Jerome Liebling took this photograph
of Minneapolis coalworker Fredrick Longen shortly after Liebling moved
from New York to Minneapolis to teach photography at the University of
Minnesota. Far from inhibiting my work, Liebling recalled,
Minnesota allowed me to extend the street out to the field and landscape.
As they did in New York, my sympathies remained more with the folk who
had to struggle to stay even, whose voices were often excluded from the
general discourse. (The Minnesota Photographs, 1997)
Fredrick Longen certainly fits the description of the folk who
had to struggle to stay even. A modest coalworker, Lieblings
photograph of him elevates him to hero status, his shovel a proud weapon
in the fight for dignity.
The coal worker is perhaps the most telling image; it serves
as a paradigm of Lieblings work and identifies the stunning simplicity
at the heart of his vision: the stark but lyrical horizon line of coal
marking out a landscape of utter blackness out of which a black figure
asserts itself with a pride of being. A common shovel opens our eyes,
becomes an unspeakable thing of beauty. The unspeakable power of the
mundane to move, to impress, to coerce us into recognitions: this is
an authentic power of photography itself.
Alan Trachtenberg (for Liebling portfolio), 1976