Police Work: Photographs by Leonard Freed, 1972-1979, at the Museum of the City of New York, Dec. 20, 2011 – Mar 18, 2012

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Leonard Freed, from Police Work.

Leonard Freed, from Police Work.

A selection of vintage prints from Leonard Freed’s book, Police Work (1980) recognizes the gift of Freed’s widow, Brigitte Freed of this material. As powerful an observer of human life as he was a photographic artist, Freed spent eight years observing the work of the New York Police Department.

In his prefatory note to the book, Freed said:

When asked why I became so interested in the police, I have to answer, everyone should be. If we do not concern ourselves with who the police are-who they really are-not just “cops” or “pigs,” “law enforcement officers” or “boys in blue,” we run the real risk of finding that we no longer have public servants who are required to protect the public, but a lawless army from which we will all take orders. I’ve seen it as I’ve worked in countries quite appropriately called “police states.”

I was fascinated and challenged by how little people knew about the police, despite the fact that we see them all day in reality and in a fictionalized version at night on TV. I was, and am still, impressed by the concept of the police as a symbol of society’s efforts to control itself. And I am as full of questions as any man as to what society should ask of these ordinary persons who, usually to improve their lot, have taken a job which may well require them to kill someone.

I worked alongside and with the police. I “stole” no pictures. When asked if I saw brutality and corruption I have to answer, of course not. But of course there is corruption and brutality, cruelty and callousness. If there were not, then everyone would see the police as angels of mercy and order. What I saw were average people doing a sometimes boring, sometimes corrupting, sometimes dangerous and ugly and unhealthy job. I hope to make people think about who the police are … and why we need them.

About the author

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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