8 Nov 2010
Visualised in bleak monochrome 
Joy Division is the long-awaited and lavishly hardbacked collection of photographs by Kevin Cummins published by Rizzoli. Whereas 2007's Juvenes (To Hell With Publishing) was clearly, by virtue of its two hundred pound plus price tag, an art book, Joy Division, priced at forty-five US Dollars is pitched at a wider audience.

Despite the lower price, no expense has seemingly been spared on the book construction or the design and layout by Farrow Design. The orange-on-white text is mighty stylish if just a tad difficult to read. At a hefty 208 pages with over 100 photos there is a good balance between the stunning portfolio of black and white photographs and the supporting material comprising a foreword by Jay McInerney, preface by Kevin Cummins and an extended conversation between Joy Division's Bernard Sumner and Cummins.

In the Foreword, Jay McInerney, the author of Bright Lights, Big City, recalls how he had Joy Division's Closer on heavy rotation and at high volume during the writing process. He notes that it provided him with "a far richer emotional palate" than the Sex Pistols (the band who famously were the catalyst for the formation of Joy Division). Furthermore, he asks us to consider the track titles: "Failure, Disorder, Isolation, The Eternal, Something Must Break, In a Lonely Place. Joy Division indeed. In those pre-Internet days, I imagined that the name was purely ironic." McInerney's shrewdest observation though is that Kevin Cummins' photos are there for those of us not lucky to have been "there".

At the beginning of the conversation with Bernard Sumner, Kevin Cummins confesses that he kinda knows the history of Joy Division but that he would like to hear it from Bernard. So even the most basic band interview question "How did the band come about?" is lent a new angle. Who would have thought that Bernard was a Santana fan but it turns out that an early performance of theirs was "one the most amazing performances I've ever seen"!? We also learn that Bernard gives the Campaign for the Ian Curtis Bridge the thumbs-up. But perhaps the most appropriate exchange goes: Cummins - "I didn't want to do rock 'n' roll pictures"; Bernard - "I don't think we did, interestingly."

Kevin Cummins most certainly was "there". He notes in his Preface that he didn't always take his camera along with him because he didn't always want to be working when he saw the band and he wanted to "enjoy his youth". Another important detail was that taking his camera and shooting photos necessitated remaining sober but being one of the audience didn't. Fair enough! We can also perhaps deduce from the memorabilia photos which act as a preface to the book proper (and which also include other images of access passes, artwork, badges, lyrics, NME, notebooks, a postcard, setlists and tickets) that the gigs Cummins attended but didn't photograph included February 1980 at the New Osbourne, Manchester, November 1978 at the Check Inn, Altrincham, December 1979 at Les Bains-Douche, Paris, and September 1978 at The Band on the Wall, Manchester.
As a novice photographer in his first year out of art school, Kevin Cummins had no money and had to pay for his own film and processing. This set of circumstances could have proved to be a hindrance for most photographers but Cummins believes that the constraints forced upon him were a blessing in disguise: "Without the restrictions posed by film, I doubt that the photos would achieved such iconic status."

The iconic photos of Joy Division by Kevin Cummins can roughly be broken down into three main categories: the NME-commissioned shoot in Hulme/Manchester on 6 January 1979, the ones in T.J. Davidson's rehearsal rooms and, lastly, the gigs.
There are 17 photos from the famous snowbound session on that freezing cold Saturday in January 1979 which only took place because Manchester City's match was postponed. Everyone remembers these photos for the group shot on the footbridge in Hulme and the one of Ian Curtis smoking a cigarette and looking directly into the lens. Those are included here but so are fifteen others shot before and after. The band wanted to pose in front of a curved building near Victoria Station (it looks eerily prescient of rounded corner of the building which would later house the Hacienda) whereas Kevin suggested the bridge shots as it was on the "road out of Manchester". The other shots of the group, such as the band waiting for a bus or hanging around outside Manchester Cathedral have not quite attained such iconic status but they are fascinating historical documents. When viewed with the assistance of Cummins's note that the band kept on playing around trying to make Ian laugh (woe betide the editor who would ever include a photo of Ian smiling though!) it makes you wonder how, with such limited resources, Cummins got the moody shots he and the band were after.

Cummins visited Joy Division at their T.J. Davidson's rehearsal rooms on numerous occasions but his shots of them there all come from one day in August 1979. The darkness and shadows (the black compared to the snowbound Hulme's white, notes Cummins) are the perfect setting in which to have captured the band in a key moment of their development. Ian is pictured alone in the foreground of the room which is empty apart from isolated pieces of equipment and debris strewn everywhere. Ian is in suitably contemplative mood. There are further shots, both informal and posed, of Ian plus others of Steve, Hooky and Bernard and the famous group shot which adorns the sleeve of the UK version of the Joy Division film. There are 21 shots in all and not a smile to be seen!

The gigs section comprises 13 July 1979 @ The Factory but also De Montford Hall, Liverpool University, 2 October 1979, Futurama, Queen's Hall, Leeds, 8 September 1979 and the fabulously-named Stuff The Superstars Special, The Mayflower Club, 28 July 1979, the Last Night at the Electric Circus, 2 October 1977 and the Leigh Open Air Pop Festival (aka the Leigh Rock Festival), 27 August 1979. My favourite of these shows Ian Curtis flanked by Bernard and Hooky wielding their guitars and it's just a great shot of a rock group.

There's just one colour shot. According to Kevin Cummins he only ever took six such shots and those were sneaked in on the end of a roll of film featuring Buzzcocks. It was just "pointless" (and also a waste of money) to do Joy Division in colour. As Hooky would later point out to Cummins: "I only visualise them in bleak monochrome".

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a book of photographs of Kevin Cummins photographs? You could then do a set of postcards of books of photographs of Kevin Cummins photographs of...etc.

18/11/2010, 00:42


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Biting Tongues

In the grey days of late 1970s post-punk Manchester, youth culture was a serious affair: every musical performance was measured mostly by the conviction of its delivery. The term 'New Wave' opened up free vistas where acquired skills could once again be exercised after punk's monochrome blur. It could be applied to anything from a James 'Blood' Ulmer record to the latest Throbbing Gristle release, Magazine to Swell Maps. Move outside that terrain into Sun Ra, Parliament, Frank Sinatra and Martin Denny, and your options were suddenly without limit...

Then came Tony Wilson's Factory Club (at the Russell Club in Hulme) offering an open invitation to experiment that was taken up when Ken Hollings, Howard Walmsley, Eddie Sherwood and a few others decided to make some noise to accompany their 16mm silent epic Biting Tongues. A further performance followed a few weeks later, when Colin Seddon and Graham Massey disbanded their Post Natals project and joined up. The film itself, a flashing series of negative images, became a memory; the name remained.

- extract from the LTM Biting Tongues biography

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