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A Letter from Alice.

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, Liebling’s 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 Liebling’s 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

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts