London native Janette Beckman began her career at as a photographer at Melody Maker, a weekly British music paper, in 1977 where she was one of two women on staff. She recalls, “It wasn’t a problem that I was a woman. It was that I was an art student. They didn’t understand it. They were these older rock guys who loved Led Zeppelin, and wore jeans with cowboy boots, and I’m there in my Converse, pajama bottoms, and punky t-shirts.
“Being female was a positive. I was never a groupie, so I’d be standing there on the sidelines, taking pictures of things I wasn’t supposed to take pictures of. I was interested in the punk thing, and the work got divided well. The editors weren’t that receptive to punk in the beginning. They didn’t want to put Boy George on the cover and had a hard time accepting it. Punk was drugs, strange haircuts and having a good time in clubs. Rock was pubs, soccer and getting drunk.
“I wasn’t into rock at all. When The Face came out in 1980, I was in my element. I could shoot everything from artist Andrew Logan's ' Alternative Miss World' contest, where men came dressed in drag to Echo and the Bunnymen in Blackpool. The first issue had my photograph of the Islington Twins in their parkas. I went to music festivals, illegal fight clubs in South London, it was all very casual when it first began.
My first visit to New York was in 1975 for Christmas. It was around the time of the garbage strike. It was very cold and kind of great. My friend took me to the East Village, which was a desolate wasteland at that time. I thought it was so damn exciting. I was staying at the Plaza with my mother, and found it very glam to commute to the Lower East Side. I spent a week obsessing about getting a Schott A-2 leather Bomber Jacket from an Army/Navy store. After that we went to Florida and I was not taking that sucker off.
“I came back to New York in 1982 on Christmas holiday to visit that same friend on Franklin Street. She told me about an empty loft next door and asked if I wanted to stay on for a bit. I started hanging around... it seemed to be for quite a long time. My window looked down on the alley where the Mudd Club was, and we’d always go to Dave’s Hot Dogs on Canal and Broadway after a night out at the clubs.
“I was hanging out, meeting people, and getting work. I was shooting a 'What Went Wrong' column in Mademoiselle magazine where they showed photographs of fashion mistakes. I was still shooting for Melody Maker and The Face; they knew I was in New York so they started giving me work. Eventually, what began as ’Why don’t you stay at my place?’ somehow morphed into getting sponsored, so I ended up staying here.
“I had my portfolio, and I thought to myself, “I am a music photographer. I’ve got The Clash and the Sex Pistols and The Police, so I started taking my portfolio to record companies but I couldn’t get any work. 'It’s too gritty,' they told me. 'Your stuff is just too raw.' They wanted everything to be glossy but I wasn’t doing that.
“The Brits like to be ahead of everyone when it comes to music. There was a new group called Salt ‘N’ Pepa, and I got the assignment to photograph them for Sky, a teen magazine. They came around my house on Avenue B; it was their first photo shoot. We were hanging out in Alphabet City, Avenues B, C, D, and they were just dancing, giggling around. They liked the picture so they asked me if I could shoot their first record cover, and they showed up wearing these amazing leather jackets. They introduced me to their manager, Hurby 'Luv Bug' Azor, and he introduced me to his other groups. That’s when my photographing Hip Hop really began.
“At the same time, I was photographing for Paper magazine. It was a great magazine to be attached to. I had a photo studio in my apartment, so everything was shot in my place. One day I’d be shooting some kids with wacky glasses and giant hats, and they next day it would be Barry White in a giant fur coat. Kim Hastreiter, the co-founder of Paper, had this amazing style sense.
“I was also photographing fashion shoots for the Daily News Sunday Magazine. I would have these big, double page spreads where we could do anything we wanted. Every week, we had to find the location, find the models, and style the shoots. I remember one shoot, we got real bike messengers and let them wear their own clothes. I also got to shoot a few cover stories, like one on Keith Haring that I recently rediscovered.
“The Daily News was a neighborhood paper, and it was kind of great in a way. We could do really local stories, like the one we did on work wear. We photographed the crew from Tower Records, and the crew from Body Worship, a sex shop in the East Village. We did a feature called ‘In Transit’ where writer Vivien Goldman and I spent 24 hours in Grand Central and photographed everyone who came through. We set them up in front of a wall, and got them to tell us their story. It was just another Monday in New York. “