Tracy Chapman

I found this photo I shot of singer Tracy Chapman in 1988. The record company had been searching for the right photographer to shoot her press pictures. They had already done three photo shoots with some big name photographers but Tracy didn’t like the images and the record company knew she was going to be important. They needed someone who she would get along with and that turned out to be me. She arrived at my studio unaccompanied and we decided to take a stroll through the East Village – stopping at various spots to grab a couple of shots, talking about politics, music, racism in America – I was shooting Tri X film so there was no way to look at what we were getting but I think she felt at ease.We stopped for a coffee in the local diner before going back to the studio to shoot a few photos with her guitar one of which ended up on the 12″ sleeve ‘Talkin’ bout a Revolution’. Tracy grew up  poor in Cleveland, her lyrics on that first album touch on lazy, cops, race riots, wife beating and escaping poverty : “poor people gonna rise up and take what’s theirs” In spite of telling uncomfortable truths about the America she saw, her debut album beat out the likes of Def Leppard and Guns and Roses and rose to #1 in the charts that summer.

Keith Haring

In 1985 I was working for the New York Daily News magazine when they asked me to shoot Keith Haring for a cover  story – I was already a big fan, I knew Keith’s work from the subway and my friend Kim (Paper mag) who’s home phone was decorated by Keith. So one afternoon I went to his studio on LaGuardia place. It was  was packed with paintings, and things Keith had covered in his signature style. There were tags from friends all over the walls, art from the likes of Warhol, paint pots, a Mickey Mouse phone, his bike, a decorated boom box, stuff everywhere.  He was a lovely man, he posed for me and we chatted all afternoon. He gave me a massive ‘Free South Africa’ signed poster which I treasure, it hangs over my desk today. Recently a new friend Ken Caruso came by to interview me for his antisociety blog he is a big KH fan and owns several of his pieces – he now owns the first of a new editioned print of mine (above) .

Today Keith’s work sells for huge amounts – a group of nine collectors of artwork by Keith Haring are suing the foundation that bears his name and its directors on Friday, accusing the defendants of “wrongfully destroying” the value of their paintings by publicly labeling them as fakes and refusing to consider information that would establish their provenance. I don’t think Keith would approve.

Graffiti Artists

I first became aware of graffiti in London in 1982 – taking photos of the first hip hop tour to come to Europe for Melody Maker I met Futura and Dondi White who tagged the dumpster outside the hotel for my photo (see above), or maybe just because that was what they did. Earlier that month I had photographed American rapper J Walter Negro painting a mural of New York trains for the Christmas cover of the magazine. I loved this new art

Moving to New York later that year the art was everywhere. Commissioned by style magazine ‘The Face’ to photograph the Rock Steady Crew I went to Harlem to shoot them break dancing on a piece of cardboard in front of a huge mural of a tiger’s head. I photographed BDP aka Boogie Down Productions in the Bronx in front of a graffiti covered wall, Salt & Pepa on the Lower East Side, Bambaata and members of the Zulu Nation in the Bronx,Eric B and Rakim in NYC with graffiti behind them, Stetsasonic in Brooklyn posing with the Stetson sign covered in tags and stickers.I wondered who these unknown artists were that painted the backdrops for so many of my photographs.

In 1983 I was in Los Angeles documenting the East LA gang El Hoyo Maravilla – their turf was centered around the Hoyo Maravilla park and clearly marked by the local artists. East LA was covered in paintings too I shot punk band The Undertakers (below) at their rehearsal space in the barrio.

And today I am still thanking amazing artists like Cope2 for giving so much ‘Flava; to my photographs, and providing a time line for these images in the future.

GoHardBoyz The Bronx 2013


East LA 2013

30 years ago I spent a long hot summer documenting an East LA gang called the Hoyo Maravilla – hanging in the dusty park with the gang members and their friends I remember the constant sound of LAPD surveillance helicopters overhead. This past summer I contacted the three girls I had photographed  leaning against a car at the park (below) and asked if I could meet them to see where their lives had taken them. We met in Boyle Heights at their sister Arlene’s house and they took me to the Home Girl Café for lunch.

The three women had amazing tales to tell of their lives.They had lost husbands to gang violence, had sons serving time or in a gang . But these three amazing women had survived and thrived, they were mothers, career women and still the best of friends. They told me that most of the Hoyo Maravilla guys that I had photographed back in the day were either in jail or had passed away.We sat in the cafe and told stories. They tried to date the exact year I had met them: “Was the car we  were standing in front of gold or blue?” they asked, because one of their friends had been shot in the car and it had to be repainted after that because of the blood stains – this was how we would date the photos.

Now the Hoyo Maravilla park has been renovated – kids play on the grass – families picnic in the sun. Norma, Victoria and Vivian (formerly ‘The Riviera Bad Girls’) work for Human Resources, the Home Girl Café (a non profit organization to help gang members to reform their lives) and the District Attorney. Much respect to you ladies.

My book of photographs of El Hoyo Maravilla was published by Dashwood. http://janettebeckman.com/#num=content-661&id=album-15

Afrika Bambaataa 2013

Trying to reach Afrika Bambaataa for a cover story for Jocks & Nerds in November was a difficult task. Everyone that knows him loves him but he can be a little elusive. Finally after a few weeks, thanks to my old friend Ruza Blue (his manager), we arranged to meet at 5pm at the National Black Theater on 126th St in Harlem where he was going to meet members of the Zulu Nation. Sitting outside the theatre at 5pm with writer Sara Rosen I was nervous that somehow he would not turn up. I wanted to shoot his portrait in daylight and had scouted an appropriate spot. The sun was starting to go down when we spotted him rolling down the street with a couple of friends. People were coming up to him to hug him and talk. He greets everyone with love. I introduced myself and gave him some photos that I had taken when I first met him back in 1982. Just as the sun was starting to sink below the Harlem skyline Bam posed for me for maybe 10 minutes, he politely refused to take off his wrap around sunglasses –  if that is the way he wants to look that is how I will photograph him, documentary style. He made the cover with a great interview by my girl Ms Rosen.

Pictured above : Bambaataa Harlem 2013 – below: Bambaataa London 1982 with members of the Rock Steady Crew

John Cougar Mellancamp

Photographed John Cougar Mellencamp with Meg Ryan strolling in Soho for Frye boots.John is a cool dude and found out when I gave Meg my card, she is a Slick Rick fan. Impressive.

Ben Sherman

A shoot for Ben Sherman at The Box in NYC. The three British bands Duologue, Morning Parade and Prides were dressed by Ben Sherman. The event, part of CMJ, was presented by  Her Majesty’s Government no less

Happy Halloween

Couple in the East Village

Ghost on the West Side

NYPD after the parade

The Go Hard Boyz

In 1999 Shea Evans and Don Villnueva, both Harlem dirt bike ‘warriors’, decided to form the movement they called the Go Hard Boyz (GHB). The GHB quickly grew and now has members all over the world – dirt bike and ATV riders and extreme sports specialists  - living a lifestyle in urban communities and rural suburbs Their unique riding style and attitude has spread far and wide The logo a mask with a backward baseball cap represents ‘their mantra “Do It With Style’ which is how they ride. Dirt bike riding is illegal in NYC and riders often get harassed and chased by the NYPD,

One summer afternoon I met Shea in Harlem – he introduced me to some of the GHB posse – they seemed like a family (above GHB on the stoop in Harlem).  Shea took me me to the Bronx to take photos of the GHB, we rode in the flat bed  of his cousin’s F150 pick up truck on the Bruckner expressway shooting the Go Hard Boyz doing wheelies, showing their skills through Harlem and the Bronx on a hot summers day. Shea tells me “It’s Bigger than Bikes”.

GHB riding on the Bruckner Expressway, the Bronx

Bike Life

Riding in the Bronx

Youngster riding in the Bronx in front of Cope mural

GHB posse on 158th Street Harlem

Louis Mendes Street Photographer

I  recently spent the morning with iconic street photographer Louis Mendes and his biographer Ray We met for an early breakfast in Harlem at his favorite tiny soul food diner.We walked around the neighborhood chatting and taking photos Then we went to his home in a converted old hotel by Times Square His room is stacked with photo books, old cameras, boxes of flash bulbs, photos cover the walls.

He used to photograph at nightclubs and has probably shot every one, the famous and not so famous  He takes just one Polaroid which he sells to the subject He never thought to take one for himself

“”I just photograph people, I stand outside and wait for them to come to me. I give them a set price for a Polaroid photo if I need  to buy a coffee or an extraordinary price if I need to fly away”

The idea that he is a documentary photographer seems strange to him He was just taking photographs of people for ‘coffee money’

Now 80 years old Louis can be found outside  B&H Photo, Adorama or at an event at BAM, always impeccably dressed, still taking polaroid portraits – have him take your photo.