PHOTOGRAPHING THE INVISIBLE
For 50 years, the name Jill Furmanovsky has become synonymous with some of the greatest rock n roll photography ever produced and to celebrate her five decades of capturing the world’s biggest music stars on camera, a new exhibition showcasing her incredible photographic journey has been unveiled.
From the Beatles to Oasis; Pink Floyd to Bob Dylan and The Clash to Amy Winehouse, there are few photographers who have managed to capture the inside world of rock n roll like Jill Furmanovsky.
It is an incredible and fascinating career that has now been brought to life with a stunning exhibition that looks back on 50 years of her ground-breaking work.
It was a journey that first started in 1967 when as a 13-year-old girl, nervously clutching her Kodak instamatic camera, Jill snapped Paul McCartney outside Abbey Road Studios and in the half century since that spontaneous shot she has spent her life married to the mosh pit and built up a catalogue of images featuring the cream of music royalty.
It is a tale of incredible talent, determination and persistence that saw her not only survive in the cut-throat world of rock n roll but become a trusted and respected name to all she photographed.
A two-week course in photography while studying textile design at Central School of Art and Design would prove to be the turning point in her life but the rest incredibly, she says, was self-taught.
Her big break came in the early 70s when she went to see YES play at the Rainbow Theatre in London and with a camera she’d borrowed from college, she ended up blagging her way to the front of the stage.
It was the sort of determination and confidence that would be the hallmark of her career and which would land Jill her first job.
Looking back she said: “I don’t know what came over me but half way through the show I got up, went downstairs and made my way towards the stage without being stopped.
“At the end of the night I started chatting to a couple of the photographers who worked in-house at the Rainbow and after convincing them I was a professional they asked if I was interested in doing some regular work at the venue. It was my first job and the following week, I was taking pictures of Pink Floyd!”
It was the start of a career that would elevate her to the very top of her game, give her access to some of the biggest bands in the world, see her win numerous awards and become the leading lady of rock photography.
Over the following years she went on to work with the likes of Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Blondie, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Madness, Rod Stewart, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Stevie Wonder, The Sex Pistols and Bob Dylan, and Jill says it is that vast back catalogue of incredible pictures that prompted her to launch her exhibition Photographing The Invisible, which is on display in Manchester before embarking on an international tour.
Run in association with Rock Archive – the photographic collective she started 25 years ago, – Jill says the exhibition is a chance for people to look back on a chapter of music history that is coming to an end.
Talking about the project, Jill said: “For years all these pictures have been sitting in negative files and I thought they should be brought to life as they capture such an important era in music
“When I started Rock Archive 25 years ago, I thought, ‘There’ll be a museum and then we can put it all in there’. But there isn’t one, and so this exhibition is my attempt to say, ‘Look at this stuff. Keep it, treasure it’. Because it’s like the Impressionist era, it’s an era that is coming to an end, if it hasn’t already.”
Furmanovsky understandably finds it hard to single out a highlight, but acknowledges that her work with Britpop pioneers Oasis is some of her best.
Talking about her three years working with the band she said: “It was a combination of subject matter, excellent timing and experience because by the time Oasis came along, I was ready for them.
“I started working with them when I was 40, and they were in their 20s, so I was old enough to be their mum but I was very experienced as a photographer, and they were just starting out, so that was a good combination.
“They were surrounded by strong females and worked well with them so it was a good fit and I also think that Noel in particular had a sense that whatever was happening to them should be recorded. It’s just an instinct that he had and so he made sure that I had all the access I needed.
“They permitted closeness, especially Liam, who, strangely enough, doesn’t have much of an ego. He couldn’t care less what he looked like, which is very attractive to women. You don’t want guys preening all the time and Liam was just beautiful and nice to photograph because he just didn’t care.”
The exhibition, which is guest curated by Noel Gallagher and photo-historian Gail Buckland, is a truly fascinating look into Jill’s incredible back catalogue and features over 100 images.
Highlights include ‘meditations from the pit’ that capture the sheer joy and exuberance of live photography, intimate on-the-road shoots carried out for the music press of the 70s, 80s and 90s and fashion-inspired portraiture from The Face era.
Jill says of her career: “I cherish working with musicians, but it was photography that first captured my heart and I guess that has helped me because I just see everyone that I’ve photographed as a person. “They’re just ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and I understand that about them.
“I think my approach has always been “Yes, you’re very talented and all that, but to me, you’re just a person.”
Photographing the Invisible runs until June 24th at Manchester City Library in association with
Visit rockarchive.com to see Jill Furmanovsky’s full range of limited edition prints.