Famed Photographer Teams With Local Kids For Arts Fest's 'Faces Of Pittsburgh'

Jun 6, 2018

Street photography is its own artistic discipline -- one in which 13 local high school kids got a crash course recently with a world-renowned shooter. Some of the results are on display this week at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Janette Beckman is a British-born photographer who first made her name in the 1970s and early ’80s, shooting the early punk-rock and hip-hop scenes in London and New York City. (She’d go on to shoot album covers for The Police, among other distinctions.) She’s also an aficionado of informal photo portraiture of everyday people; last year, she did a project called Faces of Coney, with students taking photo portraits of people in Coney Island.

This year, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which runs the annual arts festival, hired the New York-based Beckman to do something similar for one of the festival’s public art projects. Beckman came to town in May and met over two days with two small groups of kids ages 14 to 16 recruited through Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. According to the Trust, the kids are all from underserved communities.

Many had shooting experience, Beckman said, but most didn’t know what street photography is. Beckman provided a tutorial.

“I try to tell them to get in close to your subjects, and I have some rules, which are mostly, you know, when you approach someone on the street treat them with respect,” she said. “For instance, if I was going to take a picture of you, I'd approach you and I'd say, ‘I love your shirt, beautiful color, can I take a picture of it?’”

The students, working with Beckman as well as teaching artists Rici Brockinson and Germaine Watkin, were dispatched to neighborhoods including the North Side, Downtown and Homewood. Beckman said the students took right to it: Most of the people they approached agreed to be photographed, and the students came back with hundreds of images.

Beckman selected 33 for inclusion on a big poster hanging in the first-floor window of Three Gateway Center, right by Point State Park and the rest of the festival.

The images, all printed in black-and-white, depict individuals, couples and groups in close-up.

Beckman complimented a couple of the photos in front of the display last week.

“I love this picture of this couple. They look so peaceful and happy, this young couple that we found on the street, I think Downtown,” she said. “This older couple right here. This the lady, as I said, she's 90 years old, really still proud and strong.”

The images will remain up throughout the festival, which ends Sunday. Other images from the exhibit have been wheatpasted outside of the Afro American Music Institute, at 7131 Hamilton Ave., in Homewood.

Participating students included Aeva Miglioretti, Alexis Expondulan, Ana Reyes, Bobbie Jo Thornton, Ivan Flores, Jerea Horton, Maggie Lincoln, Mia Belgie, Sarah Schoemer, Shanna Bates, Solana Bradburry, Tony Murphy and Tyler Temple.

Beckman got her start shooting for British music magazines The Face and Melody Maker. In 1983, she moved stateside and captured images of hip-hop pioneers like Run DMC, Slick Rick, Salt ’n’ Pepa, Grand Master Flash and LL Cool J. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and she’s shot fashion for Levi's and Dior.

Her books include Rap, Portraits & Lyrics of a Generation of Black Rockers, ‘Made In The UK: The Music of Attitude 1977-1983, The Breaks, Stylin’ and Profilin’ 1982- 1990, and El Hoyo Maravilla.