Jill Freedman

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Jill Freedman (born 1939) is an American documentary photographer, based in New York.

Life and career[edit]

Freedman was born in Pittsburgh, to a travelling salesman and a nurse,[1] on 19 October 1939. [2] She majored in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh,[3] graduating in 1961.[4] She then went to Israel, where she ran out of money and sang to make a living; she continued singing in Paris and on a television variety show in London.[2][5]

Freedman arrived in New York City in 1964, and worked in advertising and as a copywriter.[5] As a photographer, she was self-taught,[5] influenced by André Kertész,[1] idolizing W. Eugene Smith,[3] but primarily helped by her poodle Fang:

When I was out walking in the street with Fang I saw everything, felt everything. He had a great instinct. He taught me how to look, because he never missed a thing.[2]

Andy Grundberg would also note the influences on her style of Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Don McCullin, Leonard Freed, and Weegee; but would add that: "To appreciate [her] photographs one needs to consider their substance, not their style. . . . Human relationships – especially the bonds of brotherhood – fascinate her."[6]

On hearing of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Freedman quit her job and went to Washington, DC.[7] She lived in Resurrection City, a shantytown put up by the Poor People's Campaign on Washington Mall in 1968, and photographed there. Photographs from the series were published at the time in Life,[1] and collected in Freedman's first book, Old News: Resurrection City, in 1970. A. D. Coleman wrote of the book:

It is a very personal yet highly objective statement, filled with passion, warmth, sorrow and humor. Freedman's pictures are deft and strong; her text witty, sardonic and honest, with quirky insights and touching moments of self-revelation. A brave and moving book.[8]

Freedman then lived in a Volkswagen kombi, following the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus.[1] For two months, she photographed "two shows a day and one show each Sunday. Seven weeks of one night stands", and moving across New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Ohio.[9] She wanted to photograph the performers as people. ("If I wanted to do freaks, I'd do guys wearing ties in 100-degree weather – to me that's freaks."[3][n 1]) A. D. Coleman wrote:

[The photographs expose] both the photographer's own responses to people and the personalities of her subjects. The moments she selects are significant emotionally as well as graphically. Her images exclude the extraneous in an inconspicuous way, and her sense of timing and gesture . . . is uncanny.[10]

The work was published as a book, Circus Days, in 1975.

Freedman photographed the then sleazy area of 42nd Street[11] and the arts scene in Studio 54 and SoHo.[1]

In 1975, Freedman started to photograph firefighters around Harlem and the Bronx. This took her two years; she lived with the firefighters, sleeping in the chief's car and on the floor.[5] This resulted in a book, Firehouse, published in 1977 – according to one review a book "flawed . . . by poor reproduction and inept layout".[12]

Some of the firefighters had previously been policemen, and they suggested that Freedman might photograph police work.[12] Freedman had disliked the police but reasoned that there must be good policemen among them.[13] For her series Street Cops (1978–1981), she accompanied the police to an area of New York City including Alphabet City and Times Square,[14] spending time with those who seemed good cops.[5] The work resulted in the book Street Cops. A contemporary reviewer for Popular Photography started by observing that "the passionate photojournalistic essay of yesterday" was "an endangered species", before saying that it lived on in photobooks such as this one. The reviewer described Street Cops as "[celebrating] the heroism, compassion, and humor of New York police professionals", and saying that the book "is traditional and satisfying in that it accomplishes a blend rarely successful – or even attempted – these days: an organic fusion of words and photographs".[12]

On photographing in New York at the time:

Hiding behind a camera, [Freedman] found her subjects where others were not looking – "beggars, panhandlers, people sleeping on the street," the police and the firefighters, the people washed ashore by forces bigger than themselves. "It's the theater of the streets," she said. "The weirder, the better."[15]

During the seventies Freedman was briefly associated with Magnum Photos, but did not become a member.[16] She wanted to tell stories via photography, but also wanted to avoid the schmoozing required to get commissions; and she therefore set her own tasks.[13] She had difficulty making a living, but sold prints from a stand set up outside the Whitney Museum building.[2]

In 1988, Freedman discovered that she was ill. The medical expenses meant that she had to leave her apartment above the Sullivan Street Playhouse;[1][n 2] in 1991, she moved to Miami Beach; she was dissatisfied there[1] but was able to read a lot.[2] She sometimes worked for the Miami Herald.[5][17] She also managed to publish a photobook of dogs that was praised for "[defying] the cliched images" of dog photography.[18] She also published the second of two photobooks of Ireland, one that Publishers Weekly said "lovingly captures the enduring aspects of Irish tradition".[19]

Around 2003,[n 3] Freedman moved back to New York. She was shocked and saddened by its sanitization during her absence:[20] "When I saw that they had turned 42nd Street into Disneyland, . . . I just stood there and wept."[1] She moved to a place near Morningside Park in 2007, and was still living there in 2015.[5]

During the earlier part of her career, Freedman was captivated by the photographic printing process. She shot Kodak Tri-X and liked to use a 35 mm lens and available light, and to print on Agfa Portriga Rapid paper. As of late 2016, she neither had a darkroom nor missed it. She emphasized that the camera, whether film or digital, is merely a tool.[21] When asked on another occasion, she approvingly cited Elliott Erwitt on not being boring and attempting to do excellent work; technical questions and even posterity should not be a concern.[20]

Freedman is one of 13 photographers shown photographing New York in Everybody Street, a 2013 film by Cheryl Dunn.[22][23][24] Together with Richard Kalvar, Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, Maggie Steber and Matt Stuart, she was a featured guest in the Miami Street Photography Festival 2016 at HistoryMiami Museum during Art Basel week.[25]

Andy Grundberg wrote in 1982 that "Indignation over injustice is the major key in [Freedman's] work, admiration for life's survivors the minor key."[6] Maggie Steber has said of Freedman:

I think she's been thoroughly under-recognized. . . . To me, Jill is one of the great American photographers. Always has been and always will be.[5]



Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

  • Jill Freedman: Pictures from New York, The Photographers' Gallery, London, March 1974.[29]
  • The Circus and Other Scenes, The Photographers' Gallery, London, June 1974.[29]
  • Jill Freedman, The Photographers' Gallery, London, June 1976.[30]
  • PhotoGraph Gallery, New York, January 1982.[6]
  • University Center Gallery, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, May 1982.[4]
  • Street Cops: Jill Freedman, The Photographers' Gallery, London, September–October 1982.[29][30]
  • Jill Freedman Photographs, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago, December – January 1985.[31]
  • Street Cops, Nikon Salon, Ginza, Tokyo, 1985.[32]
  • Jill Freedman: 60's to the present, Witkin Gallery, New York City, December 1996 – January 1997.[33]
  • Laughter and love: A romp through Ireland, M. J. Ellenbogen Photography, White Plains, NY, March 2006.[34]
  • Here and There, A.M. Richard Fine Art, Brooklyn, New York, April–May 2007. Paired with an exhibition, Photographs of 42nd Street, by Andrew Garn.[11][35][36]
  • Resurrection City 1968, Higher Pictures, New York City, April–May 2008.[1][37][38]
  • Street Cops 1978–1981, Higher Pictures, New York City, September–October 2011.[39][40]
  • Street Cops, The President's Gallery, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, September–October 2012[41]
  • Circus Days 1971, Higher Pictures, New York City, January–March 2013.[9][42][43]
  • Long Stories Short, Steven Kasher Gallery, New York City, September–October 2015. For the most part, previously unpublished examples of Freedman's earlier work.[16][15][44][45]
  • Resurrection City, 1968, Steven Kasher Gallery, New York, 2017[46]

Selected group exhibitions[edit]

Permanent collections[edit]

Photobooks by Freedman[edit]

  • Old News: Resurrection City. New York: Grossman, 1970. OCLC 231853020.
  • Circus Days. New York: Harmony, 1975. ISBN 0-517-52008-7; ISBN 0-517-52009-5.
  • Firehouse. New York: Doubleday, 1977. ISBN 0-385-11585-7; ISBN 0-385-12577-1. With text by Dennis Smith.
  • Street Cops. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. ISBN 0-06-090901-3.
  • A Time That Was: Irish Moments. New York: Friendly Press, 1987. ISBN 0-914919-09-1. London: Merehurst, 1987. ISBN 0-948075-79-1.
  • Jill's Dogs. San Francisco: Pomegranate, 1993. ISBN 1-56640-526-2.
  • Ireland Ever. New York: Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8109-4340-7. With texts by Frank McCourt and Malachy McCourt.


  1. ^ A temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius.
  2. ^ The Sullivan Street Playhouse occupied 181 Sullivan Street from 1958 to 2002. "Sullivan Street Playhouse: Gone but not forgotten", Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, 13 January 2012.
  3. ^ "Five years ago", says a newspaper article published on 27 April 2008; therefore presumably in 2002 or 2003. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  4. ^ For the award-winning work, see Jill Freedman, "Survivors", Alicia Patterson Foundation.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Niko Koppel, "Through Weegee's lens", The New York Times, 27 April 2008. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Jonas Cuénin, "Portrait of Jill Freedman: Street jazz", L'Œil de la Photographie [Wikidata], 29 September 2015. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Laurie Johnston, "Photography beckoned, and now it's the light of her life", The New York Times, 4 September 1977.
  4. ^ a b Frank Emblen, "Photo show at Drew", The New York Times (New Jersey edition), 2 May 1982.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h James Estrin, "Cops, clowns, and cameras", The New York Times, 13 January 2014. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Andy Grundberg, "Photography view; Jill Freedman: A photojournalist of passion and empathy", The New York Times, 17 January 1982. (NB this continues to a second web page.) Both accessed 6 March 2017.
  7. ^ Bilal Qureshi, "Capturing the Poor People's Campaign", NPR, 21 June 2008. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  8. ^ A. D. Coleman, "Children, poverty and black women", The New York Times, 17 January 1971.
  9. ^ a b "Jill Freedman: Exhibition: Circus Days 1971", Higher Pictures, 2013. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  10. ^ a b A. D. Coleman, "Who will be the replacements?", The New York Times, 7 May 1972.
  11. ^ a b "Jill Freedman and Andrew Garn"; within R. C. Baker, "Where the mechanical things are", The Village Voice, 24 April 2007. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  12. ^ a b c Arthur Goldsmith, "Jill Freedman: Street Cops", Popular Photography, March 1982, pp. 98, 121. Here at Google Books.
  13. ^ a b Melissa Goh, "Stories of a fearless street photographer", CNN, 1 September 2015. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Jill Freedman: Exhibition: Street Cops 1978–1981", Higher Pictures, 2011. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  15. ^ a b John Leland, "For a street photographer, 'The weirder, the better'", The New York Times, 17 September 2015. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  16. ^ a b Jonas Cuénin, "New York: Long Stories Short by Jill Freedman at Steven Kasher Gallery", L'Œil de la Photographie, 29 September 2015. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  17. ^ "MSPF 2016 featured artist: Jill Freedman", Miami Street Photography Festival, 2016. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  18. ^ Adrienne M. Johnson, "Hair of the dog", Los Angeles Times, 3 July 1994. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  19. ^ Review of Ireland Ever, Publishers Weekly, 1 October 2004. Accessed 8 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b Daniel Maurer, "Read Jill Freedman's epic rant about photography and the 'mechanized mindlessness' of today's NYC", Bedford + Bowery, 16 December 2013. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  21. ^ Jack Neubart, "What's black and white and read all over? The documentary photography of Jill Freedman", Shutterbug, 18 October 2016. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  22. ^ "Cast", Everybody Street. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  23. ^ Karin Nelson, "Everybody Street", W, 12 November 2013. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  24. ^ John Leland, "Around any corner, moments that endure", The New York Times, 1 November 2013. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  25. ^ "Miami Street Photography Festival 2016", HistoryMiami Museum, 2016. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  26. ^ A. D. Coleman, "Photography", The New York Times, 2 June 1974. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  27. ^ "Jill Freedman", Alicia Patterson Foundation. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Honorary fellowships (HonFRPS)", Royal Photographic Society. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  29. ^ a b c d Exhibition history, 1971 – present (PDF), The Photographers' Gallery, 2015. Accessed 5 March 2017
  30. ^ a b Exhibitions at The Photographers' Gallery 1971–Present (DOC), The Photographers' Gallery, 13 February 2013. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  31. ^ "Jill Freedman photographs", Museum of Contemporary Photography. Accessed 4 March 2017. The source doesn't make clear whether this was from December 1984 to January 1985, or from December 1985 to January 1986.
  32. ^ Ina Nobuo Shō 20-nen: Nikon Saron ni miru gendai shashin no keifu (伊奈信男賞20年:ニコンサロンにみる現代写真の系譜) = Ina Nobuo Award '76–'95 (Nikon Salon Books 23; Tokyo: Nikkor Club, 1996), p. 153. (The source doesn't specify the period within 1985, but suggests that it was late in the year.)
  33. ^ Roberta Smith, "The world through women's lenses", The New York Times, 13 December 1996. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  34. ^ "Calendar", The New York Times, 26 February 2006. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  35. ^ "Jill Freedman: Here and there", A.M. Richard Fine Art, 4 March 2007. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  36. ^ "Andrew Garn: Photographs of 42nd Street", A.M. Richard Fine Art, 4 March 2007. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  37. ^ "Jill Freedman: Resurrection City, 1968, Higher Pictures, 2008. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  38. ^ Niko Koppel, "A photographer and her subject, reunited decades later", The New York Times, 8 May 2008. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  39. ^ "Jill Freedman: Street Cops 1978–1981", Higher Pictures, 2011. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  40. ^ "Jill Freedman", The New Yorker. Accessed 5 March 2017.
  41. ^ "'Jill Freedman: Street Cops' exhibition", John Jay College, 2012. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  42. ^ Jonas Cuénin, "Jill Freedman: Circus Days", L'Œil de la Photographie, 21 February 2013. Accessed 8 March 2017.
  43. ^ Alison Meier, "Seedy side of the circus", Salon, 18 February 2013. Accessed 8 March 2017.
  44. ^ "Jill Freedman: Long stories short", Steven Kasher Gallery, 2015. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  45. ^ Norman Borden, "Freedman's photos revel in vintage New York", The Villager, 7 October 2015. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  46. ^ Mason, John Edwin. "How a Photographer Illuminated the Plight of the 'Invisible Poor'". Time. Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  47. ^ David L. Shirey, "Art: Downtown scene", The New York Times, 18 March 1972. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  48. ^ Gene Thornton, "Photography", The New York Times, 11 June 1972. Accessed 6 March 2017. "The few successful pictures in this exhibition show nudity and sex as somehow existing here in the world with the rest of us. Jill Freedman treats it as a comic spectacle."
  49. ^ Ann Barry, ed, "Arts and leisure guide", The New York Times, 7 March 1976. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  50. ^ "New photo shows full of surprises", The New York Times, 17 February 1978. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  51. ^ Richard F. Shepard, "Going out guide", The New York Times, 27 September 1984. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  52. ^ Patricia Leigh Brown, "Images: Mothers and daughters", The New York Times, 4 May 1987. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  53. ^ Steven Snyder, "One New York, through two very different lenses", Downtown Express, June 30 – July 6, 2006. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  54. ^ William Meyers, "Hitting the New York note", The New York Sun, 22 June 2006. "Again and again [Freedman] hits the New York note, that combination of paradox and pathos, of the tawdry and the supernally [sic] beautiful, that fills New Yorkers with pride and despair, and that all of us recognize as our own."
  55. ^ Notice for Ireland, Photography Now. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  56. ^ "Bêtes et Hommes" (PDF), Bêtes et Hommes, 2007. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  57. ^ Mary Thomas, "22 women artists deliver provocative show at The Warhol", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 21 December 2011. Accessed 6 March 2017.
  58. ^ "Seriously", Andrew Edlin Gallery, 2016. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  59. ^ The ICP's holdings are as found here on 3 March 2017. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  60. ^ The BnF's holdings are as found here on 3 March 2017. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  61. ^ The Moderna Museet's holdings are as found here on 3 March 2017. Accessed 4 March 2017.
  62. ^ Photograph Collection: Center for Creative Photography: F (PDF, "last modified March 26, 2005"), p. 30. (This says "See also: GROUP PORTFOLIOS: Ten Photographers, 1978".) Accessed 4 March 2017.

External links[edit]