janette beckman's iconic punk photographs capture britain's youth rebellion

From punks hanging around outside BOY and Worlds End, Mods in London and Ska girls in Coventry, to Joe Strummer backstage and the Specials in Southend, Janette Beckman captured the birth of the most explosive British subculture of all time. An...

by Charlotte Gush
24 June 2016, 2:35pm

Punks Words End London 1978

Legendary music photographer Janette Beckman was there at the birth of the subcultures that changed the world, capturing both the early days of punk in the UK and hip hop in the US. Her first shoot was Siouxsie and the Banshees, and working for The Face and Melody Maker she shot the Sex Pistols, Run DMC, Blondie and more. Later on, she shot M.I.A., Missy Elliott and Thurston Moore, LA gangs and Harlem dirt bikers.

As part of the year-long celebrations of 40 years of punk, an exhibition of Beckman's images of the explosive emergence of the UK punk scene opens tonight at Fiorentini + Baker in East London. Ahead of the opening, i-D caught up with Janette to find out what punk meant to her, to the world, and what it can mean to Brits waking up today to a post-Brexit reality.

BOY Kings Road London 1979

Why was punk so compelling for you, when it emerged?
Punk to me meant a change from the old order of Queen and country and the rule of the upper class. It was rebellion through music, style, and art against the old order.

Did you have any idea at the time how much of a lasting mark punk would make?
We had no idea at the time. I was living in a semi squat in South London, an ex art student, teaching photography at a college part time and working in a Streatham youth club. We started to see kids on the street mods, skins, punks — youthful tribes — the economy in the country was terrible and there really was 'no future.' For the first time, working class kids were speaking out.

Ska girls, Coventry 1980

In what ways did punk change the world?
Punk changed things: it was disrespectful, outspoken, confrontational, in your face and exciting, and we really felt that something was finally changing in our world order.

Which images have you included in this exhibition?
This exhibition shows some of the bands from the day, iconic musicians like Shane MacGowan, The Clash, Paul Weller, and the fans, the Islington Twins, punks, mods, skins, kids on the street.

Joe Strummer backstage

The Specials Southend 1980

What do you think of the 40 Year of Punk commemorations being endorsed by the Queen?
It seems funny to me.

Have we held on to the punk spirit? Could we do with more of it now, or was it of it's time?
Yes, we could do with more of it now especially since UK has voted out of the EU today. That seems to be a step back to the old idea of 'Great' Britain pre-punk days.

Shane MacGowan Pogues London 1981

The Marine Girls London 1980

You captured the birth of punk and hip hop. Do we see subcultures like that any more?
Subcultures are different these days. Both punk and hip hop grew up in a time before the internet, before MTV, before cell phones. The cultures started from the streets and had time to marinate. People did not have money so they had to be inventive, people like Dapper Dan in Harlem who printed his own Gucci fabric and made clothes, they shopped in army navy stores, thrift stores and put things together. These days everything is image-conscious, marketed and packaged.

Tell us more about your current subjects?
I live in New York and shoot musicians, artists, rebel cultures. I recently shot a stories about a Harlem dirt bike gang the GoHardBoyz, Fightball — a one-on-one street basketball tournament, 'Kiki' transgender voguers in East Harlem, and collaborated on the MashUp where legendary OG Graffiti artists painted on my old school hip hop photographs. I am also the NY editor for the British style and culture magazine Jocks&Nerds.

Mod twins London 1979

What are the ingredients for a good street shot?
A good street shot to me should capture the time and place. One of my favorite images I shot is Run DMC and posse just hanging out on their street, leaning against a car, Cazells, Kangols, Adidas with no laces — style and attitude say a lot about hip hop in 1984 in Hollis Queens. Also, my photo of Paul Weller and Pete Townshend outside the Marquee in Soho London; Weller looks immaculate, smoking a cigarette, Townshend in a white mac, poster behind them advertises a Stiff Records tour.

Janette Beckman exhibition is free and open to the public June 24 - July 31 at Fiorentini + Baker.


Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Janette Beckman

Janette Beckman