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Janette Beckman

Keith Haring Standing in front of Painting (#2), New York City, 1985

Janette Beckman

December 25, 2022

AES Rando

Staf Magazine

Every photograph is a mirror.

At the end of the 20th century and in a context of crisis, various forms of youth expression arose that both aesthetically and in certain attitudes are still alive and kicking. London was in turmoil, a part of the youth was beginning to understand that the life they had been promised and the future of progress were, to say the least, a scam.

In this photography we are going to see all that energy of the defiant: punks, skins, rockers (and anything in between) at their peak, being the center of the new. Janette's way of photographing has always been very organic, no situation is forced and those portrayed are shown as they are, and that is where a large part of her value lies, which is that of having known how to convey how those photographed wanted to be recognized.

Janette Beckman's work is a mirror where the reflection continues to tell us about what we would have liked to be; It is that inexplicable nostalgia for the things we have not experienced.

For much of the 20th century, documentary photography has been the hegemonic way of representing the world and is periodically left for dead. How do you think this style of photography has evolved?

JB: Photography has always been a way of documenting, of showing the truth, what really happened: in wars, in social and family life, in politics, in the arts, in science. With the advent of the computer and photoshop this truth can easily be changed. We can no longer trust 100% that the photograph tells us what happened. That being said, there are many photographers who do not alter their images and are still hoping to document and tell the stories of what really happened. I am one of them.

You always knew you wanted to be an artist and I have read that your interest began with painting, especially the work of David Hockney. In what aspects do you think your interest in painting has influenced you to create a photographic style?

JB: My interest in painting and portraiture has taught me a way of seeing. I still go to life drawing classes, it's like yoga for the eye and the brain. The concentration needed to make a portrait is very intense. When I'm shooting a subject there's nothing but them and me, a true collaboration at that moment.

Another of his references is August Sander and his way of approaching photography and focusing on ordinary people, photographing them in their context. How important is his book Men of the 20th century for you?

JB: I discovered August Sander when he was in college. I checked out the book from the library and never returned it. Today it is on my shelf. The way August captured ordinary people was so simple and beautiful. My portrait of the Islington twins in 1978 shows a direct lineage to that way of doing a portrait. Simple, documenting the person at the time, I still use that method today.

In your photographs we see very few aesthetic tricks. It is direct and does not seek sensationalism. Have you ever tried to work from another perspective or is this definitely your way of approaching photography?

JB: Authenticity is very important to me. In the 1980s, when fashion photography was in full swing, I was working with a fashion stylist on a weekly spread for a magazine. We tried cross-processing the film, lighting gels and all sorts of things, but the best images we did were on the street dressing the bike messengers to ride with the models, at the Big Apple Circus with Tunga the Contortionist. dressed in club clothes, etc. I personally believe that it is not necessary to improve reality. And of course, I'm a big fan of black and white images.

Your professional beginnings began with the legendary Sounds magazine, which gave you access to photograph musicians, but when did you start turning the camera towards the public?

JB: When I was at university, I photographed people on the street, in their apartments, at work, etc. I graduated just as the punk scene was going, I worked in a youth club and I photographed the boys: punks and mods. When I started photographing bands, I also photographed the fans, I loved their style and attitude.

In The Face magazine you knew how to combine music and fashion editorials with opinion articles and you worked on its beginnings. What do you think you contributed to that medium and what did working for it contribute to you?

JB: The Face was an amazing magazine. It was about the scene, not just about the bands, but about the fans, about their styles that fashion brands would later imitate. Fashion comes from the street, music and fashion have always gone hand in hand. The Face also gave me the opportunity to photograph underground scenes, such as illegal boxing clubs, “Alternative Miss World” drag show, etc.

Coming from London and having lived through punk and reggae, what similarities did you see? Are all youthful expressions similar?

JB: Both British punk and New York hip hop arose from the streets, started by kids who had “no future” and no chance of getting a job, in times of economic crisis. We never used stylists for the early album covers, the bands styled themselves, wore their own clothes and we often photographed them on the street or in my studio, without assistants; Most of the bands I photographed were early in their careers, we had no idea that Hip Hop would become the biggest music genre.

How was the reception of hip hop in the music media?

JB: It took a long time for hip hop to be accepted in the music media. It was an underground scene. MTV refused to play it until it finally started airing Yo!-MTV Raps in 1988. There were plenty of hip hop zines, but it wasn't recognized by the mainstream. When my first book with co-author Bill Adler, "Rap Portraits & Lyrics of a Generation of Black Rockers," came out in 1991, we couldn't get it into any mainstream bookstore. We are ahead of our time.

Interest in youth culture is a very recent phenomenon in history, which places young people at the center of changes. Do you think that the concept of youth culture is still relevant, or is it already a tired term?

JB: Youth culture is always important. Now it has moved from the streets to social media. I love the idea that someone in Malaga can see what is happening in the streets of, for example, Uganda on the same day.

Portrait photography is apparently one of the simplest exercises in photography, but it is also an enigma and one of the most complicated facets.

JB: I don't think portrait photography is that easy. The photographer has to learn how to earn the trust of his subject, show her respect, and compose a great image, sometimes all in a matter of minutes. Not an easy feat.

Your magnificent work Hoyo Maravilla has recently been republished. How was the genesis of that project?

JB: I spent the summer of 1983 photographing the members of the Hoyo Maravilla band in East Los Angeles. It was a passion project and although I tried to pitch it to a lot of magazines, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, etc. no one was interested. One day in 2010 I showed the contact sheets to David Strettel at Dashwood Books, he loved them and we made a little book/fanzine. You are now on the third impression of him. The images were on the internet and were seen by some of the people I had photographed at Hoyo Maravilla, we met more than 25 years later and they came to my photo exhibition in Los Angeles, where they were the stars of the night.

Do you think that photography in books gives them a narrative that images do not have in themselves?

JB: I love books. Personally, I prefer to view images on the printed page than on a screen. The very act of turning a page, the touch and feel of the paper. It tells a story that has a long duration.

In your latest book, Rebels, we see an anthology of your work that is an x-ray of the history of youth culture at the end of the 20th century. How do you think youth culture has changed? Has that creativity been co-opted by capitalism?

JB: Of course, “youth culture” has been co-opted by social media, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. Before, youth cultures, such as hip hop, punk or mods, took years to consolidate; first you had to be "known" in your block and then in the neighborhood, and I think that made them stronger. Nowadays, someone can come up with an idea, a style, a piece of music in her room and 5 minutes later it can be seen all over the world. The focus may have changed, partly because of reality TV shows, people believe they can get famous and rich right away without working. That being said, social media has inspired young people to become politically aware of social injustice. The Black Lives Matter movement is a great example: it has changed the world, started conversations, and inspired revolutions.

Of the “new” generation of female photographers documenting youth culture, which do you think are the most interesting?

JB: Here are some of the many whose work I admire: Tawny Chatman, Cristina De Middel, Destiny Mata, Nina Berman, Lynsey Addario, Sue Kwon, and of course, Martha Cooper.


Translated from Spanish