At Tuesday's late news huddle, I was glancing at the list of obituaries on the front page and noticed Jerome Liebling's name. "Is that Jerome Liebling the photographer?," I asked, and others said yes, and that he was state Rep. Tina Liebling's father.
That was news to me. Liebling was one of Minnesota's most important and influential artists for years, a notable mid-20th century photographer whose work is in all the major U.S. museums and who was widely published. I didn't know he was still living, honestly, or that he was Tina's father.
He died July 27 at age 87 in Amherst, Mass.
As the obituary says, in 1949 he established the film and photography department at the University of Minnesota, and "he inspired generations of students with his humanitarian vision expressed through the media of photography and film."
Liebling was part of the Photo League documentary movement in New York in the '40s and he brought that straight-forward, unflinching approach to his photo work in Minnesota. His images of working-class people and places in Minneapolis and around the state remain some of Minnesota's defining images.
"Throughout his life Liebling had a deep concern for social justice and human rights," the obituary says. That's evident in all his best work. This Liebling quote posted on the Minneapolis Institute of Arts website sums up his approach to photography and documentary filmmaking:
"These days it seems that physical 'truth' can easily be rearranged, rethought, or re-created outright. Any image can be made pristine, all the warts can be removed. But returning to the source of a thing -- the real source -- means the photographer has to watch, dig, listen for voices, sniff the smells, and have many doubts.
"My life in photography has been lived as a skeptic."
That's a perfect expression of what it means to be a photographer and journalist. Based on what I know of his art, Jerome Liebling was both, and a lot more.