She then turned her attention to police officers working in the Ninth Precinct in Alphabet City and Midtown South, which covered the raunchy blocks around Times Square.
“There are days I walk down the street feeling its ugliness on my skin like a sunburn,” Ms. Freedman wrote of those times in an unpublished manuscript, “other days when I can hardly catch my breath for the beauty of it.”
Her downward spiral began in 1988, when she was found to have breast cancer. Without medical insurance or a regular income, she had to give up her apartment on Sullivan Street. She was successfully treated, but with no strong family ties — her father died when she was 18, and her relationship with her elderly mother was distant — she disengaged from the New York photography world and moved to Miami Beach in 1991.
“I found that I lost my passion,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to get away from this place because if I lose this, then I’ve lost it all.’ ” Those were difficult years.
“She did have a lot of bad luck,” said Ann-Marie Richard, a friend of Ms. Freedman’s who at one point exhibited her work at a Williamsburg gallery. “She shielded herself with the camera. I think there are a lot of puzzle pieces that we just don’t know.”
Five years ago, Mr. Freedman returned to the city, homesick for what she described as “the smart talking and corned beef.” She barely recognized the place.
“When I saw that they had turned 42nd Street into Disneyland,” she said, “I just stood there and wept.”
For a time, she shuttled between the apartments of friends, while her archive of negatives and original prints and equipment including vintage cameras and enlargers languished in two storage lockers in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
She was reunited with her belongings last fall when she moved into her current, rent-stabilized apartment. Dozens of framed photographs enclosed in bubble wrap and portfolio boxes sit on metal shelves in her living room. “I have all my junk,” Ms. Freedman said as she surveyed her cluttered space. “I’m swinging.”
And by the look of things, she is ready to return to shooting. An oak dresser that doubles as a nightstand holds her negatives. In its drawers, preserved in glassine envelopes, are thousands of images: of a bewildered man dressed like a carrot, of youngsters joy-riding on the back of a bus, of a brawny firefighter playing Santa Claus, of men dressed like women wandering around in the dark.
And presumably much more is out there to be captured by her Leica. “I’d like to find what’s left,” Ms. Freedman said.