The elegiac black and white of Leonard Freed’s photographs of New York City’s Little Italy capture a time when horse and carts delivered laundry and a sharp suit and hat was la moda del momento. Freed, who referred to his relationship with Italy as a “love story”, lived in New York’s next best thing during the mid-50s. Freed was fascinated by this culture because, as Italian scholar Michael Miller wrote, “the past is always present in one form or another as people pursue their daily lives”. This theory is writ large in the family rituals and religious traditions that populate Freed’s frame.

Ultimately photography is about who you are. It's the truth in relation to yourself

Leonard Freed

Leonard Freed was born in Brooklyn, New York, to working-class Jewish parents of Eastern European descent. He initially wished to become a painter, but began taking photographs while in the Netherlands in 1953 and discovered that this was where his passion lay.

Working as a freelance photographer from 1961 onwards, Freed began to travel widely, photographing the black experience in America (1964-65), events in Israel (1967-68), the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the New York City police department (1972-79). He also shot four films for Japanese, Dutch and Belgian television. Freed joined Magnum in 1972.

His coverage of the American civil rights movement brought him global attention, but he also produced major essays on Poland, Asian immigration in England, North Sea oil development, and Spain after Franco. Photography became Freed’s means of exploring societal violence and racial discrimination. Leonard Freed died in 2006.

© Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos

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