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Fresh off a plane from the UK, Janette Beckman, a documentary photographer, prepares for her latest Los Angeles exhibit that chronicles the early years of the punk and hip-hop movements through her photography. She points to an image with a much younger looking Sting standing to the right of his band mates.
“I shot the first Police album cover back when they were just three punks,” said Janette Beckman, reflecting on the photographs at her exhibit. “I went and bought my first Hasselblad camera (in the 1970s), specifically because it was a square shape. I then took a picture of the band in a tunnel and it turned out to be a rather iconic image.”
Punk and hip-hop may have taken root on different continents in the 1970s and 1980s, but one photographer chronicled both scenes, and her documentary photos are on display now at the exhibit, “Archive of Attitude”, through September 5 at Project Space, located at 603 N. La Brea Ave.
“The majority of her work over the decades is extremely compelling as it relates to these cultural movements,” said Damon Way, chief brand officer of Incase, and co-curator of Project Space.
The exhibit features more than 60 photos from the 1980s punk movement in London and shots from her observations of the hip-hop scene in Los Angeles and New York. From The Clash, The Sex Pistols and Boy George to Afrika Bambaataa, Run-DMC and LL Cool J, Beckman’s monochrome images capture the history of two movements that would become the backbone to many contemporary music trends.
“I had seen one hip-hop show in England by Afrika Bambaataa,” Beckman said. “We’d never seen anything like it. It was like a Renaissance art just descended upon us. We didn’t have any of that. So I visited a friend in New York and just wound up staying there and shooting hip-hop bands for UK magazines that wanted to know about the cutting edge music.”
Beckman became a household name in the hip-hop community, photographing five to six artists a week. She took the first picture of Salt ‘n’ Pepper, and did the cover art for their first album, and took the first image of LL Cool J.
“I just suddenly merged into hip-hop, and the strange thing was that my portfolio was full of people like Boy George and I thought I’d get jobs with people in New York, but they said my work was too raw – too real looking. They wanted the air-brushed look,” Beckman said. “On the other hand, hip-hop, which is very similar to the punk movement, became the perfect segue for me, because it was a movement that came from the streets — from working-class poor people. It came from people who didn’t have money and made up their own styles.”
The exhibit also includes clothing and accessories that reflect the time periods, like Dr. Martens and Adidas shoes, and Kangol hats, like the one worn by LL Cool J in his first photo shoot with Beckman.
Two books of Beckman’s archival photographs, titled, “Made in the UK 1982” and “Made in Los Angeles 1982”, will also be available, and a limited edition zine, written and autographed by Beckman, was made specifically for the exhibit.
Beckman was born in London, England, and currently resides in New York. The daughter of author, Morris Beckman, she made a name for herself through the photographs on display at the exhibit, working for magazines, Melody Makers and The Face, and eventually contributing to other publications, like Esquire, Rolling Stone and Newsweek. Her most popular images include shots of Run-DMC, solo artist, Paul Weller, and Pete Townshend of The Who, and the cover art for The Police’s debut album, “Outlandos d’Amour”.
“Archive of Attitude” marks the third exhibit at Project Space since its doors opened in February, following an exhibit featuring the illustrations and paintings of artist, Parra, and another show by San Francisco cyclists, Mash, who photographed and filmed their cycling experiences.
While Beckman still photographs musicians, doing recent work with M.I.A. and Rye Rye, her history of covering musicians opened her up to fashion photography with Schott, the company behind the leather jackets Dee Dee Ramone once wore.
The exhibit space is a joint effort by Incase, a designer case manufacturing company, and Arkitip, a Los Angeles-based art magazine.
“Project Space is a way for Incase and Arkitip to bring together our collective creative pursuits into an experimental environment,” Way said. “It serves as a vehicle for promoting freedom of expression and making art affordable and accessible.”
Before working for Incase, Way performed similar duties at DC Shoes, where he also worked with Scott Sant-Angelo, Project Space co-curator and creative director for Arkitip. When Way transitioned to Incase, both he and Sant-Angelo pitched the idea for Project Space. According to Sant-Angelo, artists have been invited to display work in a more fluid fashion, rather than through official meetings.
“In the many years we’ve been publishing together, it’s been friends introducing friends to other artists and it happens pretty organically,” Sant-Angelo said.
The first two exhibits filled Project Space from wall to wall and Way is hopeful that the Beckman exhibit will be just as well received. Following “Archive of Attitude”, Project Space will feature another photographer, Ari Marcopoulos, known for shots of renowned artists, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. As for the future of Project Space, Sant-Angelo is not sure what it will become, but he does not want to limit it.
“It really is a project space,” Sant-Angelo said. “One month we’ll do merchandizing, then photography, then painting. It’s not a gallery or a boutique, it’s a project space meant for projects.”
Opening reception for Beckman’s exhibit will be held tonight at 7 p.m. Project Space is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. For information, visit www.arkitip.com/project-space or www.goincase.com/project-space.
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