| © Jerome Liebling/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery
“Butterfly Boy, NYC, 1949.”
Documentary photographer, filmmaker and teacher Jerome Liebling died July 27 at a hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts, from bladder cancer. He was 87.
As was one of many influential street photographers of the 1930s and ’40s—Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, Berenice Abbott and Gordon Parks among them—Liebling had a sympathetic eye for the plight of hardworking, ordinary folk. Within the past, Liebling had said that growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the course of the Depression caused him to determine” where the pain was, to turn things that folks wouldn’t see unless I USED TO BE showing them.” He also defined photography because the” combination of visual esthetics and social action.”
One of Liebling’s most famed images is “Butterfly Boy” (pictured above), of an African-American child whose intent gaze dominates the frame. The photographer was also known for his series on Minnesota slaughterhouse workers and for his portraits of Miami Beach handball players, all of which have been shot in black and white. Within the late Seventies, he began working exclusively in color, capturing of his old neighborhood, Brighton Beach, a well as artifacts of 19th-century New England writers.
In 1969, Liebling founded the film, photography and video program at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and contributed to shaping the careers of several imagemakers, including filmmaker Ken Burns and Ny Times staff photographer James Estrin. Estrin, co-editor of the The brand new York Times photojournalism blog, Lens, wrote a moving tribute to his former teacher, saying that some of the valuable lessons he learned from Liebling was that, “when you want to learn the technical aspects of photography, that is not what photography is ready. It’s in regards to the story it’s important to tell. The camera is solely a device. Some people might think [the] specs are what’s important in creating a great photo. They’re really not. I learned that first as an 18-year-old, straining to maintain with Jerry Liebling’s lectures.”