Engaged Observers/ Black And White In America
REVIEWS by Willard Manus
The Getty has also published two important, generous-sized books on photography: ENGAGED OBSERVERS: DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHS SINCE THE SIXTIES and BLACK And WHITE IN AMERICA.
In a foreword to ENGAGED OBSERVERS, David Bomford, Getty acting director, writes, "In the last five years, the Museum has begun acquiring works of photojournalism and documentary photography from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries." Associate curator Brett Abbott spearheaded the new acquisitions and loans which are presently on exhibition at the Museum; he also selected the photographs and crafted the text for the book under review.
ENGAGED OBSERVER'S opens with shots dating back to the 19th century, including Roger Fenton's 1855 grim portrait of a no-man's land in the Crimean War, the famous Valley of the Shadow of Death, and George N. Barnard's Civil War pictures. The concluding chapter of the 256-page, hardbound book focuses on the work of James Nachtwey, the American photographer who specializes in dramatic--oft horrifying--snapshots of the collateral damage inflicted by the recent wars in Sri Lanka, South Korea, Ireland, Lebanon and the West Bank.
The other major photographers featured in ENGAGED OBSERVERS include Leonard Freed, Philip Jones Griffiths, W. Eugene Smith & Aileen M. Smith, Susan Meiselas, Mary Ellen Mark, Lauren Greenfield, Larry Towell and Sebastiao Salgado. They are something of an endangered species, owing to the shrinking numbers of magazines willing or able to publish serious work like theirs.
Leonard Freed, by the way, is solely responsible for BLACK AND WHITE IN AMERICA, "an intimate look at African American life in the 1960s from urban North to rural South." The son of East European Jews, Freed got his photojournalist start when he was living in Berlin in the early 1960s and "witnessed black soldiers protecting freedom abroad while their brothers and sisters were fighting for civil rights back home."
In 1963 he returned to the USA to embark on a multiyear project that resulted in BLACK AND WHITE AMERICA. First published in 1967, the book has become a classic, thanks to its intimate views of the civil rights battle being fought in the streets, fields, schools, shops and churches around the country. Wellknown blacks like Martin Luther King are represented, but mostly Freed kept his camera trained on the "ordinary" people he encountered in various places like New Orleans, Harlem, "the black belt" of Florida, the streets of Charleston, and more. Always Freed looked for the dignity, humanity, humor and beauty of his subjects.
BLACK AND WHITE IN AMERICA has now been reissued by the Getty after having been out of print for four decades. (216 pages, paperback).