|Leonard Freed by Michael Auer, 1987|
"Photography is like life... What does it all mean? I don't know - but you get an impression, a feeling.... An impression of walking through the street, walking through the park, walking through life. I'm very suspicious of people who say they know what it means."
". . .a good photograph must have the element of good design: Everything within the photograph has to be essential. It's never like a painting where you can have it perfect. It shouldn't be absolutely perfect. That would kill it."
Bruce Silverstein Gallery Portfolio
Clark Gallery Portfolio
Contact: Leonard Freed on YouTube
Denver Post Photo Blog: Leonard Freed's Photographs of the March on Washington
Lee Gallery Portfolio
Leica Gallery: Leonard Freed, The Italians
Leonard Freed Jews of Amsterdam Photography on YouTube
Leonard Freed Page on Facebook
Magnum Photos Portfolio
Museum of Modern Art Collection
New York Times Lens: The Photographer and His Printer, Partners in Art and Love
Selection of Leonard Freed Books on Amazon
The Red List: Leonard Freed Portfolio
Time Lightbox: Behind New York City's "Police Work"
|"Farm Women, Bay of Naples", Naples 1958|
|"Fish", Naples 1958|
|"Bride", Naples 1958|
|"St. Peter's Square", Rome 2000|
|"Sicilian Nobleman at Home", Trapani 1975|
|"Priests, Snowball Fight", Vatican 1958|
|"Jewelry Store", Rome 1958|
|"Soldiers", Florence 1958|
|"Boy with Donkies", Sicily 1974|
|"Religious Jews at Home in Mea Shearim", Jerusalem 1967|
|"Hassidic Jews Celebrating", Jerusalem 1972|
|"A Bedouin Boy with His Sister", Negev Desert 1967|
|"Jewish Hassidic Wedding", 1954|
|"Hassidic Boys in Classroom" 1954|
|"Flag, Republican Convention", Dallas 1984|
|"Men, Triangle in Synagogue", Brooklyn 1954|
|"Harlem Father", New York City 1963|
|"Wall Street", New York City 1956|
|A Jazz Funeral for a Musician Who Died", New Orleans 1963|
Special thanks to Brigitte Freed and Elke Susannah Freed for allowing me to reproduce Leonard Freed's photographs, here, on my blog. Without their kind cooperation and generosity this blog entry would not have been possible. No further use of these photographs is allowed without their permission.
Biography (Source: Brill Gallery):
Leonard Freed was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1929 to a working class family of radical Jews from Eastern Europe. Freed took trips to Europe and North Africa in the early 50s and thought he wanted to become a painter. He studied in Alexei Brodovitch’s design laboratory. Eventually Freed was intrigued by photography and how it could tell stories and explore life. Edward Steichen, then Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art learned of Freed’s work and told him that he was one of the three best young photographers he had seen. Steichen advised Freed to remain an amateur and bought three of Freed’s photos for the Museum.
In the early 60s Freed was living in the Netherlands when the photographs of the Civil Rights Movement in European newspapers compelled him to return to the United States. Freed was struck at what he saw as images of blacks in America that were often in the form of caricature. Freed set to create a body of work that refuted those caricatures and emphasized the individuality of his subjects. His subtle and thoughtful images comment on the unfairness of enforced segregation and provide context for some of the meaningful events that took place in America in the 1950s and 60s. Freed became famous with his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement as he offered photos of Harlem Streets, early images of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the publication of his book Black in White America in 1968.
In 1972 Leonard Freed joined the highly regarded group of Magnum photographers with whom he remained active until his death. He has worked on international assignments for the major international press including: Life, Look, Paris Match, Die Zeist, Der Spiegel, London Sunday Times Magazine, New York Times Magazine, GEO, L’Express, Fortune, etc.
Photography became Freed’s way of exploring complex issues such as societal violence and racial discrimination. In 1980 his book Police Work made statements about police brutality in words and pictures. Through photography Freed confronted the Ku Klux Klan, German Society, and his own Jewish roots through numerous exhibits, books and films. More than 10 books have been published on Freed’s work and several are for sale at the Brill Gallery. Freed’s photos are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Smithsonian, Getty Museum, Jewish Museum, High Museum, etc. and various university, corporate and individual collections. Major exhibits of Freed's photographs will take place at the Muse'e de l 'Elyse'e in Lausanne, Switzerland and at the Leica Gallery in NYC in 2007.
Obituary (Souce: Amanda Hopkinson, The Guardian, December 6, 2006):
The name of the American Leonard Freed, who has died aged 77, became synonymous with that of the "concerned photographer". In the wake of the second world war, photojournalism became increasingly involved with human rights and, in Freed's case, with civil rights in his homeland. As a documentarist of the situation of African-Americans, he always had an eye for the unexpected and upbeat, often in the grimmest of circumstances.
He followed the years of struggle against segregation and discrimination by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), photographing Martin Luther King Jr and his great march across the US from Alabama to Washington; equally, his image of children playing around a water hydrant in New York became an icon, along with those of daily life in that city, still effectively segregated by ghettoisation in the 1950s and 60s.
Freed spent years photographing behind the scenes with the police department in the 1970s; when his famous resulting exhibition, The Spectre of Violence, was shown at London's Photographers' Gallery in 1973 it was as though the viewers were coming upon the actual scene of a murder. They entered the gallery through black curtains, and a flash went off as they found a corpse at the bottom of a stairwell; the surrounding scenes were mounted on hardboard backing, dramatically involving the audience in a lifesized restaging.
Stylistically, this series was in the arresting, flashlit tradition of an earlier New York photographer, Weegee (Arthur Fellig). But 1972 was also the year in which Freed joined Magnum, the Paris-based photo agency founded in 1948 by Bob Capa, George Rodger, "Chim" Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson. It was to be a lifelong relationship, for Magnum photographers have always adhered to their own humanistic precepts and social awarenesses.
Preferring - like most of his fellow Magnum members - to work in black and white, and using available light, Freed contributed to the key picture magazines of the postwar period, including Life, Look, Fortune, Libération, L'Express, GEO, Paris-Match, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel and the Sunday Times magazine. He also shot four films for Dutch, Belgium and Japanese television, including The Negro in America (1968) and Joey Goes to Wigstock (1992).
Born into a humble Jewish family of East European extraction in Brooklyn, Freed originally wanted to become an artist. He attended the New School and studied with the legendary art director of Harper's Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch - and it was in Brodovitch's "design laboratory" that Freed discovered his true vocation. As soon as he finished his studies, he took off for two years, hitch-hiking through Europe and north Africa. This led in 1959 to his first book, Joden von Amsterdam (Jews of Amsterdam), a first one-man photo exhibition, at Hilversum in the Netherlands, and his decision to become a full-time freelancer shortly afterwards.
The interest in the Jewish diaspora and in Israel became a revisited theme for Freed. In 1965 he published Deutsche Juden Heute (German Jews Today), and in 1967 and 1973 he covered the six-day and Yom Kippur wars in the Middle East. There followed Black and White in America (1968); Seltsame Spiele (Strange Games, together with Shinkichi Tajiri, 1970); Made in Germany (1970); Police Work (1980; expanded as New York Police, 1990); and a major retrospective work, Leonard Freed: Photographies 1954-1990 (1991).
Exhibitions accompanied and alternated with the books and films. These ranged from What is Man?, shown at the Benedictine convent at Cockfosters, north London, to Native Americans, a group show at the state capitol building in Albany, New York. The former was cast in the mould of The Family of Man, Edward Steichen's travelling exhibition which intended to demonstrate, less than a decade after the second world war, that "People are people the world over: everywhere different and everywhere the same." Perhaps What is Man was Freed's response to Steichen, who, as director of the Museum of Modern Art, had first told Freed that he was one of the three best emerging photographers he had met. Purchasing three images for his prestigious collection there, Steichen warned Freed that the other two had "turned commercial" and that he should either remain an amateur or "preferably, become a truck driver".
Clearly, Freed chose neither option, determining instead to turn his vocation into a career. At the 1967 opening of the Concerned Photographer exhibition, curated by Cornell Capa and in which he showed with five of his peers, he announced: "Suddenly, I feel as if I belong to a tradition. To see life, see the world, be witness to great events, peer into the faces of the poor, the mad, to understand the shadows of the jungle, hidden things, to see, to rejoice in seeing, to be spiritually enriched." It was a journey that took him to document Asian immigrants in Newcastle and oil workers in the North Sea, travellers in eastern Europe and Hassidic communities and black people in New York slums - always pursuing content and context over form and subjectivity.
Sue Davies, founder director of London's Photographers' Gallery, has informal memories of how Freed spent time in London in the early 1970s - "in my family album I have a picture he took at a wedding reception of my husband John waving a chicken leg in the air."
Jimmy Fox, picture editor at Magnum's Paris office, recalls the small, dark, crinkle-haired man with big glasses thus: "During 38 years Leonard Freed was always polite, efficient, cooperative and smiling. He was open to other opinions and had a great interest in human behaviour, without being malicious or self-appropriating. The description 'Concerned photographer' fitted him like a glove."
Freed himself claimed that "Photography is still in its infancy ... challenging in that [it leaves] one free to be original." But, in truth, he and his Magnum colleagues are among those who brought the medium to maturity. He is survived by his wife, Brigitte Klueck, whom he married in 1958, and daughter Elke.
Leonard Freed, photographer, born October 23, 1929; died November 30, 2006