“When 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 my brain.
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.
I 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 craft.
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 doing.
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.”
From Jill Freedman, jillfreedman.com
2015, Long Stories Short, Steven Kasher Gallery, New York
2013, Circus Pictures, Higher Pictures New York
2012, Street Cops, The John Jay College President’s Gallery, New York
2008, Homme et Bete, Parc de Vilette, Paris
2007, A.M., Richard Fine Art, Brooklyn New York
2006, Ireland, DeRicci Gallery, Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin
1991, Street Cops, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France
Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ
Fotografiska Museet, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas, Austin, TX International Center of Photography, New York, NY
International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Jewish Museum, New York, NY
Main Miami Library Collection, Miami, FL
Museum of Applied Arts, Prague, Czech Republic
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Newseum, The Interactive Museum of News, Arlington, VA
Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Fl
Ireland Ever: The Photographs of Jill Freedman, Harry Abrams, New York, 2004
Jill’s Dogs: Photographs by Jill Freedman, Pomegranate Art Books, California, 1993
A Time That Was: Irish Moments, Friendly Press, New York, 1987
Street Cops, Harper & Row, New York, 1982
Firehouse, Doubleday, New York, 1977
Circus Days, Harmony, New York, 1975
Old News: Resurrection City, Grossman, New York, 1971