“The more ambiguous a photograph is, the better. Otherwise, it would be propaganda.”
Leonard Freed Photographers are often sprinters. They capture their subject matter quickly, and then turn towards new goals. From this point of view, Leonard Freed is a long-distance runner who has pursued his projects over long periods of time. His photo documentaries took years to come to fruition. His quiet, respectful way of looking at life and people is what makes his work so fascinating, and what creates the visual power behind his poignant studies. They document a position that can be best described as “concerned photography”. Freed’s focus is not on stars, catastrophes, or spectacular events but on everyday situations, sensitive portraits of people in their individual social contexts.
For Freed, photography was a practical tool for better understanding the world—on the one hand to find his own identity, and on the other to disentangle social interactions and structures and attain clarity. The camera was his surgical instrument: he used it not only to explore the surfaces but to probe fundamental realities. Freed photographed Hassidic Jews not because he was one himself—he was born Jewish but was not religious—but because he could have been one of them. He photographed Germans to understand their violent actions against the Jews. He photographed African Americans because they were not granted equal rights as US citizens—a situation that disturbed Freed as an American, and one he sought to understand. He photographed the New York Police as a group that had become a victim of society’s mistakes, caught in the crossfire from all sides.