Kevin Cummins - Photographer - Spring 2006

07 Feb 2006

what were your first impressions of joy division...? 'i hated them. they were a load of rubbish. i couldn't really handle them. and a lot of people in manchester didn't really like them. they had a real attitude, because two of them weren't from manchester. they were from macclesfield...'

Ex-'NME' photographer Kevin Cummins has photographed everyone from Mancunian legends Oasis, to the Smiths, and New Order in his 25-year career. rockfeedback snagged a chance to catch up with him in a pub in Mayfair - a far cry from his Salford roots - before his first major Joy Division exhibition entitled 'Arca' at the Paul Stolper Gallery, London.

Joy Division

And we got to ask him that million-dollar question - Is Tony Wilson really a wanker?

So when did you first meet Joy Division?

KC: 'I met them without knowing it was them, really. Paul Morley and I used to go and see loads of bands together. I would be taking pictures and Paul would be writing reviews for the 'NME'. The first time I saw Joy Division was at their first gig at the Electric Circus. I think they may have supported the Buzzcocks. All the Manchester bands used to play there.'

What were your first impressions of Joy Division?

KC: 'I hated them. They were a load of rubbish. I couldn't really handle them. And a lot of people in Manchester didn't really like them. They had a real attitude, because two of them weren't from Manchester. They were from Macclesfield. They didn't really have their own following. It took about a year or so before people accepted them, because they were very insular. The first photographs I've got of Joy Division, they were wearing PVC trousers...'

Was that intentional? That is not really punk.

KC: 'Well, I think people associate punk with Vivienne Westwood and the King's Road. But in Manchester punk was about wearing old school shirts, a tie, and writing in biro on your shirt.'

Why are you having your exhibition now? Is there a tie-in?

KC: 'I don't think (this exhibition) has to tie-into anything, particularly. I could say it's because Ian was going to be 50 this year. There is no other reason than I have never done a Joy Division exhibition and I obviously have been asked to do them over the years. I also just wanted to do something with Paul Stolper. He has worked with the likes of Jeremy Deller...'

Peter Saville, Peter Blake...

KC: 'I think, initially, I met Paul through Jeremy Deller. I had been commissioned with Jeremy to do a show which has happened yet. I thought rather than doing a general (photographic exhibition) I would be more specific and do the Joy Division pictures.'

Why did you just focus on the Joy Division pictures? Was it for the fans?

KC: 'Partly because it is what I'm known for (Joy Division). Also because I feel, without being disrespectful to photographic galleries, I wanted to go into it at a slightly higher level than a photographic gallery. Paul (Stolper) works with a lot of artists. A lot of people reference Joy Division stuff now. So why not put it in a real gallery?'

What is the most defining Joy Division photo you feel you have taken?

KC: 'I don't really have one. I have lived with those pictures for so long. And I like certain pictures for different reasons. There are 11 in the show and it is a very tight portfolio.'

How did you make the selection process? Was it difficult?

KC: 'We spent over a year choosing them and having ideas of what will work with each other to create a balance. Most of the pictures I have taken of them (Joy Division) are either on stage, in sessions, in their rehearsal rooms or of them walking around Manchester.'

Joy Division

Did Joy Division have particular image or idea of where they wanted to be photographed?

KC: 'No, not really. You have to remember they were in their early 20s back then. Although they had an idea of how they wanted to look, there was nowhere near the same amount of media awareness that there is now. Bands now are marketed before they are a band. Everybody thinks of Joy Division as dark, gloomy, black and white band, but the only reason why they were always shot in black and white as there was no outlook for colour at the time. No one was really impressed with colour, so why shoot in colour?'

SM: How do you feel about your Joy Division photographs becoming iconic?

KC: 'The pictures have become iconic because Ian died I think. Also, there are maybe two or three generations now who never saw Joy Division, but loved their music. And they only know Joy Division through my pictures. It is very interesting I did a talk at a gallery in Manchester about three or four years ago about music and media, and Tony Wilson was hosting it.'

Is Tony Wilson really a wanker?

KC: 'I am not going to tell you anything! But Tony didn't want to release any photographs of Ian smiling because it didn't suit the image he wanted to portray of the band.'

What is your favourite Joy Division song?

KC: 'I have always liked 'Transmission'...'Perfect Kiss' by New Order...'

Do you like bands like Interpol and the Editors?

KC: 'Interpol are very New Order. The Editors have a Manchester sound; they remind me of a band called Fireplace, which no-one has ever heard of. The Editors sound like Fireplace, they don't sound like Joy Division.'

Do you like any bands now?

KC: 'The Arctic Monkeys. Their debut album is a great Northern album.'

Who would you most like to photograph?

KC: 'I would like to photograph Pete Doherty because he looks good. I always loved photographing John Lydon and Morrissey. They have a strong sense of self.'

Do you think your Joy Division exhibition is going to be an upbeat affair?

KC: 'I think so. I think the photos are lovely. The nicest thing Natalie (Curtis) said to me is: 'I knew my dad through your pictures.'

Kevin Cummins: 'Arca' at the Paul Stolper Gallery, London - February 9th to March 11th 2006 -

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