Jillian Edelstein was born and grew up in South Africa. In 1975, after her final year of high school, she took a ‘gap' year and studied in the USA. She returned to South Africa the following year to study at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She later graduated from UCT with a Bachelor of Social Science degree and began working as a press photographer in Johannesburg for the Rand Daily Mail and The Star.
In 1985 Edelstein emigrated to the UK to enter the more competitive European editorial field. She has worked as a freelance photographer since 1986.
Edelstein soon established herself as one of Britain's foremost portrait photographers, collecting a string of top awards (see CV) within a six month period between 1989 and 1990. 1989 also saw the creation of a project, titled Affinities, which was a series of working partnerships and creative collaborations photographed in London & New York. This appeared as a regular photo slot in the Saturday Telegraph Magazine for 18 months in 1993 and 1994 under the title Soul Mates, culminating in her first solo exhibition in 1994 in the UK at the Special Photographers Gallery and in South Africa at the Bensusan Museum.
Edelstein is a member of CAMERA PRESS Photographers who syndicate her work, and continues to work internationally for many publications including; The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Sunday Times Magazine, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, The Observer Magazine, The National Theatre and EMI Records. Among many others, Edelstein was awarded the Visa d'Or at the International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan in 1997, this award was for her work done on the Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa.
Her photographic projects have often culminated in publications (see CV) and besides here first solo exhibition, her photographs have been exhibited internationally at venues including the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Photographers Gallery, London, the Recontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, France and the Bensusan Museum, Johannesburg'.
Since 2002 she has been working on a new book which explores the world of the traditional healers, the Sangoma, who train on the South African/ Lesotho border. The work was published in 2007.
She also worked on the Comic Relief Campaign for 2007. She is represented by SOHO Management in the UK.