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Exhibition Preview: Black in America: Louis Draper and Leonard Freed

The CMA's next exhibition Black in America: Louis Draper and Leonard Freed opens Sun, 2/26.

This exhibition presents two views of African American daily life during the civil rights era through the photographs of Louis Draper, a black fine art photographer, and Leonard Freed, a white photojournalist.

Raised in segregated Richmond, Virginia, Louis Draper (1935–2002) moved to New York City to study photography in 1957. Being a photographer led him to “realize that what I felt had worth; that I could make strong statements about the world in visual terms and that often these images did in fact move people emotionally.” He strove to translate what it means to be black into optical terms, producing reflective and penetrating portraits and street photography. Seeking an ongoing forum for dialogue about photography, in 1963 Draper co-founded Kamoinge, an important collective of African American photographers that continues to this day.

Leonard Freed (1929–2006) was born to Jewish, working-class parents in Brooklyn. While covering the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, he photographed an African American soldier guarding the border. Struck by the fact that this man was risking his life to defend a country that limited his own rights, Freed returned to America and undertook a multiyear project photographing black life. He began with African American neighborhoods around New York City, then traveled extensively throughout the South. The result was the influential 1968 book Black in White America that strove to document a culture and also to raise public awareness of the inequalities it had to endure.

Both artists were incredibly talented formalists who put that skill at the service of expression. They also shared a goal: to create dignified depictions of African Americans that portrayed them not as victims or heroes but as individuals.

See images from the show below, and check out the show through Sun 7/30.

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Summer, New York, 1961. Louis Draper (American, 1935–2002). Gelatin silver print; 27.9 x 35.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Richard W. Whitehill Art Purchase Endowment Fund 2016.272. © Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust.

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Harlem, New York, 1963. Leonard Freed (American, 1929–2006). Gelatin silver print; 24.8 x 16.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2016.275. Image courtesy of Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos.

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Children in the Mirror, Johns Island, South Carolina, 1964. Leonard Freed (American, 1929–2006). Gelatin silver print; 23.8 x 29.8 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg 2016.282. Image courtesy of Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos.

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Portrait, New York, c 1965. Louis Draper (American, 1935–2002). Gelatin silver print; 20.3 x 25.4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Richard W. Whitehill Art Purchase Endowment Fund 2016.271. © Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust.

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A policewoman plays games with community children. Shortly afterward, the officer became pregnant and was assigned a desk job for the period of her pregnancy, from Police Work, 1978. Leonard Freed (American, 1929–2006). Gelatin silver print; 17.8 x 23.7 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of George Stephanopoulos 2013.189. Image courtesy of Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos.

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Girls Embracing, New York, c. 1965. Louis Draper (American, 1935–2002). Gelatin silver print; 27.9 x 35.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Richard W. Whitehill Art Purchase Endowment Fund 2016.274. © Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust.
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