Leonard Freed, 77; photographer covered unrest around the world

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Leonard Freed, a documentary photographer who covered the American civil rights movement as well as societal issues in Europe and unrest in the Middle East, has died. He was 77.

Freed, a longtime member of the Magnum Photos agency, died Thursday of complications from cancer at a hospital in this Hudson River Valley community, said his wife Brigitte.

After joining Magnum Photos in 1972, Freed worked on assignment for major international publications, including Life, Paris Match, Der Spiegel, Stern, the New York Times Magazine and Fortune. He traveled extensively as a freelance photojournalist, most recently in Brazil last year, his wife said.

He produced major essays on Poland, Asian immigration in England, North Sea oil development, the Romanian revolution, Spain since Franco, gambling in Atlantic City and the Ku Klux Klan. He also shot four films for Japanese, Dutch and Belgian television.

His more than a dozen books include his landmark "Black in White America" (1968), on the civil rights movement, and 1980's "Police Work," on policing efforts in New York City.

Born in Brooklyn in 1929 to Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Freed was educated at Tilden High School in Brooklyn. He studied painting but, according to Magnum, switched to photography while visiting the Netherlands in the early 1950s. He traveled in Europe and North Africa before returning to the United States and began studying photography. He moved to Amsterdam in 1958 and photographed the Jewish community there.

His early work caught the attention of Edward Steichen, who was then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, according to Magnum. Enthusiastic about Freed's work, Steichen called him one of the three best young photographers he had seen but encouraged him to remain an amateur, saying that the other two were doing uninteresting commercial photography.

"Preferably," Steichen advised, "be a truck driver."

Freed's work has been exhibited in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Germany, and New York City.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by their daughter, Elke Susannah.

A memorial service is planned for Jan. 21 at the Hamilton Fish Library in Garrison.

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