Street Photographer Jill Freedman Dies At 79

Oct 11, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 8:24 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to take a moment to remember an artist who's had her work exhibited around the world.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As a child, street photographer Jill Freedman wanted to be invisible. She just wasn't sure how to do it. Then in her 20s, living in New York City, she realized a camera could give her that power.

KELLY: She borrowed a friend's to photograph an anti-war demonstration. And from there, her career took off. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Freedman went to Washington where protesters were camping out on the National Mall.

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JILL FREEDMAN: It was going to be six weeks living in the mud down there. And so I quit my job and joined the Poor People's Campaign.

KELLY: She told NPR about her days photographing people living in the encampment known as Resurrection City. Those photos appeared in Life magazine.

SHAPIRO: From there, Freedman decided to focus her lens on groups of people living on the gritty margins of American life. First, firefighters.

CHERYL DUNN: You know, she didn't just go there one night. She spent years. You know? She had relationships with these people. And these guys would never have let their guards down or never been that playful and vulnerable, I don't think, in front of anyone else.

KELLY: That's photographer and filmmaker Cheryl Dunn, a close friend of Freedman's. Her photos showed the full life of a New York City firefighter. Not just burning buildings, but life in and beyond the firehouse.

SHAPIRO: Next, she photographed police officers, street cops. At the Miami Street Photography Festival in 2016, Freedman said she thought she hated them after watching them use force to break up protests. But she reconsidered.

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FREEDMAN: What do you mean, you hate them? This is a stupid thing to say if you don't know one. I mean, if you know them and you hate them, fair enough. But I didn't know any cops. And I thought, wow, but what a good story.

KELLY: So she photographed crime scenes. She photographed suicides, people who had just lost a loved one.

DUNN: Sometimes she told me it was really difficult and she would tell herself you're there to take the picture. And I always remember that.

SHAPIRO: Cheryl Dunn recalling her friend, photographer Jill Freedman, who died this week at age 79. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.