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Butterfly Boy, New York

Jerome Liebling (American, 1924-2011)

Butterfly Boy, New York, 1949

  • Gelatin silver print
  • 10 5/8 x 10 in. (27 x 25.4 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund, 2008-90
  • Digital image © 2008 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama

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Butterfly Boy, New York

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Jerome Liebling took this photograph two years after he joined the Photo League. At the center of the composition is a young boy with a furrowed brow. He looks fixedly at the photographer with an expression that may reflect his wondering why his picture is being taken or may simply be caused by having the sun in his eyes. His outstretched arms lift his coat outward and upward, commanding the space in a way that belies his slight stature. A winter coat dominates his attire, but otherwise he seems dressed for warmer weather.

The picture was taken in front of Knickerbocker Village on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a low-income housing project that replaced notorious slums. The young boy was part of a community that was growing increasingly impoverished, but he is not depicted as bereft. Instead, Liebling represents the child with dignity. Wearing a tweed coat and matching hat, the young boy almost appears older than his years.