by Michelle Nott
When people ask me what I miss about America, I think really hard. New York City, I reply. Logically, the publicity poster for the latest temporary exhibit at Le Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi immediately caught my attention.
The black and white scene of men in gray-toned suits and one wide-striped tie seduces me to walk down Wall Street in 1950 style. Leonard Freed is the photographer. The exhibit is “Worldview” and runs until May 2011. Leonard Freed's view of the world started, indeed, in New York City. The year was 1929. Born of Russian descent into an Hasidic Jewish family, Freed wanted to explore his origins and what they could mean to him.
Entering into the exhibit, the first photographs clearly place the viewer in New York City. Jewish children and teachers look out from their schools, from their lives. Freed catches their regard so that they catch ours. Simple visitors through his lens, we can sense the emotion that provoked the shot, the angle, the moment that left in a flash.
Still in the 1950s, Freed's worldview expands to Belgium via Germany where he was working, He witnesses the mining catastrophe of Marcinelle (1956) near Charleroi, a shocking event in Belgium's memory. From a discreet distance, his photographs frame the mourning of the widows and of the children. Two-hundred fifty coffins line the streets. A woman prays at an open window. Families weep. Freed captures the experience as emotion rather than as a news report. He never did considered himself a photojournalist.
Back in New York City in the 1960s, he uses his lens to discover from where people come, where they are and where they may go. He catches festive moments at office parties, white men and women dancing with cocktails. Their smiles are so wide, I could almost hear the jazz in the background. Down on the streets, Harlem's children play in fire hydrants washing the heat and their troubles away for a cool moment. Other young boys are playing tough while men are handcuffed in the backseat of squad cars. A year later, Martin Luther King, Jr. drives by after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. By the late 1970s, a woman police officer plays, what looks like “Duck, Duck, Goose”, with a group of children on a Harlem street. Freed traveled but came back to his city. He looked within and around himself in search of who he was by where he was. He believed the subject of his pictures was always him.
Leonard Freed's camera has caught history without trying to report on it. Freed took pictures of what he saw, what anyone could have seen. But, his talent and regard immortalizes the emotion in the movement, that blink of the flash.
As much as I love New York City and would go back at a moment's notice for a walk through Central Park, down through Soho or over to Brooklyn, I know its positives and negatives result in many shades of gray. But, the energy for which the streets are so famous are also the breath of life in the Worldview exhibit. That breath luckily blew Leonard Freed where he needed to go as well.
Besides the Leonard Freed exhibit, two other temporary exhibits are also worth the visit: Simon Lueck, the Once and the Future Queens and Fernand Dumeunier, Le Visage et L'Esprit.
Since the mines closed in the second half of the last century, Charleroi is not much to see. However, the Belgian government has given money to the surrounding region and most notably to its photography museum. The collection makes it one of the most important photography museums in Europe.
Avenue Paul Pastur 11 (GPS Place des Essarts)
6032 Charelroi (Mont-Sur-Marchienne), Belgium
32 (0) 71/43 58 10
Open Tuesday through Sunday 10am – 6pm
Admission fees include permanent collection and exhibits:
6 euros for general, 4 euros for seniors and groups, 3 euros for students and the unemployed.
Free for children under 12.
Free the first Sunday of each month.
Light snacks and drinks are available in the museum café.