Black in White America
Bruce Silverstein Gallery through June 13.
If one wants a reminder the power of documentary photographs, visit the Silverstein Gallery to see Freed's exhibition “Black in White America.” As serious journalism and photojournalism become a fading luxury of our fast moving, instant gratification times, nothing could be more illuminating as to why they once assumed such importance and influence. Shot during the ‘60s, they show the pain, struggle and everyday life of black Americans living through segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. His series is one of the great photographic documents of our time, an undertaking of rare emotional range and intensity.
A member of Magnum for many years, he was inspired to start the series, which ultimately became a best-selling book “Black in White America” in 1968, when he shot the now iconic photograph of an African American soldier standing alone in front of the Berlin Wall in Germany, defending the United States, when his own country denied him his rights. Appalled, he set off for Harlem, Washington D.C. and the South to document the pervasive injustices of racism and the Civil Rights Movement.
Over the years Freed published 11 more books and has displayed his work in several national and international group exhibitions as well as 25 solo exhibitions. His work can be found in public collections such as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the International Center of Photography in New York, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.
"Ultimately photography is about who you are,” said Freed who died in 2006. “It's the seeking of truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit."
That truth shines through every photo here: the forlorn backyard in Harlem where children play in a plastic pool, watched by their tired mother, the white woman gleefully pointing to a sign over a segregated bathroom, reading “White Female,” and the anger and horror in a black woman’s face as policemen roughly grab her during a protest.
No photo here contains one extraneous or distracting detail. In his shot of two little boys reveling in the spray of a hydrant, you feel their joy, and in another of people reaching across the hood of a car to touch Martin Luther King’s hand, their happiness at his existence is palpable. In each image, he includes completely individualistic elements of strangeness and awkwardness, creating complicated paintings of moments. His interest was not in solely reporting the news, but reporting on people. It seems to me that it would be very hard for anyone to come away from this show unmoved.
Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th St., 3rd floor
New York City