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Roots of Punk, Hip Hop Chronicled in Photo Exhibit

By Della Hasselle | March 8, 2011 7:45pm | Updated on March 9, 2011 6:09am

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER EAST SIDE — Thirty years ago, Janette Beckman and David Corio were rival photographers who scoured the gritty streets of the Lower East Side and London to shoot pictures of punk and hip-hop scenes for different papers.

Now the artists are showing a joint exhibit of their documentary work at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, returning to the Lower East Side 'hood where New York's punk and hip-hop scenes all began.

Catch The Beat: The Roots of Punk and Hip Hop features black and white portraits of punk music gods Mod Twins, Joe Strummer from The Clash, the "Modfather" Paul Weller, Blondie, The Police and The Who's Pete Townshend.

The joint exhibit, which opens Friday at the former CBGB space at 313 Bowery, also chronicles the New York and London scenes of hip-hop through images of artists such as LL Cool J, Run DMC, Roxanne Shante, Slick Rick, Public Enemy and The Fugees.

"It was a good time, good music happening. Very sort of fresh," photographer David Cario said about shooting the bands during the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. "All the rock dinosaurs just sort of died, and there were these new voices. It was exciting, you know, good energy."

Beckman and Corio, who switched from friendly rivalry to real friendship when they both settled down in New York in the early '90s, say that they've seen a lot of music-based art, but never an exhibit that focuses specifically on those genres together.

Moreover, they were surprised to see how alike their photographs were when put side by side in a gallery. Often, the two would find that they had photographed the same concert or street corner, at different times or from different vantage points.

One of the reasons they looked so similar, Carlo said, was because the two music genres infiltrated the same cities around the same time.

"The music had a harder element to it, and the photos reflect that as well. It's gritty stuff on the street, rather than stuff in a studio," Cario said. "It was down and dirty, really, that's the punk and the hip-hop."

It wasn't always pretty, Beckman said, but as a photographer the atmosphere was something she felt simultaneously appalled by and attracted to.

"There really were junkies in the alley with baseball bats, like the Grandmaster Flash song. The whole thing just smelled of pee and popcorn, and getting off the train you stepped into a really weird atmosphere," Beckman said. "But it was exciting. I really loved it, because it was so raw and so real."

The look was also perpetuated by the punk and hip hop artists who embraced the grungy, edgy New York look with worn leather jackets, shaggy hair and makeup-free faces.

"We were working in an era before stylists, makeup, publicists," Beckman said, adding that they were shooting something very different from the look Lady Gaga goes for now. "All the stuff that interferes with photography."

Regardless of the musical differences between the genres, the exhibit was expected to draw strong reactions because of the following that the artists had, gallery owner Peter Blachley added.

"It will be a visceral emotional reaction," Blachley said. "They both had a completely fanatical audience."