Janette Beckman is a British documentary photographer who currently lives in New York City. Beckman describes herself as a documentary photographer. While she produces a lot of work on location (such as the cover of The Police
album Zenyatta Mondatta
, taken in the middle of a forest in the Netherlands), she is also a studio portrait photographer. Her work has appeared on records for major labels, and in magazines including Esquire
, Rolling Stone
, Italian Vogue
, The Times
Beckman was at King Alfred School
, in Golders Green in north London, from 1953 to 1967. She spent a year at Saint Martin's School of Art
, and then three years at London College of Communication
After initially working for Sounds magazine
with Vivien Goldman
– her first shoot was with Siouxsie and the Banshees
– she had a job shooting for music magazines such as Melody Maker
and The Face
, with a studio and darkroom in central London. Her primary focus was the UK's burgeoning punk subculture. Beckman moved permanently to New York City in 1982 and continued her career, shooting for her UK clients as well as new ones in the U.S.
After moving to New York, Beckman presented her portfolio to American record companies looking for work shooting album covers, but the gritty feel of her work did not fit the "airbrushed"
aesthetic preferred at the time. She was passed on to smaller rap and hip-hop labels, where she photographed acts such as Salt-N-Pepa
, LL Cool J
, Public Enemy
, and the Beastie Boys
in their early days. In a 2015 interview with American Photo
magazine, she recalled "It is amazing, 30 years later, people going 'oh you photographed legends.' I guess I did, but they weren’t legends when I was taking pictures of them"
As a child growing up in London in the 1960s, Janette Beckman visited the National Portrait Gallery
. Entranced by the portraits of people from distant times and places, she instinctively knew that’s what she wanted to do. “I was always fascinated by people,”
she remembers. “I’d see them at the bus stop on the way to school but I was too shy to talk to anybody, so I’d stare at them. My mother would say, ‘Don’t stare,’ but I couldn’t help myself.”
Drawn to the irrepressible expression of style, character, and personality, Beckman forged ahead with her dream of becoming an artist. In the early 1970s, she enrolled at Central St. Martins to study art while living in a semi-squat in Streatham, South London, with her classmates. “We lived on four floors, shared a bathroom, and there was no heat — but my rent was only £5 a week,”
Beckman’s foray into photography happened by sheer serendipity. “We would sit around drawing each other endlessly,”
she says. “My dear friend Eddie was a fantastic artist; he could draw as well as David Hockney. I would look at his work, then mine, and realize I was never going to be that good. When the end of the school year came, I had to decide what I was going to do, and I thought, I’ll try photography.”
After enrolling in photography school, where she was just one of three women in the class, Janette Beckman quickly realized she didn’t want to learn by instruction — she wanted to do it herself. Determined to chart her own path, Beckman gave herself portrait assignments, and only went into class to learn the things she needed to know, like how to make prints.
“I was in my really rebellious stage,”
says Beckman, who followed this guiding light throughout her career. Her love for subversives, innovators, and activists is collected in the new book, Rebels: From Punk to Dior
, which brings together four decades of photographs celebrating artists, musicians, and movements on the fringe that have redefined mainstream culture and society.
Beckman’s photographs have played a seminal role in these seismic shifts — one so undeniable that institutions are finally taking note. In a truly full-circle moment, earlier this year, the National Portrait Gallery
acquired four Beckman prints of British musicians including the Specials
and Laurel Aitken
as part of “Inspiring People,”
a major curatorial redevelopment project to represent cultural and gender diversity across both sitter and artists.
Source: Blind Magazine