Images from Powerful 1968 Photo Essay by Leonard Freed Provide a Visual Chronicle of Life During Civil Rights Era
December 9, 2014
Exhibition accompanies presentation of rarely seen works by Gordon Parks
ATLANTA, Dec. 9, 2014 – Alongside the works on view in “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story,” the High Museum of Art presents selected prints from celebrated photographer Leonard Freed’s multi-year documentary project and 1968 book “Black in White America.”
From 1963 through 1966, Freed traveled across the U.S. capturing images of the Civil Rights era, from rural scenes in the South to daily life on New York City streets and political protests in Washington, D.C. This journey culminated in Freed’s landmark photo essay, which endeavored to present a view of African-American life across the nation during the struggle for racial equality. “Leonard Freed: Black in White America,” on view Nov. 15, 2014 through June 7, 2015, features 38 black-and-white images by Freed that collectively serve as an aesthetic and topical complement to the rarely seen color prints from Parks’ 1956 Life magazine photo essay “The Restraints: Open and Hidden.”
“‘Black in White America’ is a visual diary with a moral purpose,” said Brett Abbott, the High’s Keough Family curator of photography. “Penetrating the fabric of daily existence, his work portrays the common humanity of a people persevering in unjust circumstances. Freed’s sensitive and empathetic approach sought not to stimulate outrage but to foster understanding and bridge cultural divides as a means of transcending racial antipathy. As such, his deep and evocative exploration of America’s collective past continues to resonate today and is remembered as a pivotal project in the evolution of socially engaged documentary photography.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a working-class Jewish family, Freed began taking photographs in Europe in the early 1960s, later finding great success as a documentary photojournalist in the U.S. The “Black in White America” project began with Freed photographing African-American neighborhoods around New York City in 1963 before purchasing a car to travel throughout the South, where he captured images of the daily lives of African-Americans in North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana. Freed published those photographs and others from his travels with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Black in White America,” which solidified Freed’s place among the best photographers of the Civil Rights era.
The photographs in the exhibition are presented on loan from Brigitte Freed, the artist’s widow who worked closely with her husband on the project. Freed’s works have previously been on view at the High in installations of the Museum’s extensive collection of Civil Rights era photography, which is one of the most significant in the nation and features six prints by the artist.
About Leonard Freed
Freed (1929-2006) was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a working-class Jewish family. Drawn to the arts, Freed initially aspired to be a painter. However, while traveling in the Netherlands in 1953, he discovered his passion for photography, which was further strengthened as he traveled throughout Europe and Africa. In 1958, Freed relocated to Amsterdam and began documenting life in the Jewish community there. He frequented Germany, developing his vision as a documentary photographer while grappling with his own identity as an American Jew. During this time, Freed encountered an African-American soldier standing at the edge of the American sector of West Berlin. The scene, for Freed, seemed emblematic of the social division found in the U.S. Upon his return to New York, Freed immersed himself in local African-American communities by attending religious gatherings, protests and other urban engagements. This initial work and his subsequent travels throughout the U.S. culminated in “Black in White America,” for which he received great acclaim. Freed joined Magnum photo agency in 1972. During the course of his career, Freed also made four films for Japanese, Dutch and Belgian television and published 12 books relating to important world issues. Freed died in Garrison, N.Y., on Nov. 30, 2006.
About “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story”
“Gordon Parks: Segregation Story,” presented in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, features more than 40 of Parks’ color prints – most on view for the first time. The trailblazing African-American artist and filmmaker captured the photographs for a powerful and influential 1950s Life magazine article documenting the lives of an extended African-American family in segregated Alabama. The series represents one of Parks’ earliest social documentary studies on color film.
Following the publication of the Life article, many of the photos Parks shot for the essay were stored away and presumed lost for more than 50 years until they were rediscovered in 2012 (six years after Parks’ death). Though a small selection of these images has been previously exhibited, the High’s presentation brings to light a significant number that have never before been displayed publicly.
The High will acquire 12 of the color prints featured in the exhibition, supplementing the two Parks works – both gelatin silver prints – already in the Museum’s collection.
As the first African-American photographer for Life magazine, Parks published some of the 20th century’s most iconic social justice-themed photo essays and became widely celebrated for his work in black-and-white photography, the dominant medium of his era. The photographs that Parks created for Life’s 1956 photo essay “The Restraints: Open and Hidden” are remarkable for their vibrant color and their intimate exploration of shared human experience.
“Gordon Parks: Segregation Story” Organization and Support
“Gordon Parks: Segregation Story” is organized by the High Museum of Art in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation. Support for this exhibition is provided by The Coca-Cola Company. Additional support provided by leading corporate sponsors and benefactors for the 10th annual David C. Driskell Prize dinner held on May 2, 2014.
About The Gordon Parks Foundation
The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation is a division of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.
About the High Museum of Art
The High is the leading art museum in the Southeastern U.S. With more than 14,000 works of art in its permanent collection, the High Museum of Art has an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American and decorative art; significant holdings of European paintings; a growing collection of African American art; and burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, photography, folk art and African art. The High is also dedicated to supporting and collecting works by Southern artists. For more information about the High, visit high.org.
About The Woodruff Arts Center
The Woodruff Arts Center is one of the largest arts centers in the world, home to the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art and Arts for Learning. Each year, these arts organizations play host to over 1.2 million patrons at the Woodruff Arts Center’s Midtown Atlanta location, one of the only arts centers in the U.S. to host both visual and performing arts on a single campus. Through its work with educators and schools, the Woodruff Arts Center serves over 300,000 students annually and is the largest arts educator in Georgia.
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High Museum of Art