Moments in Time

Cops, firemen, dogs, the circus: Photographer Jill Freedman deftly documents life's little happenings

Freedman suddenly sings out a fragment of an old protest song -- "I don't want to go to war!" A her muscular voice resonating off the walls as she sloshes the developing wash back and forth, back and forth over the emerging image. The paper gradually reveals the face of Murray Pantirer, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust, one of the names on Schindler's famous list. Pantier, who met his wife in a concentration camp and his business partner in a center for displaced persons after the war, owns a successful construction company in New Jersey and an apartment in South Florida.

The portrait shows a physically fit man of retirement age dressed in a white knit tennis shirt with a black striped collar that sets off his tanned skin. His sparse crown of white hair blends softly into the photo's background. But the image focuses on his eyes, which squint behind rimless glasses. Behind their determined, challenging stare is resigned disbelief, the look of someone who has seen it all.

"He said he was an orphan twice. The second time after the war when he had nowhere to go," notes Freedman, picking up the photo with wooden tongs and plunging it into the stop bath (a tub of liquid solution that arrests the action of the developer chemicals). She studies the submerged photo and says, "Sometimes you look at [Holocaust survivors] and they're the children they were when all that was going on."

After dropping the portrait into a bath fed by running water (this will rinse the developing chemicals from the print), Freedman reaches for another negative and places it in the enlarger along with a fresh sheet of paper. Leon and Betty, two more Holocaust survivors -- they live in Sunrise -- appear on the paper when Freedman puts it in the developing bath. Then a third negative goes into the enlarger.

"Yesssss! That's a beauty," shouts Freedman, chuckling with delight as she swooshes the developer back and forth over the new photo. "It's a piece of cake -- all it takes is twenty years of practice."

She snaps on a small desk lamp on the shelf above the sink to get a better look at the picture, which she took in a London subway station. An advertisement for a Volkswagen sedan appears in crisp contrast to the cement wall of the station. Imperceptible at first, then impossible to ignore, two words are scrawled in black print on the billboard: "Kill Jews."

The three photos are part of a proposed book on the Holocaust that Freedman has tentatively titled Lament for a Lost Generation, a project she has been working on for the past three years. "In 1993 I suddenly realized -- my God! -- it's 50 years since the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and I had to go," she recalls earlier that same day, seated on a floral print couch in the living room of her sunny one-bedroom apartment. "So I went." Above her head is a framed photograph of three elephants kicking up their heels, and another, larger one of a man wearing clown makeup (and nothing else) sprawled on a zebra-print blanket, his naked butt turned to the camera. A worn blond-wood acoustic guitar hangs next to it. The adjoining dining room is taken up by a large wooden counter and a wall of gray metal shelves that hold stacks of flat orange boxes, which contain even more of Freedman's photographs and negatives. A row of prints hangs on a wall near the front door: a chimp wearing a suit and sitting in a chair; a squirrel arched up on his hind legs as if he were singing hallelujah; a sleek horse, Unbridled, exercising just before he won the Kentucky Derby in 1990. Freedman's two pets, Pooch, a black cat with white socks, and Lulu, a brown Siamese, prowl playfully about the room.

"I went to the concentration camps and I took pictures, and I took pictures of the people that returned for the anniversary," Freedman continues. "When I looked at those pictures, it made me realize that I had to do this."

In 1994 the Washington-based Alicia Patterson Foundation awarded Freedman one of its prestigious $30,000 journalism fellowships to work on the project. With that money she traveled to Eastern Europe, looking for what was left there of the life of the Jews. She has also taken pictures in New York, in London, and in Miami. Last year she spent most of her time reading books about the Holocaust, an experience that left her devastated. "Each book you read leads to the next," she notes, closing her eyes in pain. "I read too much, and I just ended up crying all the time."

After a period in which she was so distraught that she was barely able to leave her apartment, Freedman is now ready to finish the book. She is looking for additional funding so she can go to Israel and shoot the book's remaining pictures. She has already selected and printed 60 photos. The beauty of some of the compositions defies the chilling implications of their subject matter: a bouquet of limp flowers placed on a pile of victims' shoes at a Polish death camp; a Cubist-like pyre of toppled Jewish tombstones bathed in glowing sunshine in a Warsaw cemetery; votive candles placed in the arched doorway of a crematorium oven. Elsewhere Freedman documents a scene using deliberate juxtapositions. In one photo a tired-faced man wears a sign around his neck to identify himself as he searches for relatives at the Warsaw ghetto anniversary. In the next photo in the sequence, taken at the same event, a heartier-looking Pole wears a sign around his neck that indicates he's offering for sale snapshots of Jews being herded together on the streets of the ghetto A photos that might assist survivors in identifying their dead relatives.

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