Shoot me, I'm the piano player

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The Independent Culture
Rock photography was once an exciting business. Spontaneous, too. Between the Sixties and the Eighties, rock photography developed as a punchy, non-formulaic form of reportage. Rock photographers got in close and recorded events and individuals as they unfolded, just like journalists, but with the special knowledge that, with luck, they had within their grasp the means to create a great icon.

Then came the Eighties. During that decade, rock's imagery underwent a fundamental change, with rock stars not only being freakishly self-conscious about how they looked but about how their looks were framed and transmitted. Rock photography became less concerned with the catching of moments than with the cultivation and manufacture of image.

Jill Furmanovsky (photographed, right, by Chrissie Hynde) took her first picture of a rock star in 1967. It was a composition involving Paul McCartney and two of her school friends. In those days the Official Beatles Fan Club was quite happy to issue readers of Beatles Monthly with Beatles' addresses, and so the three girls door-stepped McCartney in St John's Wood. For verity's sake, Furmanovsky included someone else's elbow in the foreground.

Five years later she went on a two-week photography course as part of her first year at the Central School of Art. She learnt how to use a Pentax, to process black-and-white film, to print and to photograph models with false eyelashes. This fortnight comprised her formal training. Within half a decade she was prominent among a handful of photographers defining the golden age of rock imagery.

"I have the knack of being invisible," Furmanovsky says. "People forget I'm in the room, even in my own house. I dress in a grey way. I'm small. I can be a fly on the wall." This unobtrusiveness was a useful resource in the days before PR when musicians were content to tolerate small, grey flies on the wall. Then, the most potent imagery arose not from the studied contrivance of iconic images in studios and on location, with technical trickery and with a specific marketing effect in mind, but from the serendipitous flow of moments observed. "I just like to get what's there," says the photographer.

n 'The Moment: 25 years of rock photography' by Jill Furmanovsky is published by Paper Tiger at the end of the month, pounds 14.95

Kate Bush, 1978

She'd just had "Wuthering Heights" out, and there'd just been that wonderful Gered Mankowitz publicity-shot all over the Tube. I think I did her for Sounds. She was very cute and I was surprised at how young and protected she seemed. A babe. No sign of the tense, recessive person she's become. When I saw her next, only a few years later in 1982, she was already quite different.

I like her expression here, though: the ethereal quality, back-lit from the window and grounded by those massive boots. You've got two messages going on here that express her quite well. I think the recent photography has been completely wrong for her and for her music. I'd love to shoot her again.

Sid and Nancy, 1977

There's a Ramone in the background, so it must be backstage at the Rainbow. I didn't know I had this picture for years and then one day I was looking through the Ramones file and saw this and immediately recognised it for what it was.

I was very frightened of Sid Vicious. I used to think: thank goodness he's tethered to a guitar on the stage where I can see him and not in the audience behind me. This picture was taken with a long exposure and I'm sure he didn't know I took it. There's something desperately angry about him. He just looks furious, doesn't he? Even Dee Dee Ramone looks a bit nervous.

Stevie Wonder, 1974

I remember this moment vividly. It was in the Royal Garden Hotel and Stevie was talking on the phone in a fantastic variety of accents: Scottish, Irish, Liverpool... Someone told me afterwards he was talking to Paul McCartney.

Liam Gallagher of Oasis, 1995

This was taken at Glastonbury. I'm mad about Oasis at the moment. I've been on the road with them and I drop in and photograph them occasionally. I really, really enjoy working with them. Can't think of another band I've enjoyed working with so much.

Mark P, editor of Sniffin' Glue, 1978

It's his favourite image of himself, though his mum's not so keen. We did the picture on the roof of Dryden Chambers where all the punks had their headquarters. There was an outdoor toilet up there. Mark decided do this and I tried to be cool and take a picture of it. I'm crazy about Mark Perry. I think he's one of the greats.

Depeche Mode, 1982

They'd probably pay me a fortune not to print this one. It was for Smash Hits right at the beginning of their career. I've no idea why we had to go to the Alf Gover cricket school. Kind of sums up the era, really.