Skip to content
The Questionnaire : Janette Beckman by Carole Schmitz

L’Œil de la Photographie Paris

Carole Schmitz

April 3, 2023


The Questionnaire : Janette Beckman by Carole Schmitz

Rebellious to stay free.

Originally from England, Janette Beckman describes herself above all as a documentary photographer.
She grew up in London, where she was seduced by the portraits she discovered while visiting the National Portrait Gallery. Just as fascinated by people in general, the young woman quickly knew what she wanted to do with her life. So in the 70’s, Janette enrolled at Central St Martins to study art before enrolling in a photography school. But she quickly realized that the academic aspect of this apprenticeship did not suit her. So she went her own way and dedicated herself to portraiture, starting to photograph people she met in the street before becoming a fixture on the British music scene. From the Police to Boy George to The Clash and many others, all have passed before her lens.
In December 1982, Janette flew to New York to spend the New Year’s holidays there. Seduced by the energy that reigned there, but also by the music, the style, the streets, and the fact that people talk to you, she fell in love with it, and never left.
She quickly became interested in pioneering artists such as Run DMC, Slick Rick, Salt-n-Pepa, Grand Master Flash, LL Cool J and many others.
The images she produces are so many moments captured. Whatever her subject, she always finds her share of honesty and highlights her style. No wonder she is one of the most important photographers of our time.
Her work is exhibited in galleries around the world and many of her images are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Museum of the City of New York, and the British National Portrait Gallery, coming full circle.

Your first photographic trigger ?
Janette Beckman : When I was a kid looking through Sunday news magazines, cutting out portraits of people, actors, musicians, in the 1960’s.

The man or woman of image who inspires you ?
Janette Beckman : Richard Avedon, Danny Lyon, Martha Cooper, Irving Penn, William Klein, Steve Shapiro, Mary Ellen Mark, Jamel Shabazz ..many more.

The image you would have liked to make ?
Janette Beckman : Irving Penn’s 1986 portrait of Miles Davis.

The one that moved you the most ?
Janette Beckman : Photos from the Civil Rights Movement.

And the one that made you angry ?
Janette Beckman : A photo I shot last week of Religious Right demonstrators praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. So angry that Women’s Rights are being abused.

A key image in your personal pantheon ?
Janette Beckman : Run DMC & posse, Hollis Queens 1984.

A photographic memory from your childhood ?
Janette Beckman : Me (age 5) with my parents on the boulevard in Nice, France.

With no budget limit, what would be the piece of art you would dream of acquiring ?
Janette Beckman : Painting by my friend, artist Jane Dickson, from the Times Square series.

According to you, what is the necessary quality to be a good (portrait) photographer ?
Janette Beckman : Follow your passion, be kind and treat people with respect.

The secret of the perfect image, if it exists ?
Janette Beckman : The image that inspires emotion from the viewer.

The person you would like to photograph ?
Janette Beckman : Musician Neneh Cherry.

An indispensable photo book ?
Janette Beckman : Danny Lyon “Message To The Future”.

The camera of your childhood ?
Janette Beckman :  Kodak Instamatic.

The one you use today ?
Janette Beckman : Fuji XT4.

Your favorite drug ?
Janette Beckman : Taking a really great portrait.

The best way to disconnect for you ?
Janette Beckman : Listening to music on Spotify soul, jazz, house, hip hop, Motown, R’n’B etc.

What is your personal relationship with the image ?
Janette Beckman : Intense.

Your greatest quality ?
Janette Beckman : Being friendly and able to make an immediate connection with my subjects.

An image to illustrate a new banknote ?
Janette Beckman : Martin Luther King.

The job you would not have liked to do ?
Janette Beckman : Join the army

And if you would not have become a photographer ?
Janette Beckman : Portrait painter.

Your greatest professional extravagance ?
Janette Beckman : Buying a Hasselblad for the Police album cover shoot in 1976 when I had no money.

What do you think is the difference between photography and art photography ?
Janette Beckman : It’s subjective. Some say all photography is art.

The city, the country or the culture you dream of discovering ?
Janette Beckman : Egypt.

The place you never get tired of ?
Janette Beckman : New York City.

Your biggest regret ?
Janette Beckman : Wish I had photographed Prince on the street in Minneapolis.

In terms of social networks, are you more into Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok or Snapchat and why ?
Janette Beckman : Instagram because it is about story telling with images.

What have digital and smartphones taken away or brought to photography ?
Janette Beckman : Anyone can take a photo with their smartphone and have it seen by people around the world in seconds
On the flip side the cult of the selfie has forced people into a fake sense of “perfection”.

Color or B&W ?
Janette Beckman : B&W.

Daylight or artificial light?
Janette Beckman : Daylight.

Does your heart swing more towards film or digital ?
Janette Beckman : I have grown to love digital but my heart is always in B&W Kodak TriX film.

Which city do you think is the most photogenic ?
Janette Beckman : It’s the people not the city – though I do love NY for the many different backdrops, something different around every corner.

If God existed would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him ?
Janette Beckman : ‘Him’?? I would say neither – we are all gods.

If I could organize your ideal dinner party, who would be at the table ?
Janette Beckman : Extended family, old friends, artists, writers, photographers, and people from different walks of life.

The image that represents for you the current state of the world ?
Janette Beckman : Protest images throughout the world

What is missing in today’s world ?
Janette Beckman : Peace and Respect.

If you had to start all over again ?
Janette Beckman : Maybe I would have paid more attention in college.

A last word ?
Janette Beckman : Find your tribe, follow your ‘North Star’ and don’t give up your dream.