Monday, 3 December 2007

Kevin Cummins - Photographer, Writer

NB: The links on the artists' names lead to examples of their finest work so if you're reading this in a place where you can't have the speakers on, bookmark it for later.

Juvenes, The Joy Division photographs of Kevin Cummins, is published today, December 3rd 2007, by To Hell With Publishing.

Above: Kevin Cummins, Roxy Fan.


Above: Photographer Kevin Cummins



Something extraordinary happened to me a week ago. I was tying up the loose ends of the series of articles about the Sheffield International Documentary Festival, and I stumbled across this quote about photographer Kevin Cummins:

Kevin is responsible for defining the image of Joy Division and helped bring them to a wider audience - Fiona Sturges. The Independent.

I realised I had neglected to talk about the man who took the seminal Joy Division in the Snow shots shown in Grant Gee's documentary Joy Division, about which you can read more in Sheffield International Doc/Fest - Passion Part III - Joy Division.

Above: The Joy Division in the Snow shoot.


I was aware of Kevin's name and legacy as a renowned music photographer, after all I was freelancing for the music press in the late 70s, and Kevin was the main photographer at the New Musical Express for ten years, but I had never seen his full body of work.


Above, Kevin, centre, photographing his mates The Ramones at The Electric Circus, 1977. Pic by Adrian Boot.

Having a look through the albums on his MySpace and Facebook, I was absolutely enthralled at some of his portraits. Portraiture is my main area of interest photographically, including portraits of musicians, and I understand the degree of trust that has to exist between the photographer and subject to capture essences of their personality that sometimes the subject would prefer not to be seen.

And that's why self-portrait work is so fascinating, because by subjecting oneself to the scalpel of the lens one discovers facets of oneself one would prefer to remain hidden, so as the subject of a self-portrait, no matter how much you intend to bullshit the camera, you will not succeed.

Which is one reason why Kevin Cummins' portraits have such resonance, because he focuses on the most outstanding element of his subject's character and then builds the portrait around that. Just like the lens does. So he and the lens are in harmony.

Anyway, have a look at these stunning portraits:

Above: Mark E Smith, singer/songwriter of The Fall, one of John Peel's favourite bands (and my partner Brian's too.)




Above: Albert Finney, one of Britain's greatest ever actors.

Kevin: "Finney came up to Salford for me. The photo was taken in the house in which he was born. His aunt still lives there."


Marc Bolan, Singer/songwriter, musician.




Above, playwright, theatre director and actor Steven Berkoff.


Jeff Buckley, Singer/songwriter, musician.




Above: John Lydon, Singer/songwriter. Sex Pistols, PIL.


Absolutely stunning. But it was his photographs of women that blew my mind. Capturing a woman's strength and her fragility in one portrait is something you can only do if you have earned the woman's trust, understand women and aren't afraid of them. And all that's besides having the raw talent as a photographer. There are a lot of wusses around, I can tell you; men who run around like headless chickens when confronted by beautiful strong women like Courtney Love.

Kevin Cummins isn't one of them.

Above: Singer/songwriter, musician Courtney Love.



Above: Courtney Love


Above: Courtney Love



Strength and fragility are the two main qualities oozing from these pics of Courtney Love. That's the combination that Marilyn Monroe had as well; strength and fragility. These photographs of Kevin's are powerful testaments to Courtney's strength in the face of everything she's endured and still endures. Any man who can create work such as this has my deepest respect.


Above: Photographer Kevin Cummins and Courtney Love, Reading Festival.

Here's another startling portrait, this time of the gifted actress Anne Marie Duff, with whom you may be more familiar as Fiona Gallagher in Shameless. This portrait actually reverberates; astonishing.

Above: Theatre, film and television actress Anne Marie Duff.

And here's a portrait of my personal musical and cultural hero John Wardle aka Jah Wobble:

Above: Singer, songwriter, poet, composer and musician Jah Wobble.



Above: Singer/songwriter Ian Curtis, Joy Division.



But back to women, and back to the Joy Division story. There is plenty on the net if you want to research the subject of Joy Division further - John Cooper's Cerysmatic site is a very good place to start, but as I said in the Doc/Fest article about Joy Division:

I thought it was a shame that Ian's wife, Deborah Curtis, on whose book Touching From a Distance the film Control is based, did not participate in the documentary, aside from allowing her quotes to be used.

The music industry is very male dominated, very all-the-lads-together orientated, but ultimately the tale of Joy Division's demise focused around women; Ian Curtis' journalist lover, Annik Honoré, and the mother of his child, wife Deborah.


Maybe that's why the lads love to stick together in the rufty tufty world of Rock'n' Roll.


Women are dangerous.

Since I wrote that, and without reference to it, Kevin said to me about Courtney Love:

I love her - men are scared of her. Especially little boys who write for music papers. Women can't do rock you know..




Above: Ian Curtis


Here's an interview with Kevin at his recent exhibition of Joy Division photographs, held at the prestigious Paul Stolper gallery in London. The interview is conducted and filmed by YouTuber Hindle248:





Juvenes, The Joy Division photographs of Kevin Cummins, is published today, December 3rd 2007, by To Hell With Publishing. Here is what To Hell With Publishing say about the book:

“Even though I must have only been about three years old, I can still remember the first time I saw Kevin Cummins’ photographs of Joy Division. Even as a small child I was aware of the band and knew that my father was the singer, but seeing the black and white prints spread out across the carpet brought tangibility. They really did exist!” Natalie Curtis, July 2007

Kevin Cummins’ long awaited book of photographs from his Joy Division archive is more than just a book of pictures of one of the greatest rock bands by one of our greatest rock photographers. Since Ian Curtis’s death in 1980 Joy Division have developed, and maintain, a special place within rock’s history. Kevin Cummins photographed them from their beginnings as Warsaw in 1977.

This lavish production captures the essence of what they meant then and what continues to make them so influential today.
JUVENES is a brooding investigation into the intangible quality that makes Joy Division one of the most loved and respected English bands still to this day.

I asked Kevin why he wasn't going with a major publishing house, and this is what he said:

I commissioned several short personal essays from a mixture of people whose lives had been touched by the band - all have very different experiences.

Ian Rankin (crime writer),
Natalie Curtis (Ian and Debbie's daughter),
Alan Hempsall (singer with Crispy Ambulance - he stood in for Ian one night when Ian was ill),
Pat Nevin (former Scotland and Chelsea footballer),
Matthew Higgs (artist - he is in the background on some of my shots - as a schoolboy),
Nick Lezard (writer),
Cath Carroll (writer and musician),
David Peace (novelist).

I wasn't interested in going with a major publishing house. Experience told me they wouldn't do what I wanted anyhow. They'd have wanted a more obvious title and they wouldn't have let me have a graphic book jacket.

I decided that I wanted to sell it as a piece of art - hence the very limited edition. 226 copies. 200 at 200 pounds each. 26 (these include a gelatin silver print) at 500 pounds each - all signed and editioned.

Several majors wanted to publish it - and they still want to do a normal paperback edition. I don't want to do it though.

Finding myself in the excrutiating position myself of being an unconventional person trying to go down the conventional route of getting an agent with a view to my debut novel being sold to a major publishing house, I can only admire Kevin's dedication to pure art; pure art being unconventional by default.


Above: Kevin Cummins in Shanghai

Here's an article Kevin wrote for The Observer last August, about his time knowing and photographing Joy Division. At the end, Kevin talks a little about Tony Wilson.
When Joy Division came along Tony was just as excited as me and the band, despite being that bit older. He was like a kid when it came to music. He believed in bands when no-one else did, and was prepared to spend his own money making things happen. He was the catalyst for everything that happened on the Manchester music scene from the 1970s.
Tony didn't mind anyone lampooning him. But it's a shame that lots of people thought he was Steve Coogan's caricature in 24 Hour Party People. In fact, he was very kind, very generous, and very, very smart.




Above: Tony Wilson interview in Hulme, Manchester uploaded by YouTuber joesoap2006

Absolutely. I only met Tony a couple of times and I thought he was a lovely man. Come to think of it, there was a lot of lampooning in 24 Hour Party People. A Certain Ratio were portrayed as something akin to The Krankies which irritated the fuck out of me, considering that they were, in my opinion, as important a band as Joy Division (I realise I am alone in having this viewpoint.)

It turns out that Kevin and I are both fans of Brassai, too:


Above: Photograph of an Opium Den from Brassai The Secret Paris of the 30s.




Me: Who would you love to photograph, but havent done so yet?
Kevin: George Bush's assassin.

Me: Who do you wish you could have photographed, but now its too late (for me its Oliver Reed.)
Kevin: Graham Greene


Above: A portrait of author Graham Greene by I think Alice Springs.

I love this shot but yes, I would have liked to have seen a portrait of Graham by Kevin.



Above, Kevin Cummins as a boy, Trafalgar Square, London.


I love this shot of Kevin. There he is with his box Brownie. And look, here's me around the same age writing on my favourite magic slate:


Above: me as a nipper.


Naturally I've ordered a copy of Juvenes.

Rarely do I purchase art. Rarely has a photographer been such a huge inspiration. Photographs of nature don't touch me the same way as great portraits; nature is God, that's a given, whereas humans are fragile and flawed; that's what makes them so fascinating.

The spark of human life is so fleeting that when a great photographer captures it and unfolds it before our eyes with such a delicate touch, our hearts cannot fail to be captivated too.


I wrote that about KC, it's not someone else's quote. It's one of my own voluptuous pieces of lilac prose. Good innit? :) Can you tell I've been once again been totally knocked out by an artist, much as I was in May when I discovered the work of singer/ songwriter Gavin Clark? :)

Sometimes my blog articles have soundtracks. The one to this article is the late, great Mama Cass singing "Dream a Little Dream For Me." Don't ask me why; it asked to be included and didn't tell me why. So have a flick through this blog article again just looking at the photos, whilst listening to Mama Cass sing...









***

Notes:


National Portrait Gallery, London, Photographic Portrait of the Month for December 2007: Tony Wilson, 1950-2007.

From kevincummins.co.uk:
We are selling a limited edition of the photo in order to raise money for the two hospitals where Tony was treated this year.

They're handmade 16 x 20 inch gelatin silver archive photographic prints in an edition of thirty signed by Kevin Cummins. No further prints will be made in this edition.

Proceeds go to Manchester Royal Infirmary (Kidneys for Life charity) and Christie's Hospital.
email kevin@kevincummins.co.uk for further details

Kevin has worked for The Royal Opera House, The Royal Northern Ballet, The Liverpool Playhouse and The Oxford Playhouse. He has contributed to many major UK publications, including: The Times, The Observer, Esquire, Maxim, Elle, Vogue, Mojo, Q, FourFourTwo, Sleaze Nation and The Big Issue.
He spent 10 years as the chief photographer for New Musical Express – the world’s biggest selling rock weekly – where his award-winning pictures were a major contributing factor in the rise of the ‘Madchester’ (a word invented by me old mukkas Phil Shotton and Keith Jobling) and Cool Britannia scenes.
Kevin was commissioned by Salford's Viewpoint Gallery who wanted him to choose 40 eminent people born in Salford to photograph. His personal choice included Sir Alistair Cooke, Albert Finney, Celia Birtwell, football commentators Kenneth Wolstenholme and John Motson, John Virgo, John Cooper Clarke, Happy Mondays and Graham Nash...

Kevin Cummins' work is represented worldwide by the prestigious agency, Idols.
His photographs are held in the permanent collections of:
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Museum of Film and Photography, Bradford
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Salford City Art Gallery
Wigan Heritage Centre
The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Proud Central, London


Above: L to R: Paul Morley, Merlin, Karen, Steph, KC, Richard Boon.