Jill Freedman (b.1939) is a Master American documentary photographer
Freedman is a highly respected New York City documentary
photographer whose award-winning work is included in the permanent
collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of
Photography, George Eastman House, the Smithsonian American Art
Museum, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among others. She
has appeared in solo and group exhibitions throughout the world, and
has contributed to many prominent publications.
Freedman is best known for her street and documentary photography,
recalling the work of André Kertész, W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea
Lange, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She has published seven
books: Old News: Resurrection City; Circus Days; Firehouse;
Street Cops; A Time That Was: Irish Moments; Jill’s
Dogs; and Ireland Ever. Jill Freedman lives and works on the Upper
West Side of New York City.
Joy of Photography
I was seven I found old Life Magazines in the attic. My parents had
kept the ones from the war and for a year I used to go up there after
school, look at the pictures, cry, then go play softball. When
my parents realized that I had found them and how they affected me,
they burned them, but it was too late, those pictures had burned into
Outwardly I was normal, but those images were always
with me, and in my dreams. Even now I can see them, the man who
had tried to escape the burning barn, the concentration camp. I
majored in Sociology in college, then spent a few years traveling
around Europe singing for my supper. I’d spend the days
wandering around, searching for adventure, meeting all kinds of
eccentric characters and loving their stories. When I ran out
of money I’d sing again. I settled in New York, got a job,
tried to figure out what I wanted to do. Something meaningful,
not just work.
I was starting to worry. Then one day I
woke up and wanted a camera. I borrowed one. I had never
taken a picture before, and as soon as I held it in my hands it felt
good. I never had the sense of holding a machine. I read
the instructions, went out into the street, shot two rolls, had them
developed. I was thunderstruck. It were as though I had
been taking pictures for years, but in my head, without a camera.
”That’s it,” I said. ”I’m a photographer.”
What a relief.
Photojournalism was always it for me.
Those pictures in the attic had set my course. Those, and
all the characters I’d met. To tell a story in the blink of
an eye, have it printed so that millions of people could see it and
wrap their fish in it, to have my pictures reach people the way those
Life magazines had reached me, now that was doing something.
am self taught. I got a copywriting job to support myself and I
started learning, devouring books and looking at good work, walking a
lot, and shooting. Those early years were fired with an
intensity and passion I had never felt before. I was obsessed
and driven. I thought about photography all of the time. And
my pictures, if no one else had liked them, it wouldn’t have
mattered, I loved them. Sometimes I’d look at them and think,
What if I wake up one day and it’s gone? What if it goes away
like it came?
With each paycheck I bought equipment and built
a darkroom and when I finally made my first print, I was hooked for
good. It was the first time that I had ever finished something
I had started. My father used to say, “You blow hot and
cold.” But it was magic, watching it come up in the
developer. I still feel it. I worked hard, learning my
I like to work two ways, either on a specific
idea or just wandering around, getting lost, snapping. Eventually
all the wanderings go together, and then I find out what I’ve been
Photography is magic. You can stop time itself.
Catch slivers of moments to savor and share time and again. Tell
beautiful silver stories, one photo alone, or many playing together
to form a book. A photograph is a sharing, it says “Hey, look
at this!”, it’s a miracle, is what it is. And when you’re
going good and you get a new picture you love, there’s nothing
better. That’s the joy of photography, and the fun. »