is on our website, American photographer, Bruce Davidson, took the picture. He's back in London this week to receive the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award. Now he wants to find the girl who was holding the kitten on that dark London street. Perhaps, Bruce, you are the most equipped to describe this photo. For those who aren't online right now viewing it, can you describe it for us?

Bruce Davidson: What you'd see in the photograph is a teenager, with short hair, and beautifully round face, holding a little kitten. And this woman, this young woman reminds me of French actresses in French films.

Mullins: When you took the photograph you didn't write down her name, is that right?

Davidson: No, it wouldn't be like me. I have been asked to come over from New York to London for The Queen magazine, which was a cultural magazine of the day. They have published my Brooklyn Gang Series, and invited me to do whatever I wanted to do. And I just, I bought a car, I bought a Hillman Lynx convertible with red leather seats and drove around, and just...I lived on bananas, and fudge, and that kind of thing.

Mullins: Let me just interrupt you. You mentioned the Brooklyn Gang book, this is a seminole book that you wrote and published in 1959, when you befriended some teenagers and lived with them on the east side of New York. The kind of relationship you had with them was a relationship you were very proud of, and had with most of your subjects. Would you say that with this young girl as well?

Davidson: Yes, this was a brief encounter, but it was a felt encounter, you know. I just had a little camera, a little Leica camera and I just stood there. And 1960, I wasn't much older than they were.

Mullins: Well, if you want to track this woman down, how are you doing it? And what do you hope to gain from finding her again if you do?

Davidson: Oh, I don't think I gave her a print. I owe her a picture and it's taken all these years. And maybe she's no longer alive, but maybe she is.

Mullins: How are you trying to find her?

Davidson: Just like right now, you know. Maybe she'll see the picture in the newspaper or magazine, it could happen.

Mullins: Have you in your mind kind of woven your own story about what might have happened to this young woman?

Davidson: Well, let's hope she became a writer or an artist. Hopefully, she has a full life and not a life on the street. She was carrying a sleeping bag with her when I met her. I don't know. And maybe she has a daughter or even a granddaughter that looks just like her and is holding another cat.

Mullins: And you'll have your camera ready.

Davidson: I always have my camera ready.

Mullins: And for you, is this kind of the closing of the circle if you do find her?

Davidson: I'm not only photographing things that will appear in the future, I'm also understanding pictures I've taken in the past.

Mullins: Ah, so is there something you understand now about this girl?

Davidson: There was something about her that was intriguing. She was Joan of Arc, she was any and every woman that had a spirit and a strength.

Mullins: And you didn't see that then?

Davidson: Oh, I saw in her a woman of probably great potentiality. As long as she didn't grow fat and stupid, I think she had a great chance of being a wonderfully interesting human being.

Mullins: Bruce, there are no guarantees in life. So nice to talk to you. Congratulations, Bruce Davidson.

Davidson: Thank you.