Jill Furmanovsky: ‘Was There Then’ Oasis, A Photographic Journey

  April –
May 1998

Image from exhibition ‘Was There Then’ by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

Oasis, like most people, don’t enjoy having their picture taken. The only unsolicited Oasis photographs we get in magazines are grainy paparazzi jobs, wherein one or the other of the Gallagher brothers, obviously on his way to the pub or corner shop, is memorably captured giving a two-finger salute to the lensman.

In the circumstances, a fair reaction, but as anyone who’s ever been to a wedding will testify, the act of posing for the camera is usually made all the more uncomfortable by its operators incessant prattle about light meters and shutter speeds. Imagine having to put up with that for a whole afternoon!

Official programme for exhibition 'Was There Then' by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

Official programme for exhibition ‘Was There Then’ by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

Faced with a cover shoot for America’s most prestigious Rolling Stone magazine, Liam and Noel notoriously refused to tolerate such behavior. Pitifully hungover, they asked a representative from the magazine why it was all taking so long. She told them their cover shots always take eight hours – for example, when Pearl Jam did it… The brothers stood for precisely eight more minutes, kicked over a few chairs and departed.

Jill Furmanovsky took her first pictures of Oasis at a gig at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in December 1994. She’d been a highly respected freelance rock photographer throughout the 70s and 80s, but as music became more stylised and remote from its audience, she increasingly lost interest. She was however, compiling a book of work she called The Moment, and needed a current band to bookend her own potted history of rock. Her friend Daniela Soave suggested she take a look at Oasis.

From the official programme for exhibition 'Was There Then' by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

From the official programme for exhibition ‘Was There Then’ by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

“I found them very peculiar at the gig” Jill remembers now. “There was a very exciting atmosphere before it even started. They came onstage and Liam just stood there and actually sat down on the drum riser between numbers looking bored, and yet the level of excitement generated was so extraordinary. I couldn’t really get my head around it, but I was excited by the chemistry. I was very excited to shoot it, and I still remember thinking, “Well, this is a bit of a challenge because nothing’s happening here. Or rather, something’s happening which is suppressed”. I got quite inspired to show suppressed energy in the pictures”.

Jill sent the pictures to Oasis’ record company and management. Two weeks later, she was asked to go to America with them. For a while, Noel famously thought she was part of the catering staff. He barely noticed that Jill was taking his picture, and that was a very good thing.

From the official programme for exhibition 'Was There Then' by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

From the official programme for exhibition ‘Was There Then’ by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

Perhaps aware that the band’s volatile chemistry might not hold firm for too long, Noel was keen that the band’s every career move be documented. A fervent fan of The Beatles, and much more, he clearly understood the power of not so much image as imagery, in the shaping of rock dreams. A photographer who could be readily mistaken as a tea lady was just the ticket.

Jill was hired, on an unofficially official non-contract basis. She has followed the band’s rise from the top to supernova status. Swanning around backstage with U2 or Burt Bacharach, Noel will introduce her as “our photographer”. Far from hogging the band for herself, Jill encourages the band to do sessions with other photographers, to try different formulas.

From the official programme for exhibition 'Was There Then' by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

From the official programme for exhibition ‘Was There Then’ by Jill Furmanovsky 1998

From her own special vantage point, Jill has watched Oasis mushroom from a handful petulant, of highly talented musicians into the focus of the biggest cultural phenomenon that has been witnessed in years. She’s also aware of how they are misappropriated by the tabloid press and forced into an artless, empty circus of stardom.

“These are all good reasons to make an event for the exhibition” she points out, “to make an artistic contribution to the whole thing, a celebration of visual art.”