Jill Furmanovsky

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Features - Features from Freeq



Jill has been ‘rocking’ the photography world for four decades and in our opinion there aren’t many better out there. With artists ranging from Michael Jackson and Bob Marley to Oasis and Led Zeppelin all captured over the years, her work is both highly regarded and influential for many aspiring and professional photographers. We were honoured to have the opportunity to grab a few moments of Jill’s busy schedule to get an insight into the life of a professional music photographer and delighted to feature two of her images on the front and back covers of our very first photo special.

How did you start your photography career?
With a two week block course on the basics of photography in 1972. It was a module course for all students at Central School of Art & Design, intended purely as an aid to help students photograph their work. However, during the course I used the college camera to shoot pictures at a gig by the group ‘Yes’ and by some quirk of fate ended up becoming the official photographer at the venue they played that night – The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London.

What was your first ever camera and do you still have it now?
Kodak Instamatic, then a Pentax S1a borrowed (but never returned) from my dad who was an enthusiastic amateur photographer. I still have a Pentax S1a but bought it for sentimental reasons about 10 years ago. The original one was used till it fell apart.

What camera do you never leave home without?
Currently my ‘sketchbook’ camera is an Olympus Pen. Excellent piece of equipment for street photography and in the right conditions good enough for professional reproduction.

You’ve seen some drastic technological advances during your time as a professional photographer. How have you changed your approach to photography in that time, if at all?
Changes are disturbing each time. When I changed from Pentax to Nikon there was a learning curve, when I changed from a Nikon FE to an F4 that was too, so changing from a Nikon F5 to a Canon EOS Mk 11, which was my first professional digital camera, was also a shock. The reason the changes are unsettling for me and possibly other professionals is that you need to be so familiar with the equipment that you don’t have to think about it, only what you see through the lens.
The other main change was being able to see what you were getting more or less instantly. At first that was incredibly strange because the urge to check the back of the camera means you lose as many moments as you shoot. On the other hand at least you know when the picture is in the bag.  I still get a huge kick from shooting on film and do so for my own pleasure, but I have come to love the creative possibilities offered by digital photography and more particularly, digital printing.

With photography so much more accessible nowadays, what do you think sets a great photographer apart from any other photographer?
You still need to be able to see things that others don’t to be a great photographer. It is always in the vision.

Your portrait of Charlie Watts won you the Jane Bowen Observer Portrait Award, do you have a favourite image you’ve taken?
That Charlie image is certainly one of my favourites but there are lots. Another is one of Liam Gallagher and Bono taken in San Francisco in 1996. And there is a live shot of Pink Floyd during The Wall show from 1980 that has stood the test of time. Like all passionate artists I hope that the next shot I take might be my best.

Talk us through the cover shots for this issue of Freeq:
Johnny Borrell of Razorlight was the first person to tell me about Florence Welsh. He was very impressed with her way back in 2007 and they worked on a few demos together. Johnny invited me to attend a rehearsal at John Henry’s where the two with a small backing band were working on an arrangement for one of her songs. Florence was a charismatic presence even then. She had that huge voice and punctuated the song by beating the shit out of a snare drum. I love this image of her in full flow, and it is entirely just that she has gone on to become one of the best new rising stars.
I worked intensively with Chrissie Hynde in the late 80s. This was the hey-day of MTV; a self-conscious, foppish period in music that neither of us was entirely comfortable with. We both had our roots in the punk era. Chrissie worked and modeled for Vivian Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Sex’ shop in the Kings Road in the mid-70’s. She enjoyed dressing up as long as the look was ‘Fuck You!’ and not ‘Fuck Me...’ I would say that in a nutshell is the single best piece of advice to give to a young female rock artist. No matter which hat Chrissie wore in this shoot - and there were 12 different ones - she was always indisputably, defiantly, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you could give to aspiring music photographers?
Love your art – the art of photography – slightly more than you love the idea of being part of the rock scene.

Copyright is an issue that has been important to you recently – can you tell us your views on the subject?
The gradual dissolution of photographer’s copyright has come about at the same time as the musicians ‘ recorded art has become a cheap commodity in the digital age. I want to encourage young photographers not to give up their copyright. This will be increasingly difficult for them as giant publishing groups and many picture agencies try to insist that they own the copyright of images shot by hired photographers. All I can say is try to keep that to a minimum by shooting your own material whenever possible and working hand in hand with the musicians themselves whenever possible. I wouldn’t have an archive now if I hadn’t kept the copyright of my material when I was young and the same is true for Pennie Smith, Anton Corbijon, Kevin Cummings, Ray Stevenson, Mick Rock, Keven Westenburg and other greats in the field.

Of all the very famous people you’ve shot, who were you most excited about?
Can’t pick just one: Nelson Mandela and Bob Dylan are two, but I was also thrilled to meet and photograph the author of ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking’, Alan Carr, and Dr. Michel Odent the childbirth guru – both highly influential people in my life for the good.

Who’s your favourite photographer?
There are so many....outside of rock - Cartier Bresson, Don McCullin, Dianne Arbus, Irving Penn, Ansel Adams, and in the rock world - Pennie Smith, Anton Corbijn, Ray Stevenson, Fernando Aceves to name just a few. I am a fan of rock photography as a well as a practitioner which is why I started rockarchive.com.

How hard is it to make a successful living from photography these days?
If you choose an area where there is less competition and perceived glamour than say music and fashion, then it is possible. One lady I know makes a good living photographing pregnant women, mostly in black and white, and I know a couple of wedding photographers that are always busy.

What’s Rockarchive and what inspired you to create it?
Rockarchive (www.rockarchive.com) is a collective of more than 60 rock photographers, each of whom contribute images from their archives, to the website and for publication. These are all available to buy as limited edition fine art prints in editions that vary between 10-300. At the top end there are classic pictures, many still made traditionally in the darkroom, which sell for thousands of pounds. At the other end there are ‘contemporary’ images packaged in 12” album-type sleeves that can be bought for £50. We use the income generated to keep the art of rock photography going. Each year we help sponsor a rock photography competition called PopView with EU2500 prize money, and we also have a ‘Rockarchive Print Bank’ that raises money for charity. It has been a struggle to survive but we are proud to have been around for more than 10 years now.