Internationally renowned music photographer Jill Furmanovsky has photographed the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, The Clash and Led Zeppelin. With London celebrating 40 years of Punk this year, Furmanovsky considers the history of the punk movement, reminiscing about the 60s when the rock industry was ‘naïve and unprofessional’
Words: Rachel Mantock
Encapsulating the British rock scene in black and white prints, solidifying history inside the liquid of a tray in a dark room, Jill Furmanovsky has defied time, amassing a collection of rock photographs that immortalise some of the biggest moments in musical history.
Born in Zimbabwe, Furmanovsky came to the UK with her parents and brother in the mid 60s where she studied graphic design at the esteemed Central Saint Martins College in the 70s. Her enthralling love affair with shooting rock n’ roll began at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park during her first year of university, where she quickly became their official photographer. By the time she left university she was ‘more or less a professional photographer’.
Furmanovsky says: ‘It was a fluke job because I had only had two weeks of training in photography at the time. However, it was of huge value to me because the work I did there became my passport to professional photography and it was a way to enter the rock n’ roll world.’
With her time at The Rainbow Theatre acting as a springboard, Furmanovsky went on to photograph many of the most critically acclaimed names in rock, including Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, The Ramones and Bob Marley. She has held various exhibitions and released books to do with her work, most recently showcasing images of punk from her Rockarchive collection at the Barbican Music Library as the ‘Chunk of Punk’ exhibition, an installation that was extended due to its feverish popularity. Furmanovsky jokes that the show lived up to its nickname, ‘Anarchy in the Library’.
Furmanovsky went on to photograph many of the most critically acclaimed names in rock, including Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, The Ramones and Bob Marley
‘I am thrilled to have had the chance to create visual anarchy by showing some of the loudest pictures ever made in a quiet space,’ she says. ‘And the curator Michael Southwell, a vinyl expert, has excelled in showing an amazing collection of punk record sleeves.’
‘This combined with my pictures and the collaborations with Saint Martins School of Art on the tapestries is well worth seeing. Anything that helps libraries continue has to be a good thing.’
Furmanovsky founded Rockarchive in 1998 at her very first gallery in Camden Passage, a collection of photographs that perfectly epitomise rock in its entirety. She relished being among all the antique offerings the area had to offer and only moved when redevelopment increased prices and her gallery became too expensive for her. She says: ‘I know we are still missed by the locals because we were unique. However, Rockarchive has managed to survive.’
Frederick’s at 106 Camden Passage still has a collection of Furmanovsky’s work in their Club Room, keeping her legacy alive symbolically. Of her own work, her shot of Chic at Hammersmith Odeon is her favourite, along with multiple images of Pink Floyd spanning from the early 70s till their last Live 8 concert in 2005, and photographs of Oasis, who came later on in her career, but who she feels produced some of her best work.
I’m still shooting; a few weeks ago I photographed The Rolling stones in Havana, Cuba. That was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen
There’s no slowing down for Furmanovsky either, she says: ‘I’m still shooting; a few weeks ago I photographed The Rolling stones in Havana, Cuba. That was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I’m currently working with Catfish and The Bottlemen. They have all the ingredients to be great too.’
George Harrison of The Beatles was her most memorable photoshoot; he was recording the music for The Time Bandits at the time and she was extraordinarily nervous about meeting him. She says: ‘I was a huge Beatles fan. I crept into the studio and stood at the back trying to be invisible, but he came straight up to me and welcomed me by making me a cup of tea! That put me at ease. All the great artists have that ability.’
For while it became a bit decadent and wasn’t representing youth culture anymore
It doesn’t get much more British than a cup of tea, and in essence that hits the nail on the head when it comes to the laid back, down to earth nature of the early British rock scene, which was also youthfully exuberant and effortlessly cool at the same time.
Furmanovsky describes London as the rock n’ roll capital, naming it the birth place of Punk because of The Sex Pistols, stating that tourists ‘adore and envy our rock music heritage’. With the city celebrating 40 years of Punk this year, Furmanovsky considers the history of the punk movement, reminiscing about the 60s when the rock industry was ‘naïve and unprofessional’.
‘After the Beatles, it took off creatively and became sophisticated very quickly,’ she says. ‘Many of the most brilliant artists consolidated their careers in the early 70s – from James Brown to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Doors.’
She feels there came a time in the mid 70s when the rock industry started ‘taking itself too seriously’, becoming a source of big money with bands and artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton and Genesis selling millions of records and ‘priding themselves on virtuoso playing skills’.
‘For while it became a bit decadent and wasn’t representing youth culture anymore,’ she says. ‘Then in 1976 punk came along like a tsunami and wiped the table clean so it could start again at a root level with young musicians playing badly, but with great energy and conviction. The punk movement only lasted a short time, but it changed everything, for the better.’
After the punk movement started to die down, Furmanovsky ‘bowed out’ for a while. She says: ‘I didn’t like all the narcissism. MTV made musicians into actors and fashion became more important than the sound.’
Oasis reappearing in 1994 restored Furmanovsky’s faith in music, stating that they were the ‘perfect blend of punk irreverence and arrogance, a touch of psychedelia and a large dose of Northern humour’. In her opinion, they heralded the digital era. With visual albums gaining in popularity during a time when everything is released digitally, Furmanovsky feels the old rockers are dying out. She says: ‘The digital era is different: it includes music, but music is only a part of it.’
See more great photographs at jillfurmanovsky.com