Getty Images Archive is delighted to welcome documentary photographer Jill Freedman as the latest addition to its historical offering. Primarily known for documenting the storied streets of New York City, her images span over four decades and is a candid look at the city's underbelly.
In this piece, Freedman introduces us to some of her work in a poetic fashion…
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.
175131782. An officer of the NYPD 9th Precinct tends to an unconscious girl on the Lower East Side, New York City, 1978. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
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.
177654004. Two men are handcuffed and arrested after being caught fighting in a bar in Alphabet City, New York City, 1978. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
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.
175131723. Officers of the NYPD 9th Precinct investigate a report of a gun incident in a tenement block in East Village, New York City, 1978. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
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.
175572311. The winner of a fight between two brothers-in-law shouts 'don't die' at the loser after beating him unconscious, Ninth Precinct, New York City, 1978. Emergency services managed to start the man's heart again so he will fight another day. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
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 these. “You shoulda been here.” Five minutes before I got there, 10 minutes after I 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. At that time, females were not allowed unescorted after 10 at night, and they certainly could not sleep in the dorm, like male reporters could…
185745355. Firemen attend to a fire in a building in the South Bronx, New York City, 1976. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
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.
175571707. Two firefighter's from the FDNY embrace after a 'five-alarm fire', New York City, 1976. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
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?
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.
185860856. A firefighter enjoys a cigarette, New York City, circa 1976. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)
About Jill Freedman
Jill Freedman is a highly respected New York City 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 American Art Museum, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among others. She has appeared in solo and group exhibitions throughout the world, and has contributed to many publications. Jill Freedman is best known for her 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: Resurrection City; Circus Days; Firehouse; Street Cops; A Time That Was: Irish Moments; Jill’s Dogs; and Ireland Ever.
See more of Jill Freedman's work in the Getty Images Archive here.
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