Janette Beckman–From Punk to Dior

Janette Beckman–From Punk to Dior | In episode 69 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits sits down with photographer Janette Beckman.

Janette Beckman is a British-born photographer who has made a career following her musical tastes and cultural preferences. From her punk days in London shooting the likes of Pete Townsend, The Police, Sex Pistols, The Clash and Boy George to New York City in the 80s capturing a teenage LL Cool J or Salt-N-Pepa decked out by Dapper Dan.

Janette joins us on Light Culture Podcast to talk about how she went from shooting on the street to shooting campaigns for Dior and Levis and documenting demonstrations for social justice.

 

Read Transcript

Q&A

David: [00:00:00] 

Janette Beckman has that all-important ingredient in today’s marketplace. She’s not a rapper, an influencer, or a model who skateboards. [laughter] Or anything of the sort who traffics on their Instagram followers to build a career. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that it’s not Janette. Janette Beckman is a British-born photographer, who has made a career of following her musical tastes and cultural preferences. The purity of her vision and politic has given her an aura of authenticity, which is something that no amount of money or number of followers can buy. It’s hard earned and based on years of taking photos of unknowns and outsiders, some who went on to fame and fortune in the music industry, and many, many more anonymous men and women she saw on the street and responded to in a way that made them feel special. You may recognize some of the more famous ones from the British punk days, like Paul Weller, Pete Townsend of The Who, The Police, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, Boy George, you get the point. Whereas she could have settled into a nice safe career in London, she was drawn to New York City during the early days of hip hop. Shooting a teenage LL Cool J, Run DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, and many more before they- or photos that Janette took of them became iconic. And then there’s a third aspect of her work, one that makes her special among a group of photographers who were in the right place at the right time. She’s also a renowned street photographer. In fact, on her website, she calls herself a British documentary photographer. Welcome, Janette Beckman.

 

Janette: [00:01:53] 

Hi, David. Nice to see you. 

 

David: [00:01:54] 

Hi. Yeah. Thanks for coming on the show.

 

Janette: [00:01:58] 

Thanks for having me.

 

David: [00:01:58] 

So- Yeah. Let’s start with the last point first, which is a street photographer. Cause that in itself has turned into a career with the rise of Instagram and influencers who dress to be discovered on the street walking. So where does that fit in your conception of street photography? You know what I’m saying, right? The fashion shows, the street photographers are waiting, and then they put it on their blogs. How different is that from what- you think of?

 

Janette: [00:02:31] 

Well I totally hear what you’re saying. I really started doing street photography and, I mean, what is now called street photography, probably back when I started taking pictures in the punk era, I photographed these guys called the Islington twins, which were just two guys standing outside in this college where I was teaching. You know, and they’re identical twins, they look amazing, they were standing on the street, and I took a picture of them. To me, it’s not really about fashion, it’s more about style and attitude. And, yeah, I know this genre of street photography, so-called, has become massive now. And especially with, all the fashionistas following what’s going on on the street. I get it. But I think my stuff is a little different. It’s more about the people than what they’re wearing. And it’s about them, they’re attitude, and, you know, street-style.

 

David: [00:03:34] 

And it’s also socio-cultural, isn’t it? I mean, you’re not exactly looking for the people who are at the fashion shows, you’re looking at people who aren’t generally looked at, or noticed, or recognized necessarily.

 

Janette: [00:03:48] 

Absolutely. I don’t hang around fashion shows and, I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing fashion brands in my later years. But that’s because they liked my street eye. In the mid-90s, I started, when I wasn’t working, just jumping on the train in New York City and going with my Hasselblad, and just getting off at random stops, place I’ve never been to in the outer boroughs. And just walking around on the street, looking for people that caught my eye, that I thought would be interesting to photograph. And, you know, a Hasselblad is a kind of unusual-looking camera, and I would just go up to them and say, “Hi, would you mind if I took your picture, you look amazing. Or, you know, I love your hat.” And start a conversation. And, you know, it’s really about doing portraits of the neighborhoods and the people in the neighborhoods, rather than, you know, spotting somebody wearing some fabulous Prada outfit.

 

David: [00:05:00] 

Right. But still, style is a big part of it, isn’t it? It’s- And that’s something you have an eye for that, you know, comes out in the photos, because even those two twins you mentioned, I re- I know that photo and how they’re standing in a particular way. And they’re wearing the same clothes, aren’t they?

 

Janette: [00:05:18] 

Identical.

 

David: [00:05:18] 

They look very cool and hip, but they’re not, obviously, not fashion, at that time at least.

 

Janette: [00:05:25] 

Right. Well they were mods at the time, and they are wearing parkas and Louches, and, you know, they- they looked amazing to me. But it’s not fashion as in fashion brands, but it’s definitely about style. And people, you know, I mean, you have to think about it. In some ways everybody in the world gets up in the morning and has to put clothes on, pretty much. And the choice of what, sneakers you’re gonna wear, what socks you’re wearing. From when kids start to be aware. Little kids when they’re four and five to, you know, when you’re in your nineties you’re still making those decisions about the way you present yourself to the world every morning. But, it’s not specifically what we call fashion, you’re right. It’s about style and the way you wear the clothes.

 

David: [00:06:20] 

But isn’t it interesting how these fashion brands, like Dior, which I know you shot part of their campaign, right? Was it 2019?

 

Janette: [00:06:29] 

Twice. Yeah.

 

David: [00:06:30] 

Yeah. Twice. So you mentioned that they were interested in your street style and your eye, So it’s interesting and ironic, isn’t it, that these photos that you took, totally non-commercial probably, you know, moving you in this direction, or at least giving you opportunity to make a decent pay working for Dior out of those things that you did for love.

 

Janette: [00:06:54] 

Absolutely. I mean, it’s amazing, Maria Grazia, who, you know, became the creative director at Dior, I think in, uh, 2016. She’s an amazing woman. She’s also a feminist, she likes working with women. And the first time I got that call from her, staff in Paris, I was actually at – you’ll appreciate this, David – I was at a street art festival in Detroit taking photographs of street artists doing murals. And I was sitting in a parking lot in a kind of dodgy area of Detroit, just looking at my photos on my camera. You know, a whole lot of crack vials around me. And my phone goes, I pick it up, and this guy’s going, “Hello! This is Sebastian from Christian Dior in Paris. We would like you to come to Paris next week if you’re available to photograph Maria Grazia’s first collection.” I was, honestly, I thought it was somebody play a prank on me.

 

David: [00:07:52] 

[laughs] It was a Borat.

 

Janette: [00:07:55] 

Yeah. Exactly. It was the most unlikely thing. You know, here I am in my dogged out jeans and sneakers, as usual. You know, sitting amongst a whole bunch of crack vials. [laughs] 

 

David: [00:08:06] 

Perfect.

 

Janette: [00:08:06] 

In Detroit, and somebody’s asking me if I want to go to Paris. I mean, and it was amazing. Obviously, we had some conversation and I realized it was a real thing, when they sent me the air ticket, [laughter] So I went and the first day I got off the plane, I had a meeting with Maria Grazia. And, you know, I’m just there. I don’t dress in high fashion Dior, I’m still in my jeans. I maybe got some, like, a little nice- I go to her office and she’s like, “So what would you like to do while you’re here? And how would you like to do this?” And I was thinking that she was going to tell me what she wanted me to shoot, but this totally wasn’t the case. So I just said, Well the show is like a week away, and I’d like to shoot in kind of a backstage way. The same ways you would shoot bands backstage in the punk era. And she said, “That’s great.” And I worked there for a week, shooting, pretty much twelve to fourteen hours a day. You know, I’m shooting the tailors making the clothes, the ladies sewing on the sequins, the models, the go-sees. You know, and all of it, I had a carte blanche to go wherever I wanted, and I decided everything was gonna be black and white. And I was downloading it, I had my friend working with me. And we were downloading and saving all the files, and nobody came to look at my work. And I kept trying to get the PR guy to come and look and see if he approved of what I was doing. And then I just kept shooting it, and shooting, and I got, Stephen Jones making hats for her, and just all of it. I was at the show. The paparazzi. I got everybody. And it- it was really an incredible week, and the very last day, after the show, and the hoo-ha and being the parties, and all of that, um… I was standing, and Maria was doing a kind of guided tour of the collection for some buyers. And the head of PR, this guy, Olivier, comes up to me, and he just taps me on the shoulder and he goes, “Janette, we love everything you did.” And I’m like, “Oh, wow.” And that was it. That was my week in Paris. And then, you know, a couple of years later, last year, they had me again to shoot the collection on the streets of London, where I’d shot all these punk bands in Kentish Town. It was cold and models were freezing. We’re standing outside and, we had a whole day scouting which walls we were going to shoot on. But there’s nothing better than a client that let’s you do what you do.

 

David: [00:11:07] 

Yeah. And it’s so unusual, you know, what’s happened in the fashion world in that respect, from the days when everything would be so like micromanaged and, you know, every pose and makeup hair. All those things to the max. Where now everything is trying to look more street.

 

Janette: [00:11:28] 

Right. Exactly. It’s only taken me about forty years for all of this to come around. 

 

David: [00:11:35] 

[laughs] Yeah.

 

Janette: [00:11:37] 

I mean, I just pretty much have kept my vision, and it’s kind of, you know, I’ve kept in my lane, so to speak. You know? I mean, even when I was working with you guys for Paper Magazine back in the day. I mean, it was still- We weren’t shooting high fashion models.

 

David: [00:11:54] 

Oh. Yeah. Well that was part of what, you know, the appeal of the magazine. But that also came from, the influence of the- the British-style magazines, Face, among them, where you had also worked, right? Weren’t you in the first issue even?

 

Janette: [00:12:13] 

Oh, totally. In fact, that picture of the Islington twins that I just had taken, because, they looked amazing and I couldn’t help myself but photograph them, that was a full page in the first issue of The Face. And those guys became mini-celebrities, and, they had a show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, uh, I don’t know, about ten years later, about street fashion. And that photo was blown up twelve-foot high in the entrance, and it was just two kids in college. But I thought they looked amazing. 

 

David: [00:12:47] 

Yeah. You were right. It’s- it’s lasted-

 

Janette: [00:12:49] 

I was right.

 

David: [00:12:51] 

So what happened?

 

Janette: [00:12:51] 

It has.

 

David: [00:12:52] 

So you were on your way to a career shooting all those great bands, uh, plugged in it looks like to the scene and to the publications. And then you came to New York. Why? What happened?

 

Janette: [00:13:08] 

Well, first thing that happened was that I worked here in 1976 or ’77, I think. Had a portfolio of photos. No bands in it whatsoever, and I walked into, a weekly music magazine called Sounds with my portfolio. And I met this woman who was actually a features editor at the time, that we both know, Vivien Goldman, and shout out to Vivien.

 

David: [00:13:41] 

Vivien who is now also coming out with a new record, I saw, by the way.

 

Janette: [00:13:44] 

Yes. Amazing, right? It’s incredible.

 

David: [00:13:47] 

Yeah.

 

Janette: [00:13:47] 

She’s amazing. Anyway, she was like, “Oh, I like your photos. Why don’t you go and photograph Siouxsie and the Banshees tonight.” And I’d never shot a band in my life. So that’s how I started working for Sounds, and then Melody Maker, and then The Face, I shot everybody. The Clash, Boy George. Album covers for The Police, The Raincoats, all these bands. And then in 1982, I was working for Melody Maker, we were having our weekly meeting. And they’re like, “Oh, there’s this hip hop review.” Which, I think, was where I first met you, David? Perhaps?

 

David: [00:14:30] 

Oh, yes. I believe so. I don’t remember who it was, but we had a mutual friend in New York, who said, you know, “You should meet with Janette when you go to London.”

 

Janette: [00:14:42] 

Right. Who was that?

 

David: [00:14:42] 

And- and that was, how we first connected. Were talking about this European rap tour that was historic. And, actually, now I just came from, uh, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where there’s a, you know, a Basquiat and hip hop, uh, exhibition going on, which is really fantastic.

 

Janette: [00:15:04] 

Oh, wow.

 

David: [00:15:06] 

And one of the pieces in there is a Futura painting that he did live. Cause part of the show was, you know, we had Afrika Bambaataa, we had artists, like Futura, Fab 5 Freddy, Rammellzee-

 

Janette: [00:15:22] 

Rammellzee. DONDI 

 

David: [00:15:24] 

DONDI, Phase 2, you know, all the brilliant guys. So we would do these shows and then Futura would paint in the background. And I guess the others would too. But this piece of his that is now in this exhibition, so now the show that we’re talking about, this tour, is now finally being recognized for what it was. You know, this is a very influential moment that brought hip hop to Europe.

 

Janette: [00:15:52] 

It was the first time we’d ever seen hip hop. And, I put up my hands and said I wanted to go photograph it. I didn’t really know what it was. And I went down to the hotel where everybody was staying, you must have been there too. And it was kind of like some sleezy B’n’B in the back of Victoria station. And I just started running around, taking photos of everybody, because people looked so different from the London punks, which were, a little dark and dreary by that time. And here were all these people that seemed to have this really vibrant energy. So I was just taking pictures, and that afternoon, I think I photographed Bambaataa, Futura, uh, DONDI, Grand Mixer DXT, the Double Dutch Girls, the Rocksteady Crew, they were all just posing for me in the hotel. And Futura and DONDI tagged a dumpster for me. And it was really cool. And then I went to the show in the evening, and just as you describe, everything was happening onstage all at the same time. Fab 5 Freddy was on the mic, Bam was mixing, you know, Futura’s like- I have a picture, actually. Futura’s painting a backdrop. And, you know, Rocksteady Crew are breaking. And it was really, it was like a renaissance moment for me, because I had never seen anything like this, or heard anything like this in my life. And I just thought it was so… alive and exciting, and so many, things that I loved going on at the same time. And so the story ran in Melody Maker, and the writer wrote, “This rapping thing is just a fad like skateboarding. It won’t last.”

 

David: [00:17:45] 

[laughs] Yeah. Let’s not name that writer. 

 

Janette: [00:17:49] 

Right. Exactly. I know. I think he got it wrong. And a couple of months later, I came to New York to visit a friend. And, I just ended up staying because, you know, everything was happening all around. You know, train scouting, graffiti, kids walking around with boomboxes. I ended up moving to the East Village and living, actually, in the same building as you. 131 Avenue B.

 

David: [00:18:19] 

Oh, shit. Okay. [laughter] Now the world knows. Send all your merch, uh, to me, thank you.

 

Janette: [00:18:24] 

Oh, yes. Sorry, David.

 

David: [00:18:26] 

That’s alright. [laughs]

 

Janette: [00:18:27] 

I forgot you’re still there. Anyway, but- Well you could edit that out if you have to. I just had gone onto the next thing. It was the next kind of rebel- I mean, it had a lot of similarities to punk, to me. In that it was a culture that came from the streets in bad economic times, and kids that didn’t have a future, really. There was no possibility of getting jobs, New York, like London, was also broke. And you could see there, that spark, this amazing creativity, and I just- I fell in love with it.

 

David: [00:19:13] 

Yeah. And the thing is about those kids, we were all- I wasn’t so much of a kid, but certainly they were a kid. They were optimistic and positive. Compared to the punk attitude, here was people who had very little, in most cases, but still feeling like, “Wow. Look at this- we have our music, we have our art, we can dance, we can have a life within all of that.” And, it caught on like wildfire.

 

Janette: [00:19:49] 

You’re absolutely right. Everything you just said is absolutely right. That, to me, is one of the biggest differences between the punk movement, where everything is shit. You know, you’re in England, the weather sucks. And you’re dealing with a class system and all of that. And then you come here, and there was some kind of incredible optimism. And, you know, speaking about fashion, it was like, you know, you may have wanted to wear, you know, Gucci, but you could go and buy a Gucci bag rip-off on Canal Street, for five bucks. Or, some genius like Dapper Dan would make you a whole suit for I don’t even know what. The creativity was amazing and on so many different levels. The art scene was just amazing. And living in the East Village, there was like an art opening every ten minutes. 

 

David: [00:20:50] 

[laughs] Yeah. Sounds about right. Yeah.

 

Janette: [00:20:52] 

Yeah. And then not to mention all the stuff that was on the walls when you were walking around. All the murals

 

David: [00:21:00] 

And somehow you can’t, still ignore the terrible side of everything that was going on, the South Bronx is- is burning.

 

Janette: [00:21:12] 

Oh yeah.

 

David: [00:21:14] 

You know, the drug dealing is going on like crazy. People are getting killed in the street. But, within that, there was this little world where everyone was really excited and working, and being creative. One of my mantras is creative people are most happy when they’re being creative. So if you’re being creative and doing your thing, everything else kind of falls by the wayside, and you don’t really, respond to it in the same way.

 

Janette: [00:21:44] 

I think that’s absolutely right. Because I remember there was a crack house around the corner from Avenue B on, I think, Seventh Street or something. I remember sitting in a friend’s car after a photo shoot late at night. We were just watching people going in and out of this house, you know. And even though that was happening, the East Village was sort of a scary place, but for me it didn’t seem scary at all. And I’d been living in Stratton before that, it was a poorish working class neighborhood and there were a lot of skinheads, and there were certain places you didn’t walk because of the skinheads. You wouldn’t walk in this tunnel under the railway because you could get beaten up or mugged. None of this really seemed to bother me. Also, not being from here, I don’t think I really understood quite how dangerous it perhaps was.

 

David: [00:22:44] 

Which was probably a good thing.

 

Janette: [00:22:46] 

Yeah. That was great for me, you know, going to photograph Bambaataa in the Bronx. I didn’t know what the Bronx was, so I was fine getting on the train and going there. I was like, “What’s this?”

 

Janette: [00:23:28] 

It was great for me because I wasn’t from here. And when I would go to a place like the Bronx, people would know that, you know, my accent, you’re not from here and it would start a conversation. And I think, for me, as a white woman walking around in these neighborhoods, nobody bothered me because… I don’t know, I think the accent. Everybody was very nice to me. And-

 

David: [00:23:56]

Or people were just nice. 

 

Janette: [00:23:58] 

Maybe people were just nice. Yeah.

 

David: [00:24:00] 

You know, we’re all programmed, to a certain extent, to believe that if we go into these areas, we’re going to be immediately attacked.

 

Janette: [00:24:09] 

Right.

 

David: [00:24:09] 

But that’s, as we know from our own experiences, that’s usually not the case. It’s actually the opposite.

 

Janette: [00:24:16] 

You’re absolutely right. Yeah. I have this book that actually just came out on, uh, re-issue on Dashwood of a series I did on an East LA gang in 1983. And I was just fascinated. I read about them in the LA Weekly or something. And I got a hookup and went there, and I spent a whole summer going back and forth photographing these guys in this park called the El Hoyo Maravilla. It was the El Hoyo Maravilla gang. And everybody’s like, “You’re crazy. It’s really dangerous- and I’d just go there and hang out and do portraits of people. People were being shot on the daily right there, but I never saw any of it because I was there with my camera taking pictures of, a bunch of teenagers.

 

David: [00:25:20] 

And you felt comfortable in that environment. Is there anything in your background that would indicate that this is something that you were destined to do?

 

Janette: [00:25:32] 

Uh… Probably not. I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. And I grew up in what we would call a pre-middle class family. My mom was really into art. So we used to go to little art classes with her once a week. I knew I wanted to go to art school. And I was very shy in school. I was extremely shy. I was in the same school from the age of three to seventeen, and I used to hide in the art room. That was my- my refuge. And when I came out, I was like, “I can’t be this shy person.” And when I took up photography, I realized it’s kind of an entree into meeting people. Like you could walk up to somebody and say, “Can I take your picture?” And, you know, they’re pretty much going to say yes. People very rarely say no to me. And… that’s how it worked, really. I have never really been afraid of walking around on streets.

 

David: [00:26:39] 

And so when you came to New York, how did you, hookup again with this scene that you so were, enchanted by, impressed by-

 

…that you first saw in London? I also want you to talk about your famous photo of LL Cool J, cause you mentioned a boombox. Tell me like how that happened. 

 

Janette: [00:27:08] 

When I got here, the British magazines, like The Face and Melody Maker, knew that I was now living in New York. And the brits are very obsessed with music and they always want to know what’s going on. So they would call me and go, “Oh, you know, there’s this new group called Run DMC. Have you ever heard of them? Here’s a phone number.” And they’d give me the phone number. It would turn out to be, Jam Master Jay’s mom or something, and I would go meet them in Hollis. I took a picture of them in 1984. That’s kind of a pretty famous picture right now. But, I didn’t know who they were. I had a portfolio of pictures of punks, and I was going around the record companies and nobody would give me work because they said my work was too gritty. I had people with bad hairdos and, it wasn’t- airbrushing was fashionable back then. So I couldn’t get work shooting bands. I thought I would be able to get work shooting bands, but it didn’t work out like that. So I was working for the brit magazines, shooting a lot of early hip hop. And one day, I walked into Lyor Cohen’s office to show him my portfolio. And I think it was on Broadway somewhere, it was like not a glamorous office. Def Jam was just a little label at the time, much like these other ones I was working for, like Next Plateau and Sleeping Bag. And I remember walking in the office, and I was a little bit intimidated because Lyor was there and he had his feet up on the desk, and was smoking a cigar, and he’s shouting down the phone. You know, “Hundred thousand dollars!” You know, whatever, doing some huge business deal, puffing on his cigar. And he’s like, waving at me, just wait over there. So I- I waited ’til he finished. And then, I approached and showed him my portfolio. And he’s like, “Oh, we’ll probably find something for you to do.” And then, a few weeks later, he sends LL Cool J around to my studio, which was on Franklin Street at the time. And that was LL Cool J’s first press shoot, I believe. He was sixteen or seventeen-years-old. And he just came in, and I had my lights setup, and I was like, “Well stand here.” He put the boombox on his shoulder. I took the shot. And that was it. It probably took a few more shots that day, but that shot became the LL shot that a lot of people recognize. You know, recognize and, you know, it’s just one of those moments, I think. It’s just like a moment in time.

 

David: [00:30:55] 

One other thing is women in hip hop, you’re a feminist, you said earlier on. That’s something that matters to you. You’re a woman photographer, as well, because, always- always get the short end of the stick, for the most part, right? But, women in hip hop was something happening in the back. There was recently that movie that Lisa Cortes did, The Remix, which talks fashion and hip hop, particularly, but it also, brings up this point that I want to address, which is, women not get the recognition they deserve for the work they’re doing.

 

Janette: [00:31:46] 

Hip hop was definitely a male-driven culture for quite a time, and then, Salt and Pepper came along and they did that song called Let’s Talk About Sex, and I think that kind of changed everything for- You know, women. They were kind of in the vanguard. And somebody like MC Lyte with that amazing song, I Cram to Understand U, that she wrote when, I think, she was fourteen-years-old about her boyfriend at the time. Suddenly women started to have power in hip hop, and that was really amazing. And actually, uh, we did a big shoot for Paper.

 

David: [00:32:32] 

That’s right. Women in hip hop. That was a whole section, right?

 

Janette: [00:32:35] 

And I don’t know if you remember, we were shooting it in some Mexican restaurant off West Broadway somewhere, that happened to have this kind of stage. So we had the lights set up and all the women came down, Let’s see who’s there? Well, Millie Jackson- Sparky D, it was an amazing collection of women. They came down, a lot of them weren’t with their boyfriends, and they were like, “No men are allowed in the room. They all have to go, leave, and come back in a while.”

 

David: [00:33:13] 

That was your idea or their idea?

 

Janette: [00:33:14] 

No, it wasn’t my idea. I think it was whoever was the organizer- Was it Kim who was organizing that shoot?

 

David: [00:33:19] 

[laughs] Probably. Yeah.

 

Janette: [00:33:20] 

Maybe it was you.

 

David: [00:33:21] 

I’d know. It wasn’t me.

 

Janette: [00:33:23] 

And they were- there to have a roundtable discussion, and I got that picture of all of them sitting onstage together. And it was amazing, the comradery. I mean, even though, hip hop is known to be adversarial.

David: [00:33:37] 

Beefs. Beef.

 

Janette: [00:33:38] 

Yeah. Beefs. Yeah. Beefs. Everybody got along. And that’s an amazing moment in time, to get a group like that there. It was great. But yeah, I mean, it came a time when, you know, women started to take over. And you look at hip hop now, it’s full of incredible women. 

 

David: [00:34:00] 

You might even say that they are actually leading hip hop today.

 

Janette: [00:34:05] 

Yeah. I think they are actually. I really think they are. And it’s- it’s a great thing. And it’s good timing, Totally. Totally.

 

David: [00:34:16] 

As you continue your street photography, which I’m particularly a fan of in general, but certainly in your work particularly. You’re continuing to do that, even today, this terrible climate that we’re in there’s a lot of stuff going on in the street, whether it’s empty streets or people marching in the streets.

 

Janette: [00:34:43] 

Right.

 

David: [00:34:43] 

From one extreme to the other. So you’re out there still looking for photos, Or people? What is it? Do you look for people or do you look for photos?

 

Janette: [00:34:52] 

I live downtown, as you know, and during Covid, it was strange. It was like being in a ghost town. Everything was locked up and, the stores were boarded up. In fact, one night, I was sitting in my loft and the window faces onto the street, and I heard all this shouting. It was about nine o’clock at night, I think. Sometime in like April, maybe. And I just kind of put my coat on and rushed downstairs with my camera, and there was this group of protesters running down Lafayette Street. And I watched them. And I followed them and I took some pictures of them. They were protesters and they were very angry. And, I followed them for a few blocks. And I think it was that same night when I left them around Spring Street, and they made a right and pretty much destroyed SoHo. 

 

David: [00:35:57] 

Oh. Oh, that was that group?

 

Janette: [00:35:58] 

Yeah. I think it was that group. But, you know, there were a lot of demonstrations. And, of course, you’re on lockdown, but you’re following the news. And Black Lives Matter, and George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and all of that had a real effect on me. And I decided to go out and document the Black Lives Matter protest. Just pretty much happening all around me. I’d walk out onto Second Avenue, and they were marching up Second Avenue in the hundreds. You know, you’d go to Washington Square and there they are. So yeah, I decided to really make a thing. And you’re right, and, you know, in the worst of times, if you can be creative, I mean, that saved me. I was out photographing people, and I wanted to try and document the movement. And also capture some of the faces, and it was an amazing mix of mostly younger people of all sorts, carrying homemade signs, and they were really angry about what’s been happening in the country. And they were really angry about the history here. This has been going on for hundreds of years. And they had something to say, and it was just an amazing thing to document them and follow them. And then the bike protests started, and I just bought a bicycle right at the beginning of Covid. So I started going on the bike protests and, we’d ride from Canal Street up to Harlem and protest, and people would cheer us on, and I was trying to figure out how to ride my bicycle and take pictures with the camera. 

 

David: [00:38:06] 

[laughs] That’s a long ride too. How do you like keep up with that?

 

Janette: [00:38:08] 

Mostly everybody’s half my age for a start. But, you know, I managed somehow to figure it out. And it was very inspiring.The passion of people was very inspiring, and I had- this strong urge to document what was going on. And I’m really glad I did. I documented the closed stores, I documented the art that was being made on those, You know, just go out on a pretty much daily basis with my camera, because, let’s face it, there wasn’t anything else going on. And take photos. And that’s, what I did during Covid. And now things have changed and things have shifted. And now those things are almost history now. They’re an important part of history.

 

David: [00:39:12] 

Very much. Yes. Totally.

 

Janette: [00:39:14] 

Yeah. So that’s, you know, that’s a story.

 

David: [00:39:19] 

There’s two more things I want to talk about. One is your mashups, which is like taking- you’ve taken your photographs and you’ve matched them up with artists, and asked them to, do something, anything, right? As far as you’re concerned. You don’t really tell them what to do. But on a- on a photo.

 

Janette: [00:39:44] 

The mashup is a really special project to me, and it’s very close to my heart. And it was, an idea that came to Cey Adams, the artist, when we were going to do a show together, and we were talking about what we were going to do, and he was like, “I have an idea. I’m going to get my friends to draw on your photos.” And I was like, “That’s a crazy idea. Why are we gonna do that?” And it was 2014, he got ten artists to draw on top of my hip hop photos. And the way it went down, I would send them a PDF, they could choose anything out of my hip hop archive, but they would have to say why they were attracted to that particular image and when they first started, drawing, and all of this. We had a list of questions. So we got these ten artists and we had a little exhibition in my loft, and five hundred people turned up. Which was insane. It was a summer day. And people really loved this work. It seemed to mean a lot. And we started to show the work in other places, we were showing it in the Meatpacking District at a gallery there. And Zephyr happened to be walking by, he popped in.

 

David: [00:41:09] 

Oh, really?

 

Janette: [00:41:09] 

And he was like, “I want to do one.” And that’s how it started growing. You know, Futura was painting a mural on Houston Street, and I went down there with Cey and we were like, “Do you want to do a mashup?” And he did one. It was just a great project, and it really built- it was kind of like a little mashup community in the end. And I would do portraits of all the artists, that was the other thing as a sidebar. So, you know, we had Crash, we had Pink, obviously, Cey. I’m trying to think of all the different artists. Futura. Just legends old and new. All sorts of great people did amazing work part a lot of different artists. Lee. of course, Quinones. And I was taking photographs of them. And then I got signed to this gallery in Los Angeles called the Fahey Klein Gallery, and they helped me with these Hat and Beard guys to do a book. And we made a book of it, which you can still get on Amazon.

 

David: [00:42:14] 

Which I have.

 

Janette: [00:42:16] 

Yes. Good. It’s a good book.

 

David: [00:42:18] 

It’s an excellent book.

 

Janette: [00:42:19] 

We’ve got like the rock stars of the graffiti era, I think, in that book. Most of them. And, uh, it just turned out to be a really great thing. I would take like a little eleven by fourteen collection and go to Geneva and show it in Geneva, I showed it in London, I showed it in Paris. It was in LA, it was in all sorts of places this show. And it just brought a lot of love and, then, during Covid, uh, I started working with these guys, Morning Breath, and we have done a punk mashup now. Which-

 

David: [00:42:59] 

Oh. 

 

Janette: [00:42:59] 

Actually, yeah, it just launched a couple of weeks ago. So it’s more kind of punky-type artists, American artists, working on my punk pictures. So same thing. We’ve got ten artists and, everybody from Mike Giant, Shepard actually has done one, and Cey did one. My buddy, Ian Wright, in London did one. And these are also really cool. But it’s all come out of this original idea of Cey’s, 

 

David: [00:43:30] 

I’m just thinking, a lot of photographers would not want their images, you know, covered by somebody else’s work. Photographers can be very particular about, “Don’t crop it. Don’t do it. Don’t touch it. This is like the final perfect image.” In your case, obviously, you were open to that. Which I guess says something about you.

 

Janette: [00:44:03] 

It was an honor for me to have somebody like Lee Quinones draw on my Chuck D picture. I think it brings a whole new life to them. And I like to collaborate with people. So just it’s like the perfect, perfect thing, to be honest. And it also brought me into a whole world, I admired these artists, but I didn’t personally know them. Now I know them and count many of them as friends. There’s a story behind every- every mashup. It really is a really great project. And I am very happy. You know, it’s like reinventing something and giving it new life, breathing new life into it. And giving it to a new audience.

 

David: [00:45:04] 

As we started talking, you had been meeting with an editor working on a new book. Can you tell us what that’s all about?

 

Janette: [00:45:17] 

Yes. Well [laughs] I’ve always wanted to do a book, like a kind of monograph of my history, all of this stuff we’ve been talking about. I’ve been taking photographs now for four decades. That’s a long time. I’ve published about five books, at least. And I always wanted to have a collection, you can see the trajectory going from punk through to Dior, shall we say. I was looking for a publisher, and I reached out to a few people. Covid hit. And, somehow or another, I found these amazing people, Drago, that are in Italy, and it turns out they’ve also published books by a lot of people, like Estevan Oriol and Futura, who are friends. So they are working on this book with me. It’s tentatively entitled, Rebels: From Punk to Dior. And, it’s gonna cover my forty years.

 

David: [00:46:25] 

Whoo-hoo.

 

Janette: [00:46:25] 

Yeah. It’s a lot. [laughs] Right now, my studio is completely plastered from floor to ceiling, I think there’s about three hundred photos on the wall right now, and I’m trying to edit them.

 

David: [00:46:36] 

[laughs] Fantastic. Congratulations. That’s such good news.

 

Janette: [00:46:39] 

Thank you. Yeah, I’m excited. I’m really excited about it. And, also, in that collection will be some of the pictures that I took for Paper, for sure.

 

David: [00:46:52] 

Oh, yeah.

 

Janette: [00:46:53] 

Yep. I just found that picture of that group, Shazork, remember them?

 

David: [00:46:57] 

Oh, shit. Yes. I do.

 

Janette: [00:46:59] 

Right. 

 

David: [00:47:00] 

Who was in that? Was that, uh, I forget.

 

Janette: [00:47:03] 

It’s Lady Bunny, um…

 

David: [00:47:05] 

Lady Bunny, no shit.

 

Janette: [00:47:06] 

Um. What’s his face from Deee-lite? Um. DJ-

 

David: [00:47:09] 

Dmitry .

 

Janette: [00:47:10] 

Dmitry, Lady Bunny, and I can’t remember the other name of the other drag artist. Uh. Sister Dementia, maybe? 

 

David: [00:47:20] 

Oh, yes. That could be. Yeah.

 

Janette: [00:47:21] 

I mean, they look really amazing. So there’s that one. And,Andre Walker and, you know, Isabel Toledo and Ruben that’s part of my fashion bit. So the book is pretty much- so it’s punk and hip hop. And then it’s the streets. There’s a whole section on streets, which would be, the East LA gangs, midwest and New York street portraits. And, the Indy 500 that I documented last year, which was really crazy. Things from Detroit. All sorts of things. And there is a big about creatives, which includes, you know, Marcus Samuelsson and Martha Cooper. Keith Haring. I’m just looking on the wall now. George Clinton, Leigh Bowery. It’s like a huge-

 

David: [00:48:17] 

I love it. Yeah. It’s you. Your life.

 

Janette: [00:48:18] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:48:19] 

It’s our life.

 

Janette: [00:48:20] 

It’s me. Exactly.

 

David: [00:48:21] 

It’s, you know, everything that’s happened in the last forty years. I can’t wait.

 

Janette: [00:48:24] 

I know. Yeah. And then the end of it is the fashion thing. Everything from Levis, I did their 2018 campaign, to Dior, and Paper, and Interview magazine shoots. All the rest of it. So this is my life, as they say.

 

David: [00:48:42] 

Oh, right. Well what a life. Janette Beckman, thank you so much for being on my show today.

 

Janette: [00:48:47] 

Thank you, David. 

 

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