The Photographer Janette Beckman on Dragging Blondie Out of Bed

Joan Jett by Janette Beckman.

What is a rebel? Ask Janette Beckmann. The native British has put the spirit of the rebels at the center of her new book. REBELS: From Dior to Punk. In her very first monograph, Beckman shares images captured over a four-decade career that highlight the beauty of society’s outliers in fashion, music, art, and activism. “REBELS it’s really about people going their own way, doing their own thing, ”says Beckman interview on a recent Zoom call. “In my opinion it’s someone like Dapper Dan or the Harlem Dirt Bike Club or Salt-N-Pepa.”

Beckman’s appreciation for disruptors grew out of her upbringing in London in the late 1970s and 1980s at a time of economic, cultural and social turmoil. Her early photographs captured the frustration of London youth fed up with poverty and the British monarchy, and eventually she made her way to New York, where she spent years in paper at the side of her friend Kim Hastreiter. It wasn’t long before Beckman became a hip-hop mainstay and was known for attracting a new wave of talent – in the style of Ice Cube and Salt-N-Pepa – in their early, more intimate days. All those years later, Beckman continued to photograph the “rebels of today,” who look and sound a little different than the punks before them, but are no less determined to be heard. This week she is preparing to open her new one The “Rebels: From Punk to Dior” exhibition at Fotografiska New York (November 19) took the photographer a moment to remember some of her most memorable shoots – from pulling Debbie Harry out of bed to one not quite such a lovely day spent with Mary J. Blige, until a cold night with Leigh Bowery.



“I was a big fan of Mary J. Blige and got an assignment from a London newspaper. the Telegraph, photograph them. It was a cold winter day and she wasn’t really in the mood to have her picture taken and unfortunately she wasn’t the happiest. She was staying in a hotel on Central Park and I persuaded her to go outside so we could try a few poses in the park, but it just didn’t happen. She just didn’t feel it. She had a group of friends around her and one of them said, ‘DDon’t worry, she’s just not in a good mood. ‘ So we went back to the hotel and I thought to myself: ‘That doesn’t work, hotel pictures are always boring.’ But we passed this wallpaper and I thought, ‘She will really look like a queen here. ‘ You know, I grew up with paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in London and decided to make them look like 19th century royal families. So I set up my light in the hotel hallway and we took a few pictures. It was quick and I think I got it. “



“I know Kim [Hastreiter] since 1982 because her best friend married my best friend. When I moved to New York, she practically adopted me and showed me all the cool places I can go. She was like, “Me and my friend David are starting and going to name this little magazine paper. ” We shot for hours and made three or four stories for them in one night! It was great fun. They had their finger on what was going on downtown at the time. It was very different from the rest of the magazine scene and it was great to be part of something new. Anyway, Leigh Bowery came into the studio. He was famous in London. But he was late – it was a cold night and we just hung around and waited for him. He arrives and says: ‘I’m so sorry I’m late, I just coulddon’t take a taxi! ‘ But he’s wearing this yellow chicken costume – this big, fluffy yellow skirt thing and an SM mask with two lightbulbs on each side and those huge yellow platform shoes with white tights. I was like,; Wouch, I can’t believe a taxi won’t pick you up! ‘ It was crazy, I love Leigh Bowery, he was really a genius. “



Chris Stein and Debbie Harry from Blondie. London, May 1982 © Janette Beckman / © Retna Ltd.

“I took that for the cover of Melody maker, and I was in this little boutique hotel when Debbie played in London for the first time. I was there very early in the morning. There was no stylist, just I knocked on the door and said, ‘I’ve come to take pictures of you. ‘ I love this because Debbie looks so natural. She must have just got out of bed. She really did make up a lot of the photos of her from the 80s and it’s almost too much – but here she obviously did her own hair and make up and it’s early in the morning. I was at a gala dinner for Gordon Parks a few years ago and I was seated at my table by Debbie. I had one of my little business cards, all of which had different portraits of myself, and all these years later I was dying to show her the picture of her. As she got up to leave, I thought: ‘Debbie, I just wanted to give you my card. ‘ She looked at it and said, ‘THat was a really great wig. ‘”



“The night Trump was elected, I went to an illegal demonstration in front of Trump Tower after he became president and I was so angry. This woman really caught my eye. She has that dead look that says, ‘I won’t take it anymore. ‘ She is young and determined, she could be anyone. I’m a huge admirer of all of the photographers who have documented the civil rights movement, people like Steve Shapiro. Obviously I was too young to take part, but it seems to me to have some of that energy. “



“I took this picture when I was writing my first book on hip hop in 1991. It’s called Rap! Portraits and texts of a generation of black rockers, and I did it with a writer named Bill Adler who used to do PR for Def Jam. We had so many pictures of New York rappers and I thought it was really important to include the West Coast, so I took a trip west and connected with NWA Ice Cube had just left the band at the time. One day I went to their studio to photograph NWA – they had just released “Fuck the police“Which of course was a big deal, and I got a picture of them standing in front of a police car that I had just tapped into on the street. TThat afternoon I went to Ice Cube’s mother’s house. This is a picture of him sitting on her porch. I also took something from him with his mother and you can see how proud she is of him – there was so much love between them, it was really a nice thing to see. I love this. He’s wearing a raider hat and he’s wild. “



“Salt-n-Pepa, my girls. I met her before they even had a record deal. I took this shot for a UK magazine and we’d spent the day hanging out on the Lower East Side. They said, “YYou are nice, will you be our plate photographer? “ I took a few pictures of them for their first album. That’s when “Press it ” and their big hits came out. They arrived at my studio the day we took this picture and the amazing thing was that they were already dressed like that. I asked Salt for an offer when we made the book. For me, they changed the face of hip-hop because before them it was a very male-dominated genre. Here’s what she said, “How could anyone have known that this was going to be one of the most famous and iconic photos in music history? Janette made this very powerful fashion statement of the superwoman and captured the essence of who we were in that moment – young, vibrant women on a mission to conquer this male-dominated music genre called hip-hop – mission accomplished. “I mean it is pure woman power. I love this one so much. It’s one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. You felt so free to express yourself in front of me. Then I did some of their album covers. “



“This is also my personal favorite. I took this photo on Pitt Street on the Lower East Side when Sade was actually in a band called Pride. It’s just a moment when she leans against a police car and looks so beautiful. Pride was a great band. I think a few members played with her later. I remember the concert got a little noisy that night and she just got up and said, ‘ADo you want to listen to me? ‘ And everyone just shut up. You know, 1983 was a loud crowd on the Lower East Side. She started singing and immediately I knew she was going to grow up. She has such a beautiful voice and she was wearing that long black dress and I thought, ‘this woman.’



“A bunch of punks are sitting on a bench in front of City Hall on Kings Road. They always did that on Saturdays and Sundays – they met on this special bench in front of the town hall. Kings Road was London’s fashion parade during the punk era. Everyone was hanging out there yelling and drinking beer or whatever. I went there most weekends to see what was going on and what the people looked like. The funny thing is, I’m in touch with the daughters of two of these women! Due to the wonders of Instagram, they saw the photo and contacted me saying, ‘TYou can see my mother in this picture! ‘ That’s so fabulous. I sent them prints and we have this relationship now – it’s a really nice thing all these years later. ”

“That was on the memorial march for Sid Vicious when he died. We all gathered in Victoria and marched to Hyde Park – it was huge, there were thousands of punks. There were loads of cops there, but there was no fighting. Everyone was just so sad. People wore black armbands with his name on it. They all came to celebrate Sid, who sadly, as we all know, had died of an overdose. “



“I was filming a benefit for the Ramones here in New York City. There were a lot of great bands playing, but Joan Jett came out and I’d never seen her before. It’s such a rock image, so much girl power. Being right below her was pretty amazing. It’s very raw and amazing. “

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