The Worlds of Jill Freedman

The Galerie Rouge is hosting the inaugural solo exhibition in France dedicated to the photographer Jill Freedman.
Despite her relative obscurity to the general public, Jill Freedman held a prominent position among American photographers during the latter half of the 20th century.
She closely aligned with the humanist tradition, embodying a compassionate rebel and an exceptional narrator of tales. Her body of work is defined by an unwavering commitment to immersing herself among her subjects, capturing the intricate nuances of human relationships with nothing but altruism and an absence of judgment as her guiding principles. She was fiercely independent and open-minded, gravitating toward those living on the fringes of society and within supposedly “closed” communities. She never depicted them as strangers, but as friends, and at times, even as her own kin. She fully immersed herself in their lives to faithfully convey their stories. The result was a humanistic, often somber, yet deeply engaged collection of photographs, infused with humor.

The exhibition is organized around three distinct “realms” that Jill Freedman encountered and documented over extended periods: the bustling streets of New York, her adopted home since 1964; the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, which emerged in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968; and the captivating life of a traveling circus in the Southeastern United States during the 1970s.
Demonstrating remarkable photographic prowess, she personally crafted her prints, with a particular affinity for the interplay of light and shadow. Frequently characterized by darkness, her images ultimately radiate with an inner light, illuminating both her photographs and the individuals they portray.

A portrait of Jill Freedman by Maureen Cavanagh

About the Author

Born on October 19, 1939, in Pittsburgh, Jill Freedman was an American street photographer deeply rooted in the humanist tradition. Her body of work is distinguished by her unwavering commitment to getting up close and personal with those she photographed. Fiercely independent and open-minded, she immersed herself entirely in the lives of her subjects, striving to authentically convey their stories.
Having earned degrees in sociology and anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh, Jill Freedman embarked on a remarkable journey at the age of 21. She left the United States, initially traveling to Israel and then spending four years in Europe. A woman of many talents, her passion for music, especially jazz, partially financed her travels as she sang in bars like La Contrescarpe in Paris and performed on the BBC’s Tonight Show in London. Upon her return to the United States, she settled in New York City in 1964, right in the heart of Greenwich Village, a neighborhood she vividly documented during the cultural upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s. Referred to as a photographer “in the service of humanity,” she left her job as an advertising copywriter following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 to participate in the “Poor People’s Campaign” in Washington, D.C., and live in Resurrection City for six weeks. Her photographs were published by Life magazine and later featured in her first book, titled “Old News: Resurrection City” (Grossman, 1970).
In the early 1970s, guided by her childlike curiosity, Jill Freedman spent two months following the traveling circus Clyde Beatty-Cole and published a book in 1975, “Circus Days,” documenting her journey. During the same year, she began photographing the firefighters of New York City. Her two years alongside them culminated in the book “Firehouse” in 1977. Despite her critical stance on police brutality, she later embarked on a series dedicated to the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which was published in “Street Cops” in 1981. This series allowed Jill Freedman to transcend her own biases and “reveal this work from the inside, with humanity.”
After spending a few years near Miami Beach, Jill Freedman spent the later years of her life in Harlem, where she passed away on October 9, 2019, following a battle with cancer.


The Worlds of Jill Freedman
September 28 – December 2, 2023
Galerie Rouge – Paris – France

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