Paul Wright | 30 June 2020, 20:00
Janette Beckman’s work has spanned more than five decades, a portrait and documentary photographer she captured the rise of punk in seventies London, as well as soundsystem culture, and the skinhead, ska and mod revival movements during the onset of Thatcher’s Britain.
Growing up in North London, Janette was surrounded by art & culture from a young age. Enrolling on a course at Saint Martins, she initially had visions of becoming a portrait artist like David Hockney, though she never thought her drawings were good enough. Eventually she decided to study photography at The London College of Printing.
After leaving college she taught photography for a while before landing a job working for magazines Melody Maker and later The Face – photographing everyone from The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie Sioux and The Specials.
It wasn’t just the bands – “I documented the whole scene – especially the fans. The fans were often just as an interesting subject matter as the bands themselves, they’d often end up fronting a band themselves a week or so later.”
This was the late seventies and although rebellious youth movements had come before, the punk scene was different, it changed everything. Janette was an observer and recognised the importance of the whole scene as a DIY act of rebellion, an important movement – not just in music but also in fashion. It was two fingers towards the powers that be, and Janette’s photographs captured the zeitgeist and energy of these changing times.
“Punk is an ‘irrepressible attitude.’ It brought an anti-establishment raw freshness to music, art and style. It was about change, the idea that people should question authority and do it for themselves.” Janette Beckman.
Janette has a relaxed approach to her work, whilst still getting very involved in her subjects. “The most important thing as a documentary and portrait photographer is people skills. It’s important to make your subject feel relaxed and comfortable to be able to photograph them as they are, rather than make them do something ridiculous that they would never normally do”.
Janette’s first photo to appear in The Face was of Chuka & Dubem Okonkwo aka The Islington Twins. Always impeccably dressed in a mod/rudeboy style – the twins were well respected and known from hanging around ‘The Bar’ outside Highbury and Islington Station.
Janette first met them when she was still teaching, popping out one lunchtime to go to the pub, she caught sight of them both kitted out in their full matching ska uniform, and just had to take their picture. When she showed the photograph to Nick Logan of The Face a couple of years later he wanted them in the first issue, so she tracked them down again for an interview and another photoshoot.
After moving to New York in 1982, Janette documented the rise of the Hip-Hop scene and graffiti culture, taking early press shots for Run DMC, NWA and LL Cool J to name a few.
Janette continues document youth culture from her base in New York, as well as working on various campaigns for well known brands.
Janette Beckman Gallery
You can purchase the books Janette Beckman Raw Punk Streets UK 1979-1982 and Mods & Rockers Raw Streets UK 1976–1982 from Café Royal Books here
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