Real Lives Put in Focus

by William Meyers

Jill Freedman

The Wall Street Journal


In those days the subway cars were defaced with graffiti, and if you lived on the Upper West Side you avoided Amsterdam Avenue after dark. The police were charged with the maintenance of order, and Jill Freedman’s pictures help us understand how difficult that was. Ms. Freedman went on foot patrol and rode in cruisers with officers of the Ninth and Midtown South precincts—that is, Alphabet City and the moral sinkhole that was Times Square. The pictures make clear her admiration for the cops’ humor, their physical bravery when dealing with criminals, and their compassionate handling of the drunks and lunatics who were a presence in many neighborhoods. In “Pieta” (1978), the camera looks down on two men naked from the waist up. They are on the sidewalk and one cradels the other in his lap. The second man seems unconscious or maybe dead. The two are brothers-in-law and fought with metal pipes. All we see of the cops is their polished black shoes. The man writhing on the ground in “Rage” (1979) is crazy; he ran amok and had to be subdued. The cops watch from their police car. In “Pity the Poor Working Girl” (1979), the hooker in high heels and short-shorts has a pained expression as she talks with a policewoman. The female officer listens with a dubious look. Ms. Freedman’s matter-of-fact style plays effectively against her dramatic subject matter.


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