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Remembering Jill Freedman Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

10 October 2019

Jill Freedman, who had a "pure passion for the god damn medium" of photography, passed away yesterday after battling cancer. She was a few days shy of her 80th birthday.

Pete Shanel's short documentary A Few Days with Jill Freedman tells her story in her own voice:

Freedman was born in Pittburgh on Oct. 19, 1939. Her father was a traveling salesman and her mother was a nurse.

"When I was seven I found old Life Magazines in the attic," she remembered. "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 my brain."

She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a major in sociology in 1961.

After college, she worked on a kibbutz in Israel. She made a living in Paris and London singing. In 1964 she came to New York and worked as a copywriter, teaching herself photography.

"Photojournalism was always it for me," she said. "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."

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, she moved to Washington, D.C. to stay in and photograph Resurrection City. Those images were published by Life and collected in her first book, Old News: Resurrection City, published in 1970.

She followed the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus in a Volkswagen bus for two months, photographing both the shows and the performers away from the big top. Those images became her second book, Circus Days, in 1975.

Her books Firehouse (1977) and Street Cops (1978-1981) were shot in New York.

She moved to Miami Beach in 1991, occasionally working for the Miami Herald. She published Jill's Dogs while there. And a second photobook on Ireland.

In 2003, she returned to New York City

Freeman published seven books: Old News: Resurrection City, Circus Days, Firehouse, Street Cops, A Time That Was: Irish Moments, Jill's Dogs and Ireland Ever.

Her 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.

"Photography is magic. You can stop time itself," she wrote. "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."

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