Jerome Liebling's Photographs of Handball Players Featured on the Cover of the Fall Issue of Victory Journal

December 4, 2013

“O’er the green mead the sporting virgins play, their shining veils unbound along the skies, tossed and re-tossed, the ball incessant flies."

- Homer

According to Tom O’Conner’s History of Handball, the earliest mention of the game can be found as far back as 2000 BC in Egypt. The priests of the Temple Osiris in Thebes were depicted on the tombs, striking the ball with the hand. The game meandered to Europe, before Alexander the Great spread it around the Greek Colonies and the Apennine Peninsula (Italy). Accounts of handball are found in Scotland in 1427, where King James was a known fanatic, amongst the aristocracy of 18th century London, and finally, in its most reliable depiction, was introduced to the United States by Irish immigrants in the waning years of the 19th century. The game eventually settled in Brooklyn where it made its way into the DNA of an adolescent Jerome Liebling.

Since Liebling’s passing in July 2011, there have been copious obituaries and tributes to the pioneering American photographer, ruminations on the enduring legacy of his work. Former student Ken Burns remembers “Jerry” as a “fierce warrior, insisting on a kind of justice, a kind of truth, and an utterly American vitality. He saw in every individual his or her own worth.” New York Times photographer James Estrin contends, “his images were always more than what was in front of the camera- they were about life, death, and the underlying meaning of being human.”