Exhibition – Freed

Exhibition: An American in Deutschland – Photographs by Leonard Freed

September 15, 2011 – November 15, 2011
Opening: September 15, 2011
German Historical Institute, Washington, DC
Curated by Paul M. Farber and Martin Klimke

In collaboration with Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC Jewish Community Center Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, Goethe-Insitut, and Comet Ping Pong
Under the patronage of the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Peter Ammon



Leonard Freed (1929-2006) devoted his career as a photographer to making sense of the complex worlds in which he dwelled. “I get involved with something that is a problem for me,” Freed explained of his work, “something that I want an answer to, and use photography to explore it.” Over the course of five decades, the American-born Freed garnered international acclaim as a Magnum photographer depicting the African American civil rights movement, the Yom Kippur War, Amsterdam in the 1960s, and the New York Police Department, among other projects. As a documentary photographer, he published twelve books and dozens of photo essays, and in his lifetime captured over one million images from around the world.

Germany offered Freed a significant point of departure and return throughout his career. The city of Berlin occupied a special place in his work. He traveled to Berlin in August 1961 to photograph the construction of the Berlin Wall, lived in the city again in 1976, returned in November 1989 to observe the border’s dismantling, and then came back in October 1990 to witness the celebrations of reunification.

“American soldier stands guard as the Berlin Wall is put up,” Leonard Freed (Berlin, 1961)

Books by Freed such as 1965’s Deutsche Juden heute, 1970’s Made in Germany, and 1977’s Great Cities: Berlin indicate his commitment to photographing the people and landscapes of a postwar and divided Germany, as do his photo-essays for Der Spiegel and Die Zeit. Freed’s Eastern European Jewish background and his German wife, Brigitte, further intertwine his life narrative with that of postwar Germany. As he once remarked, “I feel being born in the United States gives me a fresh or extra eye to observe what the average German will overlook.”

In the final decade of his life, Freed intended to follow up his earlier Germany-focused projects with a new one, at once contemporary and retrospective. Found among his papers were several drafts of an unpublished book An American in Deutschland in which he presents the reunified “New Germany” in all its complexity – as a collage of contemporary images with others pulled from his own archive, as well as diary-style annotations accompanying his chosen visuals, reflecting his unique perspective on the country’s history.

Drawing on Freed’s own selections, this exhibition explores Germany’s postwar society and identity from the vantage point of the late 1990s. As a powerful posthumous record of a distinguished photographer’s career-long focus, An American in Deutschland contributes to the ongoing impact of Freed’s rich photographic visions and our continuously evolving understanding of German history.

Photographs courtesy of Brigitte Freed.
For more on Leonard Freed, please visit his website at Magnum Photos.