Wednesday, August 31, 2011

5 Minutes With Janette Beckman

Janette Beckman is an English documentary photographer born in London and living and working in New York.
Beckman started her career photographing the punk scene in England and New York in the 70s and 80s and has continued without pause. Attending King Alfred School in Hampstead, an alternative establishment "where the emphasis, both academically and socially, is on discovering and maximising the potential of each child" she discovered art, and upon leaving at 17 she spent a year at St Martins School of Art, and then three years at London College of Communication studying photography.

She soon had a job shooting for music magazines such as Melody Maker and The Face, with a studio and darkroom in central London. Beckman moved permanently to New York in 1982 and continued her career, shooting for her UK clients as well as new ones in the US. Beckman's work has appeared on records for the major labels, and in magazines including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Glamour, Italian Vogue, The Times, Newsweek, Jalouse, Mojo and others.

Beckman describes herself as a documentary photographer; she produces a lot of work on location, including Run DMC in Hollis Queens and The Specials on a rainy day, but she is also a studio portrait photographer.

In August 2010 Beckman produced a new exhibition entitled "Archive of Attitude" at Arkitip's Project Space, Los Angeles, which included artifacts from Def Jam and which garnered a lot of press coverage. Arkitip published a special supplement to the show in the form of a limited edition broadsheet newspaper full of Janette's photographs. That same month photographer Jill Furmanovsky chose Janette's Paul Weller and Pete Townsend as one of her personal favourite music photographs for an article with NME.

Q1. What was the first record you bought that had a life changing effect on you?

JB: Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band - I bought at Woolworths in Golders Green I loved that LP played it over and over - then years late Dexy's did 'Geno' and I loved that too.

Q2. You describe yourself as a documentary photographer-when did you start taking rock and roll and hip hop pictures and how did you get into it?

JB:I started taking rock and roll photos in 1977 when I walked into the offices of Sounds (weekly music paper) to show my portfolio of art photos (taken mostly in USA of neon, palm trees, Malibu lighting and American cars). There I met the editor and writer Vivien Goldman who asked me to photograph Spizz Oil that evening. Spizz were the support band for Siouxee at the Roundhouse and that was the beginning of my music photo career. I got a tiny office / darkroom on Neal St in Covent Garden around the corner from the music mags. It was on the top floor, had a hole in the ceiling which let in rain. I ended up working for Melody Maker shooting 2 or 3 bands a week - I developed my own film, made prints, lived on a diet of chocolate and coffee ( had an expresso maker in the darkroom).

Q3. Can you tell me a bit about the exhibition "Archive of Attitude" at Arkitip's Project Space, Los Angeles?

JB: Scott A. Sant' Angelo at Arkitip had written about my photo of Paul Weller & Pete Townshend Around the same time he opened the Project Space Gallery in LA. He offered me an exhibition which my west coast agent, Jen at Art Duet, helped me put together. I felt Scott and Damon really understood the whole style and attitude thing that I try to document in both my hip hop and punk images.They also made a brilliant newspaper of my work.

Punks London 1978 ©Janette Beckman

Q4. "Catch the Beat: The Roots of Punk and Hip Hop" show at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City on the Bowery featured your work and the work of photographer David Corio. It really captured the rawness an vibrant creativity of early hip hip hop (and of punk). Do you think we've lost that spirit now everything is so polished and performers images are so heavily manipulated?

JB: Thanks for that . Both David and I love that spirit. I do think a lot of that has gone - bands back in the day did not have hair and makeup or stylists to dress them. And photographers did not have Photoshop to take out every so called 'imperfection'.
I loved photographing punk and early hip hop because no matter what you looked like - you could still be stylish The economy in UK and US was really bad, kids didn't have jobs or money to buy designer brands so they made stuff, shopped in thrift or army surplus, borrowed their mum's clothes. Record companies took chances with the music, the art for posters and covers was creative and experimental It was a time before big business and making money took over music .

Q5. I love your books "Made in the UK: The Music of Attitude" and "The Breaks: Stylin' and Profilin'". Do you have more in the works for the future?

JB:Yes, I have a new book coming out in the fall featuring my photographs of an East LA Mexican gang called 'El Hoyo Maravilla' which I shot in the early 1980's.
It is being published by David Strettell of Dashwood Books, as part of an artists series, (btw Dashwood is the best photo book shop in town).

All photographs Copyright Janette Beckman.

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