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15th June 2023

Jill Furmanovsky: “Be a great photographer, the music can follow”

The Mancunion interviews photographical icon Jill Furmanovsky, who has worked with legends past and present. We discuss all things music, art and what it means to be a woman in the industry.
Jill Furmanovsky: “Be a great photographer, the music can follow”
Photo: Alex Andrews @ Pexels

Jill Furmanovsky has had a career that is hard to match, photographing more legendary musicians than we have time to list here (which includes Oasis, Pink Floyd and Charlie Watts). Having visited her exhibition, I was left, as all the best exhibitions leave you, with more questions than before.

When I spoke to Furmanovsky , I asked her about her creative process, something that is unique to a photographer. The photographer explained, “For me, the best way to start photographing new artists is to photograph them as they are at that moment, documentary style. If it’s a band, I’ll also try an initial band shot to see how they look as a unit.”

Focusing on bands, Furmanovsky continues, “Bands, as opposed to solo artists, have a kind of chemistry – sometimes it’s strong, sometimes you sense it is temporary.” A band’s chemistry is something someone like Furmanovsky is uniquely attuned to, having photographed so many bands over the years. When I asked her whether she had a favourite musician that she had worked with, she stated, “No – the dedicated ones are all magical beings.” However, Furmanovsky reflects that her picture of Charlie Watts might be her favourite.

Björk. Photo: Jill Furmanovsky Press

Her career has taken many forms over its 50-year span, from photographing artists at the Rainbow Theatre to working with magazines such as The Face in the 1980s. The best days she says were when she was “working for the music press in the 70s, 80s and 90s.” She added that “being on the road with a band is the most exciting part of the job or it was in my time.”

Furmanovsky began her career though photographing one of the most famous bands in existence: Pink Floyd. When I asked what drew her to them at 17, she said that she ‘loved their music’ and joked that she had a “crush on David Gilmour, it’s a great combination when you’re 17 years old.”

There was one thing this reporter had to ask: What was it like photographing Kate Bush and Björk? Bjork was “so professional” she said, “also inventive and creative and spontaneous. She brought a wonderful selection of clothes and wore them to great effect. She was very giving. When I revisited the images for the exhibition, I noticed that she had beautiful smooth skin – no retouching needed at all.”

The pictures Furmanovsky took of Björk perfectly capture that feeling of creativity and spontaneity, as Björk stares straight into the camera. With Kate Bush, Furmanovsky says “her music still means so much to me,” a testament to Bush’s creativity. Furmanovsky says that Bush’s demeanour reminds her of a ‘prima ballerina’ and shares that she was able to attend two of her comeback concerts in 2014. According to the photographer/ Bush fan, they were “brilliant”. It’s something this reporter is sure many of us can be envious of; Bush’s concert tour sold out in moments in 2014.

Kate Bush. Photo: Jill Furmanovsky Press

Photography is an industry that at one time was hostile towards women is inching towards championing women’s art and Furmanovsky is a trailblazer in her own right. Furmanovsky acknowledges that “Women’s rights can never be taken for granted. There’s always more to be done but women have always been good at photography – from Julia Margaret Cameron to Vivian Maier, Annie Lebowitz to Pennie Smith, through to some superb ones today – Sarah Lee of The Guardian is one.”

Photography isn’t the only industry that has changed in recent decades though. The music industry has been rocked by change and scandals, as it exists now in its post-Me Too state.

“The talent is still out there,” says Furmanovsky “but the chance to have a viable career is more difficult. Popular music has always been in the hands of the youth. The current generation is reshaping itself; finding its place in a very fractured and confusing world. But I believe in talent and those who combine it with a calling. That kind of musician will always find an audience.”

Furmanovsky is still working in the music industry today, hoping to photograph both contemporary talents like Billie Eilish and Aldous Harding, as well as legendary musicians such as Bettye LaVette and Bob Dylan.

Depeche Mode. Photo: Jill Furmanovsky Press

In the face of all of this change, I asked what Furmanovsky would tell a young person who wants to get into music photography? “Just learn how to be a great photographer [and] the music can follow.”

Don’t miss Jill Furmanovsky ‘s exhibition Photographing the Invisible at Manchester Central Library and The Mancunion’s review of the fascinating exhibition. Furmanovsky’s photography can be found and bought at her website Rock Archive, so be sure to have a look there.

Owen Scott

Owen Scott

Head Arts Editor at the Mancunion and culture journalist

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