New York in the 70’s and 80’s was a volatile city, where everything was happening at once. For over two years, Jill Freedman joined two precincts of the NYPD as they responded to the violence and the unpredictability of the city, putting herself directly on the frontline like an invisible witness.
Freedman was initially sceptical of the police after documenting The Poor People’s Campaign (1968) that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King and after witnessing the police response to the Vietnam protests. But after spending entire days touring the streets and entire nights drinking with the men and women of the NYPD, she started to see the heroism and compassion of the good cops. The ones nobody talked about, who were out there to help their city, seeing the best and the worst of humanity. The ones people loved and respected.
The photographs in Street Cops are intimate and penetrating. They expose not only the rampant violence of New York City at the time but the tender moments between officers and members of the community, the jokes between cops and those getting arrested, the camaraderie between partners, the passion for doing a job that most people would consider an act of lunacy. Her images are raw and direct; unafraid to show the horror. But she also captured the humour and tenderness of a situation. The vulnerability.
Freedman approached photography with an anthropological interest and no judgment. She wanted to tell a story as she saw it and heard it. Street Cops is a collection of stories about a city and its people on both sides of the law.