“The Roots of Punk & Hip Hop – The photography of Janette Beckman and David Corio” is the full title of an exhibition opening at The Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York on Thursday. The show promises to be a must-see for any fans of the genres, capturing the seminal movements of the 70s and 80s with beautifully shot images from two of the most knowledgeable music photographers out there. With so much great stuff to cram in, and a little too far from New York to visit myself, I thought I’d grab Janette for a chat about the show, and a sneak peek of some of the images you’ll be able to see…
Hey Janette, Catch the Beat looks pretty special, can you give us a short introduction to your work, and how the show has come about?
I started taking photos of musicians and the scene back in the punk days for Melody Maker and The Face. It was an amazing time for music in the UK: Punk, 2 Tone, Mod, Skinhead, Rockabilly, Reggae bands. I had a small darkroom/office on Neal St. situated conveniently around the corner from Melody Maker and all the best cafes and bars. I would shoot 2 or 3 bands a week and I loved to take photos of their fans, self-styled kids with that attention to detail. In 1982 the first hip hop tour to came to London from NYC. Melody Maker sent me out to cover the show which was at The Venue in Victoria, it was amazing. So different from what was happening in the UK at the time. It had a kind of wild, chaotic, spontaneous feel like the early punk days. I moved to New York (accidentally) at Christmas that year.
Both David Corio and I are represented by the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York. They suggested we have a show together. David and I have known each other since the punk days when we worked for rival music papers. It is only recently that we realised that we were in the same photo pits at various concerts like The Ramones at Hammersmith Odeon and the New York Hip Hop Tour at the Venue. We have also shot many of the same artists, covered the same scenes.
You’ve had photos published in numerous, important print publications since the 70s – does it sadden you to see their demise, and the inevitability of their presence being solely online?
I was lucky to work for some really brilliant print publications like The Face, Nova, Paper Magazine, in their early days as well as some of the British Sunday magazines – and I do miss them. I still collect magazines from the 70’s and 80’s, the photography and art direction was wonderful, like Esquire, The Face, some early Vogue and Life magazines. I hope online magazines will find their own style – it seems as if blogs might be taking their place as far as art and music magazines go. Personally I still like to read print…
You’re originally a Londoner, why did you find yourself in NYC documenting Hip Hop?
Christmas 1982 I went to visit a friend in New York and somehow ended up staying. Hip Hop was just starting to become popular – it seemed like the new renaissance movement that was taking over : break dancers, rappers, graffiti artists, DJ’s MC’s and a whole new street fashion style – some of the UK magazines knew I was in NYC and gave me jobs to shoot – the likes of Run DMC, Afrika Bambaata etc in their early years. I shot the first editorial photos of Salt & Pepa, they introduced me to their manager and I shot their first album cover. In those days there were a lot of small labels, the artists knew each other so I and got recommended to shoot other groups. This was great as I loved the whole scene, music and style.
What’s the importance of having both scenes, and both yours and David’s photos exhibited in the same space?
The exhibition is unusual as it shows both the UK Punk and the Hip Hop scenes. David and I believe there is such a strong connection between the two cultures- both came from the kids on the street in bad economic times. Both were renaissance movements created in a spirit of rebellion against society inspiring new forms of music, poetry, art, dance, and style created by the bands and the fans. And all of this creative inspiration happened before MTV, the internet. Both David and I shoot in a kind of documentary / portrait style although our styles are different. We both love black and white and print our own photographs in the darkroom.
What’s currently on Janette Beckman’s speakers?
Right now I am listening to some mix cd’s; Richie (DJ Love On the Run) old school hiphop mix. DJ Muro Hot Dog and Soul Station cd’s and some soul and Latin house favorites.