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Jerome Liebling, 1948

From the Curator

Seeing Real Things assembles 50 black-and-white and color photographs by internationally renowned American photographer Jerome Liebling, who has made the Pioneer Valley his home for almost 40 years.  During his long and distinguished career, Liebling has produced pristinely formal and socially-conscious images that speak directly and forcefully about change and continuity in America during the late twentieth century.  This exhibition is particularly noteworthy, in that the works were selected and sequenced and the texts were authored by Liebling himself, providing a keen look into the artist’s thoughts on the subject of his own work.

Jerome Liebling, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1924, has been influential as a photographer, filmmaker, and teacher. Following his discharge from the army in 1946, he studied design at Brooklyn College. His early love of still photography developed under the tutelage of Walter Rosenblum, former president of the famed New York social-documentary group the Photo League. His eye for composition was influenced by the Bauhaus-inspired faculty of Brooklyn College’s design department.

Jerome Liebling, 2002
photo by Frank Ward
Many of Liebling’s photographs are fluid series, which are assembled over a long period of time with a changing roster of images. His works are best seen and understood this way.  Despite their arresting formal and technical qualities, individual photographs are the vehicle and not the message, which seems to be a call for the viewer to be keenly aware of the physical world. Liebling’s photographic heroes include Paul Strand and Helen Levitt, who also created indelible images of their time and place that convey enduring notions of what it is to be human and alive.

The word “real” in the exhibition’s title counters the skepticism and distrust that we have learned to bring, as modern viewers, to photographic images. For Liebling, however, “real” is better understood as “authentic” and “seeing” as a direct conduit to both feeling and knowing.  If it is true, as Thoreau asserts, “Be it life or death, we crave only reality,” we are all linked to the search for genuine shared experiences. This is what Liebling, in his images, offers his viewers.

Aprile Gallant
Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

>> NEW! video of Liebling and his work

This exhibition is supported by the Museum of Art Program Fund and the Publications and Research Fund.

A complementary exhibition, Everyday Monuments: The Photographs of Jerome Liebling, will be on view at the Yale University Art Gallery until September 7, 2008.