Acts of Indifference

Tyler Dittenbir

Boy with arm raised, bent at elbow, sweat on face.

Leonard Freed
toned gelatin silver print on paper
12 x 9 in. ( 30.48 x 22.86 cm )
Gift from the Collection of David S. Rosen MD, MPH

Photojournalist Leonard Freed lived a storied life alongside some of the greatest men of the twentieth century. Notably, Freed accompanied MLK Jr. on his march to Washington and this is where the career of Freed took off. His work eventually included a range of photographs spanning the South and documenting the Civil Rights Movement as it unfolded. Upon his return to New York, Freed once again employed his talent for image-making in the Bronx, where he was born to a middle-class Jewish family. Freed decided to pursue photography after receiving motivations from notable men such as Edward Steichen who stumbled across three of Freed’s earliest works with great enthusiasm and regard. Leonard Freed is a master of storytelling through facial expression and this work created in Harlem employs many of the same stylings he used during his time in the South. Specifically, Freed presents ideas of defiance through raised fists while preserving the childlike gaze that leaks fear and distrust. Indifference takes a new form in this work by addressing a systemic idea of indifference towards a certain person or persons. Freed confronts the viewer with children posed in defiance rather than adults to highlight the extremes to which indifference affects those less privileged. Exposed ribs and a near-quivering lip stand in contrast to the fist of defiance and begs the viewer to examine one’s own understanding of indifference.

-Tyler Dittenbir

Image of a young child leaning against his mother, who is clothed in Dutch wax print.

Leonard Freed

Malnourished child under mother's dress, Ivory Coast, Africa, 1995
vintage gelatin silver print on paper
10 in x 8 in (25.4 cm x 20.32 cm);9 in x 6 ¼ in (22.86 cm x 15.88 cm)
Gift of Zoe and Yuri Gurevich

This work by Leonard Freed was made just 11 years prior to his death in 2006. This photo from the Ivory Coast of Africa echoes the previous work by Freed, Harlem. Instead, he has chosen to return to the place from which countless numbers of Africans were sent to the New World against their will. It was on these coasts that the Civil Rights Movement had truly begun, long before the heated exchanges and sweltering marches in the South. Freed captures a moment between mother and child – a visual language which is echoed universally – and uses the opportunity to highlight the malnourishment of the child. This is very much a sympathetic photo taken by Freed and seems very humanistic for its recognized qualities and its impressionable value on all viewers who see it. In contrast to the previous work by Freed, the gaze of the child is far less self-aware and retains a more recognizable childlike curiosity. Here, indifference runs deep through historical faults and finds its home with the less fortunate. The children here likely know very little of a life different from theirs. By simply consuming this visual material we have already exceeded the level of access to a world outside our own and one far beyond the understanding of this child. Freed confronts the viewer with this excess. It is this privilege of consumption – to quench and to satiate one’s desires – that separates us from the subject. What is it ultimately then, that keeps images like this recognizable and reoccurring if we are made aware through its documentation? Indifference on a humanitarian level.

-Tyler Dittenbir


Bruce Davidson
Untitled (Child in Graveyard), from "Welsh Miners"
gelatin silver print on paper
16 1/16 in x 19 15/16 in (40.8 cm x 50.64 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas M. Kenyon

This work by the photographer Bruce Davidson was taken in a Welsh mining community cemetery. It is an eerie photo of a dirtied child who is outlined against a headstone twice her height. There is little context for the presence of the child in the cemetery – no adult figure present and the child’s facial expression indicates a sense of loss or confusion. The child is seemingly in motion and appears to run in Davidson’s direction. This movement towards the photographer makes the viewers’ experience with the work feel more personal and confrontational. The girl is much brighter than her surroundings which is full of dark, contrasting blacks and greys. By simply viewing this work, we become the only other person present in the scene, and this places a burden of responsibility on us. How are we to simply continue along while a child is running out of a graveyard and towards us? Furthermore, once the open mouth and blurred expression of the child are accounted for, a sense of eeriness settles in. This isn’t normal. Children do not usually play among headstones and certainly not by themselves. It is someone’s indifference that has left this child alone and in the graveyard. Unlike the previous photographs, this photo more directly challenges you to take responsibility for the child. You are not free to view and not play a role – choose to take responsibility for circumstances outside your control or choose to continue on and risk perpetuating indifference.

-Tyler Dittenbir


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Last Updated

April 9, 2020 2:03 p.m.


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