Tribute to the New York Street Photographer, by Barbara Alper
JILL FREEDMAN 1939–2019
I met Jill shortly after I moved to NYC in 1979. I remember visiting her in her loft on Sullivan Street where she lived, seemingly forever, next to the theater where “The Fantasticks”, showed forever. We connected on many levels, as women, with similar backgrounds, interests, and of course photography. Jill was already well known at that point, and I was just starting to figure out freelancing and exhibiting in the city. We kept in touch, getting together periodically until she seemed to disappear. As I learned a few years later, she had breast cancer and decided to move to Miami, where she could be with “her people”, with the fantasy of being one of the old Jewish ladies who sit on the beach and kvetch to each other. Only, after a time she realized that wasn’t really the life she wanted. It was too quiet, too sedate and she needed to be back in NYC. She called to let me know she was looking for an apt if I knew of any affordable ones, fearing she was going to be homeless. When she ended up living in my neighborhood we’d bump into each other on the street, and I’d have her over for a chat. We’d indulge in the pot I happened to have around, then she’d complain about the quality and how prices were too high, bemoaning the fact that it wasn’t the ‘60’s. Nothing ever seemed to give her whatever affect or relief or satisfaction or distraction or inspiration she was seeking. Then again, she had so over-indulged, nothing ever could, which only added to her frustration with life and the world. But then she’d laugh & joke about it. Jewish humor….. we enjoyed sharing and understanding its twists & sarcasm. She was “a real pisser” and I know she’d laugh being called that.
Jill was strong willed, smart, knew what she wanted and went after it, letting nothing get in her way. She was beautiful, charming, and loved to sing all kinds of songs, Yiddish included. She was also tough, cranky, difficult, and became even more so as she aged. Jill was outspoken, a “lefty” who took a stand for people in need. She used her camera to capture their strength and struggles and presented them to the world in her books. Jill could fit in anywhere and was just “one of the guys” when she did her photos of cops and firemen. She loved those men in uniform, and loved the thrill of rushing to an emergency, experiencing what they did along with them! Jill lived hard, often going over the top, with too much of everything: cigarettes, booze, and pot. After time, “enough” never was, and this took a bad toll on her, seriously affecting her health. She was never really satisfied and was angry over her struggles, letting everyone she encountered know it. And yet, she achieved success and recognition. Her books were well received, her work was exhibited and collected. When she was in the spotlight she thrived and basked in it, then it was over and again it wasn’t enough.
Jill, my dear friend, may you rest in peace. Only you would choose Yom Kippur, the day of mourning, and the day that Jews ask to be written into the book of life, to move on to the next world. It’s ironic, or is it, that she chose this day. You were one of a kind, and you’ll be missed.
— by Barbara Alper, October 11, 2019