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WORDFEST WITH KEVIN CUMMINS: A TALK AT URMSTON LIBRARY 01/07/11 – BY MEL

On the evening of 1st July we find ourselves in Urmston library, not browsing books, but waiting to hear renown photographer Kevin Cummins deliver a talk on his photography career and of course as a opportunity to plug his two relatively new books – ‘Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain’ and the recently published Joy Division’.

Rewind to 1977 Manchester Apollo, at many a heaving, and raucous punk gig, we would always see Kevin trying to duck and dive the voracious crowd. At that time Kevin was relatively new to photography, just starting out in his career, trying to make a buck by selling his photographs to local newsagents ‘Paperchase’, which we scoured regularly for Kevin’s photos of our favourite bands of the day. [In fact still have some in my collection]. Kevin, it has been said by Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) “was sometimes more important than the bands”.

Kevin photographed most if not all of the very early punk gigs in Manchester, he was the main man on the scene, and his photos have become iconic of that era. In particularly his portrait shots of the band Joy Division - who could forget the images of the band in the snow, on the bridge – or Ian Curtis simply posed with a cigarette. Over the years he has become of one the most respected photographers in the business, and he worked for the NME as chief photographer for 30 years, now he holds exhibitions of his own all around the world.

So, fast forward some 30 + years, not having seen Kevin since around the early 80’s and we are sat upstairs, waiting for the show to commence. Kevin has travelled down on the train from London, making notes for today, although he is no stranger to Manchester, as he visits regularly to see his favourite football team Manchester City, of whom he recently produced their photographs, he was even there on the team bus when they won the trophy. [I don’t claim to be a football fan so I’ll say no more on this topic].

Word Fest kicks off with a film about Kevin and his photography career; this features interviews with notable musicians who have been at the end of Kevin’s camera, and journalists Paul Morley and Stuart Maconie. During the film we see the very private and seemingly shy Natalie Curtis [who is also a photographer], talking to Kevin on the actual bridge where the photos were taken of her Father Ian. Through Kevin’s many photos of the band she tells us she has gained an understanding of her Fathers short life.  See the film yourself below.

After the film Kevin takes the lead and tells us the stories behind some of his photographs, he selects a variety of people, from David Bowie, Courtney Love, Shaun Ryder, Stone Roses, Manchester City players, Richey Edwards, Morrissey and various others. Apparently Courtney is brilliant and sends him weird and wonderful e-mails at all hours of the night.
 
David Bowie had him so nervous the first time he shot him [as he was a big fan] that he was scared he wouldn’t be able to get any good shots, second time around he was over it. The Stone Roses photoshoot where they splattered themselves with paint was a blast and he still has Reni's hat!!
 

He talks about his 5 minute photoshoot, with Javier Bardem, which came with a countdown warning, in which he had to shoot really quickly in the corridor of a hotel. Kevin talks about shooting a couple of famous actors, such as Ralph Fiennes. Kevin was warned by his PR that he wasn’t allowed to shoot them outside due to possible unwanted public attention, and then to his surprise as soon as he met them they asked if they could do photos outdoors. Shaun Ryder broke the hotel sign on top of the hotel where they were shooting, as he posed for photographs - on the photo it says Hot instead of hotel, and another has Shaun posing through the letter E [though that was apt]. Another Shaun story was him disappearing to have his hair cut in a barber shop halfway through the shoot in Havana Cuba - during Black Grape days. You see Kevin not only photographed the bands, he also went on tour with them and partied till dawn.He became a trusted member of their team.

Of course he talks about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, which he has ultimately become famous for shooting and I guess the reason many people are in this packed room today to hear about. Ritchey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers, tortured guitarist, who disappeared, presumed dead] was brought up in discussions, about his self harming photo, where he has just slashed his chest with small swords given to him by a fan. Kevin comments that Ritchy said “it seemed the thing to do”. I guess some would question whether it is ethical but the way Kevin views it as documenting a moment in time. One audience member quite rightly points out that it looks like a musical notes on his chest.

Soon it was question time, and normally this is where you can hear a pin drop, as no one wants to be the first to ask anything. On this occasion it was all stations go, as we had one after another asking relevant and interesting questions, from the lens he uses, to “the most awful band”, to a selected photograph. Kevin tells the audience he likes to get up really close to people when he is taking a photograph and spends a certain amount of time getting to know them and what they are about. How hard it is to get triple A passes to the backstage area as a photographer and how there is just no money in photography any more, unless you get a break, and then you are very lucky.

There was no shortage of questions forthcoming and I could have listened to him talk all night. I really wanted to ask him had he ever thought of writing his own personal memoirs but the timing never seemed right. Maybe I can ask him now?

Q: Kevin, have you ever considered writing your memoirs in the future?

A: I was asked to by Faber and Faber but I felt the photos in Manchester: ‘Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain’ told a more interesting tale.

All that was left now was to browse over the books at the back of the room, then wait to do a little 5 minute photoshoot of my own with Kevin, as I had requested on facebook earlier in the week. True to form he obliged, asking politely “where do you want me” – feeling somewhat intimidated [much like he did with Bowie] I said rather meekly “well you’re the photographer”! So with that he chose a spotlight and stood directly underneath, perfect – that’s the money shot Kevin!

Kevin has a new book coming out and exhibitions: check them out soon.

Sex Pistols final UK concert - an exhibition and book is to be released from when the band played at Christmas in 1977 featuring Sid.

Joy Division Exhibition @ Proud Gallery, Camden, London 6th October - 6th December 2011

http://www.kevincummins.co.uk

All photos used by kind permission from Kevin Cummins website
Photos of Kevin by Mel