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‘Nothing beats a photographer who loves music’: Jill Furmanovsky Q&A

IQ chats with the legendary UK rock photographer, whose picture of Stormzy at Glastonbury adorns IQ Magazine's final issue of the decade

By Jon Chapple on 13 Dec 2019

Jill Furmanovsky pictured outside Abbey Road Studios in London

Jill Furmanovsky pictured outside Abbey Road Studios in London


image © Virgilio Ponce

In 1972, Jill Furmanovsky attended a two-week course on photography at the Central School of Art and Design in London. A lucky break gave her the chance to be in-house photographer at London’s Rainbow Theatre in the 1970s, shooting concerts and rehearsals by the likes of Pink Floyd, the Faces, Led Zeppelin and Miles Davis.

She went on to shoot for the music press, as well as directly for bands such as the Police, the Pretenders, Oasis and, most recently, Catfish and the Bottlemen. Nearly 40 years on from her first shoot, she is one of the most respected rock and roll photographers in the world, and is also the founder and artistic director of Rockarchive.

Following her recent interview at Festival Congress – and as issue 87 of IQ Magazine, whose cover features her photo of Stormzy at Glastonbury Festival, hits the shelves – IQ catches up with Furmanovsky to talk Rockarchive, Instagram, Bowie and more…

 


IQ: What’s the story behind the cover of IQ’s end-of-decade issue?
Jill Furmanovsky: This is Stormzy at Glastonbury 2019. I thought he put on a superb show (much better and infinitely more human than Kanye West’s a few years earlier). The Eavis family has championed new artists from the word go and taken risks with giving them the best stage in the world – the Pyramid – in front of the best audience in the world: Glastonbury!

Why did you choose it?
I gave IQ quite a choice, but for me this was the right one to celebrate the end of a decade and the beginning of a new one.

What motivated you to set up Rockarchive in 1998?
Well, we don’t have a rock and roll museum in the UK, which is beyond belief. Rockarchive was set up in 1998 as a way for the public to find out about rock and roll photography. We encourage our 60-plus photographers to dig out unseen work that forms the basis of the whole history of the rock and roll era – which is now nearly over, but will be an inspiration to coming generations.

We fund ourselves by selling prints, but barely survive. Really we should be brought into the public arena by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and given a permanent space for fans and scholars.

“We don’t have a rock and roll museum in the UK, which is beyond belief”

You’ve previously mentioned Magnum Photos as an inspiration. Why?
Their support for truth in reportage, copyrights for photographers, and promoting the art of photography. Their business model no longer works as it used to in the analogue era, but it’s good that they’ve survived.

How has concert photography changed since Rockarchive launched?
Less access, more photographers and, of course, the endless phone cameras!

With user-generated content now so excessive, what to you is stand-out concert photography today?
Phone pictures can be good but nothing beats a good professional photographer who loves music and knows how to shoot it. It’s the classic ‘the right moment’ shots that do it for me every time.

Would you ever archive a great photograph from an unknown photographer? For example, a great iPhone photo taken by a fan that you found on Instagram?
I don’t have time to look through Instagram! But I’ve nothing against the equipment and never have. I use a phone to take my personal pictures all the time. They tend to be better in bright light than concert lighting, I find.

“It’s the classic ‘the right moment’ shots that do it for me”

Do you shoot in digital, or film, or a mixture of both? Why?
I mainly shoot digital, as it’s more practical for clients who want the images quickly. However, I do still shoot a bit of film on a Leica M6, mainly B&W, and I love the economy of exposures available and the process of developing and printing images in a wet darkroom.

Looking ahead to the next decade, what’s the future for Rockarchive?
We are working with Manchester University to make our There is a Light That Never Goes Out exhibition remains in Manchester.

I also have my eye on a building I’d like as the headquarters for a Centre of Rock and Roll Culture. It’s in the borough of Camden… will someone on the council there come and speak to me soon?! If we don’t find a long-term solution to keeping Rockarchive going, we are in danger of losing our rock history archives to the US or China, which would be terrible.

For now, just buy a print – each one sold keeps us going for a bit longer, and is a good investment, too!

Who’s the greatest performer you shot live, and the greatest that you wished you’d had?
James Brown, Bob Marley, Jeff Buckley, Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde, Bob Dylan, Neil Young… I can’t chose just one!

I would love to have shot the Beatles, but I was too young – and more on David Bowie. I only photographed him live once and a bouncer ripped the film out of my camera…

 


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