Ireland – A Love Story

A Happy Man - Ireland EverIn the 60’s, I was living in London, singing for my supper.  I went over to Ireland for a traditional music festival, and was bowled over by the music.  I returned again in 1973 after I had at last found photography.  Pictures were my music now, and the camera was so much smaller than a guitar. Again I went to hear the music, and again I fell head over heels in love with the place and the people.  For a people are the place, even though the beauty of the land is astounding.

I loved the gentleness, the sweet shyness, the warm welcomes and farewells, the soda bread warm from the hearth, and always a sup to eat and drink.  Guinness fresh as mother’s milk, all the nutritional benefits of  dark amber whiskey. The pleasure they had in welcoming a stranger, who left a friend.

Each time I return I see the changes, the ugly noisy modern world , but  I seek out the old ways; people making their own music; the high art of conversation in a good pub.  Milk churns  driven by donkey cart to the dairy;  gathering the hay;  fair days in small towns.  These are mostly gone now, replaced by machines, co-ops and auctions

Each visit makes me more driven to record this traditional life.  Like those who collect stories from the shannachies, or storytellers, I am collecting moments.  For who will remember the old ways?

Jill Freedman - IrelandI think of my work in Ireland as a love poem: a celebration of the beauty of the land, the warmth of her people, the simplicity of the old ways and traditions, the humor and conviviality, the sharp wit and black moods, the kindness.

Today, our vision of that country is colored by the violence of the North or the visual cliches: freckled kids in Irish sweaters; all those green, green fields.  It is an older, gentler Ireland I am documenting, a wild and passionate beauty that I feel is the last place on earth.

I want to get it down now, while there are still people who remember a time that was, places that were, that will never be again.

Please visit my portfolio of Ireland photographs or my book Ireland Ever and share your stories and memories as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!

 

Jill’s Dogs

Space Cadet, London

When I was little, I wanted a dog more than anything in the world, but my mother was allergic.  Every kid needs a dog, someone to play with a be nice to and he’ll always love you and be your friend no matter what.

I finally grew up and got to New York, found a job and an apartment and a dog named Fang.  Fang was the prettiest dog I ever saw.  He had a great sense of humor and a big grin.  I couldn’t get over him.

I had just started taking pictures and Fang was my teacher.  He taught me how to see.   When he walked down that street, he didn’t miss a thing.  He saw and smelled and delighted in it all, nothing went unmarked.  He saluted each tire, tree and hydrant, throwing his leg high and teetering like a wire-walker; and when he ran out of pee, he pissed air.  He had great style, my dog. We had wonderful adventures, and seeing through his eyes made everything new and strange and exciting.  I was lucky to have this great-hearted, loving being as my friend.

Good Morning, Ireland

I admire them enormously.  Noble beasts, always saving people’s lives, pulling them out of rivers, scaring off thugs, finding lost kids.  They are our oldest friends.  Dogs will die for us.  Better yet, they will live with us, and it’s much more fun with a dog around.  I know why we like them, but whey do they like us?

Dogs behave better than we do.  They have better manners.  They don’t soil their nests.  They’re gentle with puppies.  They don’t dump  their people when they want new ones.  They  enjoy life and delight in protecting us and making us happy.   No wonder we like them.  If they could cook, we’d marry them.

I have always loved and admired dogs for their dogginess, because they ARE dogs.  I never saw them as little furry people.  They are nothing like people, they are like dogs, a nicer species.  I love watching them, playing with them, knowing them.  I wish I were more like a dog, but I’m working on it.  Sometimes people say my dog pictures look like they were taken by another dog.  I love that.  I was probably a dog in another life.  Maybe that’s why I chase fire engines.No Dogs Allowed

Firehouse

Harlem Stoop, 5 A.M.I nearly called this book “You Shoulda Been Here”, because no matter how much time I spent driving up to the South Bronx and Harlem and sitting around waiting for some action, the first words upon my arrival were those. You shoulda been here. Five minutes before you got here, ten minutes after you left.

So I moved into the back seat of the Chief’s car, right there on the apparatus floor between the truck and the engine. Females were not allowed unescorted after 10 at night, and they certainly could not sleep in the dorm, like male reporters could…

So for over a year I slept on the back seat, and I stayed at the firehouse six days and nights around the clock. Then home for two nights, processing film and making prints.

Then back to the car. It was cold and it wasn’t a posturepedic, but I got to go to all the jobs in my bed.

Like most kids, I wanted to be a fireman. I guess I forgot about it when I found out I was a girl. I didn’t even remember it a few years ago, when I photographed a fireman who saved a cat. But the picture stayed with me, and became one of my favorites.

I started noticing firemen a lot more, liking something about them. And gradually I began wanting to photograph them.

I’ve always admired them. They were for me the antithesis of all the meanness and cruelty you see in the papers and on the streets. There was an altruism in the very idea of a fireman that interested me. I wanted to see what they were like. What kind of guy will risk his neck for someone else’s? Will run into burning buildings, and feel responsible for every stranger who needs help ? You see them sick. Throwing up, passing out, black running out of their noses, even dying. And always coming back for more, welcoming it, playing the fire like a bull. Loving the action. Who are these guys?

Brothers

They are different than most of us. They are always there when you need them.They care about people all of the time, not just during wars or blackouts or disasters. All of their energy is positive. Their job is to protect people. And so they are always there; they will come when no one else will. People know this, and when there is an emergency they think of firemen. They call them for fights, for accidents, broken pipes, lost kids, no heat, cats up trees, no water, for lonely and sick old people. Frightened people. And they always come. That’s their job. No one is afraid of a fireman.

They are like soldiers in that they will die for someone else, or someone else’s property.They are not like soldiers in that they will not kill. They are there to help people, not to hurt them. They bring life instead of death. Sometimes they are too late, and they always take it personally. “We lost two,” they say. We.

They are never sentimental. Drunks are sentimental, and war movies, where people live in the past. A fireman’s life is too immediate, too real for sentimentality. They are not modest, but they get a little embarrassed when you say hero. And if you ask one about a rescue he made, he walks away saying he was just doing his job. “That’s what I get paid for.” And how much do you pay a man’s widow when he’s bought it?

Because firefighting is the most dangerous job there is. You give it everything, and you take a beating. You have to be fast, and you have to be ready. And you have to know that the other men are, too. And so there’s a closeness that grows out of being in combat together. Knowing that your life depends on the man working next to you. Sure that if you’re ever in trouble, he’s coming for you. Sharing those moments that only someone who has been there can understand.
Time OutLike how that black smoke feels in your throat. The panic when your windpipe starts closing. What it’s like to be sick from the smells or the pity. The joy of bringing someone back, especially a child. Or failing. The scariness, crawling into blackness, wearing a heavy mask you can’t see out of, knowing that when your bell goes off you have to get out. Wondering where out is. The fear. The heat. Burning your ears crawling under beds to rescue babies which turn out to be dolls. Having it suddenly light up between you and the window. Or on the roof, the stairwell an incinerator.

Can you make it to the ladder, and is it there? The sounds of glass breaking, muffled shouts, somebody’s bell ringing somewhere off in the dark. Will you get out in time?

So here are firemen as I saw them. New York City firefighters. Not as front page spectaculars, but rather as they are every day, in the firehouse and out on the street. Handsome men, whose boots look good on their legs. Kids trust them. Buffs hound them. Junkyard dogs adopt them. Because they are something special.

Here are real men, and let me tell you, they cry, all right. And they joke around, hugging, kissing, and they mean it. They love each other and boy, is it nice to be around that. I hope a lot of kids see these pictures. There’s no way you can call a fireman a sissy. Let kids see that truly strong men are also soft and gentle; that men can love and respect each other; that being nice instead of nasty makes you feel good. And not a gun in sight.

Being with firemen re-kindled all kinds of unrealistic dreams. They showed me that not all wars are bad. Wars on rats and roaches aren’t bad. Wars on hunger would be nice, or on loneliness; building cities instead of destroying them. As it is, I saw the only firefights I can respect, fought in the only uniform I like. If men must fight wars, let them fight for life instead of death. Let them fight for their own species, not for other men’s ambition or profit. If we must have heroes, then let them be live ones. And if we give out medals, let them be for saving life, not for taking it.

As one woman in the South Bronx put it, “Thanks, firemen. There’s a lot of children live here.”

My Circus Days

Circus Days - Jill FreedmanI was the kind of kid who was always waiting to be carried off by gypsies.

The wanderlust, the mystery, packing up your tent and slipping off into the night. Adventure! Escape!

The Circus is a reminder of all those trips never taken, all those wild schemes gone cold in the sober morning. It’s a fragile fantasy, here today, gone tomorrow, free like we’re not.

Free and nameless in a world full of bills and kids and credit cards that have got our numbers.

The circus is an exuberant place, like childhood: a celebration of the joy of just being alive. It is a magic place, full of the mystery, terror, and ecstasy of childhood. It is grotesque and beautiful, strange and wondrous to behold. A place you feel more than you remember, where things imagined are as real as things happened. Preposterous things that streak too fast past the corner of your eye and get you all excited. It’s a taste of the unknown, a promise of adventure, waiting for you out there where it’s all happening. Towns that you know are more exciting than your own. Women w ho are freer, men who are richer, chocolate every day, why not? Everything’s possible in the circus except acting your age and being sensible.

Shorty Sees GiraffesThe circus is a noisy celebration of everything kids love – dumb jokes, offensive sounds, rude gestures, frantic activity, giddy horror, drama and courage and daring and painful beauty. It sings with the sinister energy of insane clowns. It ‘s walking on wires, juggling balls, bouncing on nets, tumbling through air, like kids do, just to do it. Celebrating the sheer joy of doing something perfectly useless, perfectly. As though it were keeping a promise you made to yourself once that you’d never grow up. You’d never become one of Them. Just so, the circus is always the same. It never changes.

The magic of the Big Top. The personal magic that touches your town. The different air you breathe as soon as you step under canvas. The special smells. The excitement of the brass band blaring through the canvas speaker and between your ears.

The colors in the light filtering through the center poles, the pin and grommet holes, under the sidewalls. The sensual pleasure of a summer shower, wind and rain rapping the canvas over your head and you inside, warm and dry.

Protected from the real world by a thin layer of magic. If we lose all of this, what will we have lost? And where will the free people go, when circus days, like the good old days, like the dreams you had, like the child you were, are gone.

Street Cops

Street Cops is about a job, being a cop.
And it’s about city life; some citizens survive it, some don’t.
The city is New York, it could have been Tokyo, London, Paris, Rome.
There are victims, there are cops, the job is the same.
These are New York City cops.

Human Touch - Jill Freedman

The good ones are street smart, they know who’s who and what’s what.
They see it all. I saw enough.
What I learned with the cops is there really are good guys and bad guys,
and the bad guys like to hurt people.
Sometimes it’s better not to know too much.
Sometimes it isn’t. This story wasn’t easy.

Small Change

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hate the violence you see on TV and in the movies.
I wanted to show it straight, violence without commercial interruption,
sleazy and not so pretty without its make-up.
I also wanted to show the tenderness and compassion of the good guys,
the ones who care and try to help.
Moments of gentleness, good times as well as bad.

Pieta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s why I love photography.
I can catch a moment, print it, and share it with you.

I will also be sharing Street Cops at the John Jay College President’s Gallery from September 13 to October 26, 2012. For more information, click here.

Jill Freedman: Street Cops at John Jay College

Jill Freedman - Street CopsThe John Jay College President’s Gallery, located at 59th Street and 10th Avenue, New York, presents the inaugural show of its Fall 2013 Season, JILL FREEDMAN: STREET COPS curated by art historian Dr. Lisa Farrington of the John Jay Faculty and Independent Curator Beverly Morris; and generously supported by donor John Bergman. The show will be open to the public from September 13th through October 26th, 2012 with an opening reception on Thursday September 13th from 6-8PM.

The vintage photographs in this exhibition are from the famed collection “Street Cops” photographed in the late 1970s by award-winning fine arts and documentary photographer Jill Freedman. A petite powerhouse, Freedman quite literally inserted herself into active crime scenes in order to take these gritty photos at a time when New York City was just as gritty. Freedman prowled the streets of Manhattan with her camera during the age of the ‘70s blackout and subsequent rioting and looting, when New York was allegedly “broke” and drugs, crime, and homelessness were rampant.

Evidently fearless, Freedman documented the activities and personalities of New York’s finest during this epoch. Her images capture a long lost “cop” persona that is very different from the one we are accustomed to today—who identify themselves with the insignia currently painted on NYPD squad cars:  “CPR: Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect”. Freedman’s cops are a different breed. They came of age in the wake of the Knapp Commission and widespread police corruption. Sensitive to the politics surrounding the Commission, they patrolled New York’s toughest neighborhoods during one of its most difficult decades; they knew the names of the folks who lived on their beats and about whom, often paradoxically, they cared.

Featured in JILL FREEDMAN: STREET COPS are 34 vintage silver gelatin prints generously lent by the photographer to dovetail with the theme of “Art for Justice” which is essential to the exhibition schedule of the President’s Gallery and the Anya and Andrew Shiva Art Gallery at John Jay College, as well as to the mission of the College more broadly, “Educating for Justice.”

Jill Freedman is a highly respected New York documentary photographer whose award-winning work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography, George Eastman House, the Smithsonian Institution, the New York Public Library, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among others. Jill Freedman is best known for her NYC street and documentary photography, recalling the work of André Kertész, W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She has published seven books: Old News, Circus Days, Firehouse, Street Cops, A Time That Was, Jill’s Dogs, and Ireland Ever.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The President’s Gallery is part of John Jay College of the City University of New York, a non-profit 501(c)(3) institution. The Gallery is free and open to the public. Please stop at the College Security Desk for access. Hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM unless closed for a special event. For more information, please contact the Co-Curator, Beverly Morris at 917-847-9915 or call the Department of Art & Music at 212-237-8929.

Old News: Resurrection City

Monumental FluteThe Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a Poor Peoples Campaign in Washington was still in the planning stages when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  King had envisioned a mass rally of economically disadvantaged people which would shut down Washington, DC until legislators promised solutions to poverty and unemployment.  He had all the poor in mind, not just black folks.  He also spoke out about against the war in Vietnam.

In May, the March on Washington began.  I knew I had to shoot it.   I had to see what was happening, to record it and be part of it, I felt so bad.  Besides, it sounded too good to miss.  So I went and had one of the times of my life, and this is my trip. [Read more…]