The Young Rebel in American Photography, 1950–1970

Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our community.

Stay connected and enjoy the #MuseumFromHome

Jul 23–Oct 13, 1992


Bruce Davidson. Untitled. 1959. Gelatin silver print, 6 ¾ × 10″ (17.1 × 25.4 cm). Purchase. © 2016 Magnum Photos, Inc. and Bruce Davidson

An exhibition of approximately forty black-and-white prints drawn primarily from the Museum’s collection, The Young Rebel in American Photography, 1950–1970 explores new roles of nonconformity created by American youth in the era of postwar prosperity.

In the 1950s the films of Marlon Brando and James Dean put America’s rebellious youth on the cultural map. In photography, as in film, the young rebel was both a compelling subject and a model of independence. Following the lead of Robert Frank (b. 1924), whose book The Americans (1959) was a passionate indictment of American life, adventurous photographers abandoned photojournalism’s posture of objectivity. Young themselves, these photographers often identified with their subjects. Their pursuit of young America’s struggle for self definition helped to create a new vocabulary for photography, which emphasized the subjectivity of personal experience.

Photographers such as Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) and Danny Lyon (b. 1933) recorded the lives of gangs, among the more insular and enigmatic of counterculture groups. Shot on excursions to Coney Island, Davidson’s Teenagers series (1959) depicts a Brooklyn gang who called themselves “The Jokers.” Conveying a similar sense of immediacy, Lyon’s The Bikeriders (1968) portrays the Chicago Outlaws, a motorcycle gang with whom he rode.

The exhibition also features a group of photographs by William Gedney (1932–1989), which documents the indolent lifestyle of San Francisco hippies in the 1960s. A selection of prints from the series Tulsa (1971), by Larry Clark (b. 1943), provides an unblinking look at the self-destructive world of the drug culture.

In addition to these four bodies of work, by Davidson, Lyon, Gedney, and Clark, the exhibition includes photographs by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Larry Fink, and Allen Ginsberg, among others.

Curator Edward Robinson comments, “Today, the rebel that appears in these photographs intrigues us as a figure drawn from life, even as we recognize him as a familiar icon, thoroughly recycled into cultural myth. The exhibition ultimately invites us to consider the forces that shape our myths, the play between individual aspirations and the needs of a broader audience for models of experience.”

Organized by Edward Robinson, Newhall Fellow, Department of Photography.

This exhibition is made possible by a grant from Giorgio Armani Corporation.


Installation images

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or, please email If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to