Interview: Kevin Cummins on Caught Beneath The Landslide
Caught Beneath The Landslide: The Other Side Of Britpop And The ’90s Clear Vinyl | Vinyl | CD Box Set Out on 4th June 2021 – Pre-order now One of the UK’s most important music photographers and a bona fide national treasure, Kevin Cummins spent the ’90s amassing a vast collection of iconic images in […] The post Interview: Kevin Cummins on Caught Beneath The Landslide appeared first on Louder Than War.
Caught Beneath The Landslide: The Other Side Of Britpop And The ’90s
Clear Vinyl | Vinyl | CD Box Set
Out on 4th June 2021 –
One of the UK’s most important music photographers and a bona fide national treasure, Kevin Cummins spent the ’90s amassing a vast collection of iconic images in his 10 years as head photographer at NME. His recent book While We Were Getting High explored the legacy of the bands who were (unfortunately) coined “Britpop” whilst showcasing some of his best photographs from the time. To accompany the book, Kevin is releasing four albums of carefully curated songs, comprising mainly B-sides, rarities and covers from 71 artists, some well-known, others more obscure, which were released between 1993 and 1996.
Lovingly selected Caught Beneath The Landslide: The Other Side Of Britpop And The ’90s is testament to the sheer breadth of music from the era, encompassing genres from punk to shoegaze, glam to grunge, drum’n’bass to dream pop, indie to rock-synth. Bookended by Blur and Oasis and presented chronologically, this selection of songs is a genuine pleasure to listen to and a must-have for any fan of the ’90s, whether stalwart or with just a passing interest.
Naomi Dryden-Smith sat down with Kevin and a couple of beers to shoot the ’90s breeze and listen to stories from his incredible career starting with Bowie and Joy Division and shooting, well, pretty much everyone really.
LTW: You’ve got 10 music photobooks already under your belt – how did this project come about?
KC: I was unsure about it at first. I’d just done the Morrissey book with Cassell (reviewed by LTW here), and let’s just say it was problematic doing the book at that period when Morrissey was getting a lot of bad press and talking about stuff that, to be quite honest, when he doesn’t live in this country is quite difficult to comprehend. He lost a huge amount of his fanbase here and consequently that hit book sales in the UK – not in America because it sold really well in the States.
My editor at Cassell is probably exactly the right age for Britpop, that’s his music period, and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing a Britpop book because I do have quite a large body of work around that. It was a real heyday for the NME as well because I think we promoted Britpop more than any of the other magazines – maybe Select did but I think a monthly’s different. Melody Maker backed grunge heavily like Sounds did and we didn’t really touch grunge that much, we were all over Britpop really.
But I find the politics of the period very difficult, so I thought about it for a while and I pulled all my negs and transparencies out to have a look at them, and there were three huge bankers’ boxes of stuff. I thought I could definitely do a good book about the period but there would have to be some kind of caveat where we talked about the politics of the time and asked, in retrospect, was there a certain amount of embarrassment about different kinds of things. I think Britpop was hijacked – I think when the music started we were going along for the ride working for a music paper and were also helping to set the agenda for people who listen to the music – we were kind of saying “you will like this”. We liked to give something a title or a tag because it’s a shortcut and it made it very easy – and that whole thing about the flag and the tabloids getting hold of it – “Cool Britannia” – was a bit cringeworthy, and the Tony Blair thing was a disgrace. So I kind of felt it had been hijacked by different parties and I wanted to, not reclaim it for me because that’s really arrogant to suggest that, but I felt we could do something and ask in hindsight was this bit wrong, was that wrong. For me the music was always really great, and it was very exuberant, and it didn’t reflect what was going on around it in the papers, it wasn’t particularly political – Pulp were maybe, but apart from them it was just music to have a good time to.
We talked about doing a CD at the same time as the book, but we thought that would confuse the buyer – we had a very early meeting about that. Then we thought we would put the CD out once the book was underway so it could then be purely about the music and be a nice soundtrack to the book. In the book, I asked Sonya Madan, Martin Rossiter, Brett Anderson and Noel Gallagher questions and tailored them slightly towards each of them but had a core of questions that each answered – and if they didn’t want to answer I wasn’t going to push them. I thought Noel was funny when he said “Ask Paul Morley” – so I did ask Paul, when we were going to a match together.
Why did you choose those four particular people to interview?
I felt they were a good balance across the period. There wouldn’t have been any point for me in having Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker and someone else of that stature – I wanted people who had different experiences, and I felt their experiences would have been slightly removed if we just had that group. I did want Jarvis to do something, and he said he would, but then he forgot. And I also asked Matt Everitt and he kept promising to send it but then didn’t which is a shame as I’d shot Menswear quite a bit.
Did you get the answers you wanted or expected, was anything surprising?
Sonya’s answers were surprising. Noel’s answers were exactly what I wanted and expected, Brett’s answers were pretty much as I’d expected because I’d skim-read his books just to get a clearer idea of what I would get from him. We got lots of handwringing liberalism from the guys, but Sonya was kind of adamant “Well I loved it, so what?”.
The questions you asked in the book indicate that you’ve got your own view of the politics and the atmosphere of the time. How do you look back on it and what was your take on the lads’ culture?
I was really uneasy with that, it’s never been my thing really, which people find a bit weird for me to say because I go to the football and I’ve got lots of male friends who do male things. But I always hated Loaded and I hated the misogyny, I hated the way that certain women would conform to that stereotype and try and define it as being a “ladette”. The ladette thing seemed to just mean, well we can go out and get pissed and be sick in the gutter and piss our knickers and that kind of thing, and it wasn’t very edifying. I just felt that it became a very male-dominated period. I realised that I was a bloke and I didn’t see it from a female perspective, but I still didn’t feel comfortable with a lot of that – and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable with what to me were Gordon Gekko-style politics and the politics of the greed of the late ’80s that seemed to be coming back.
Did you feel part of it or just an observer, even as part of NME?
No, I always feel I’m on the outside of movements really. I can stand back and be the lofty observer, I can stand back from something and I don’t get personally involved with everybody’s stories, which I think a lot of writers do unfortunately. We had ridiculous moments at the NME where a writer and a photographer virtually offered to resign if a Nick Cave feature went in as it was if they were forced to write it, because he was taking smack during the interview. I think if Nick Cave takes smack while being interviewed, it’s his problem, not mine.
I’ve seen awful stuff backstage – musicians smoking heroin off tinfoil – and I don’t take pictures of it because I’m not a tabloid journalist. To me that’s not the story. It’s up to him if he wants to do that, it’s his private space. It’s really easy to stitch people up if you want to because we’ve got the experience they don’t have. I’ve never wanted to stitch anyone up in a picture. I can say to them “are you sure you want to do this?” – that’s fine, if they still want to do it.
We did a series of pictures once for Vox magazine for Christmas. It was meant to be slightly pisstake-y, of everyone’s favourite item from the year. Johnny Marr had a fake Rolex he’d bought on Canal Street, Bernard had a Chevignon parka he’d bought that he’d been wearing all year on tour, Paul Heaton had a briefcase with all his tour passes stuck on it, and Vic and Bob did their colouring books they take on tour with them. Shaun Ryder had KitKats – I did it like he was holding a poker hand with four or five of them – and he brought those because he used the foil to smoke heroin off, so he always had KitKats on him. Nestle were so delighted with this that they sent him a case of them, but when he spoke out of turn about it to somebody and they sold Shaun’s story to the Mirror, Nestle withdrew KitKats with tinfoil and started putting plastic round them. That’s my claim to fame. Tim Booth brought a make-up artist and some oil, and he got her to write “CRUDE” on his chest in oil because he wanted to make a statement about the Gulf War. I told Tim it was all meant to be a bit of a joke – Vic and Bob’s colouring books, Shaun with KitKat, but he wanted to make a statement about the Gulf War: this is me this year. So, he had his shirt off and had “CRUDE” written across his chest in oil and he started doing mime poses in front of the camera. I said to him “are you sure you want to do this?”. But he did. I told him he was just going to get pilloried for it…
Were you into Britpop music yourself?
Yeah, I really liked a lot of it. Oasis was pretty much the soundtrack to 1994/95. It helped that they were Man City fans as well, but whenever I’d go to Manchester and walk from Piccadilly, I’d hear Oasis – everywhere you went it was Oasis-world, it was just constant and everywhere. In the pub before the game there was a CD jukebox, and people would just put the whole album on – and then you’d go to the match and City would be playing it before the game.
I spent a lot of time with Blur too, and Suede from quite early on. I felt Brett had one expression and I said to him why don’t you come to the studio and I’ll put mirrors by the side of the camera, and you can learn how to pose and look in different directions, find out what works best for you. We spent a whole day doing that.
Brett’s another one who’s aged really well and would be good for your exhibition – he’s grown into his performance; he still has that androgyny thing but it’s not as self-conscious.
He’s a proper performer. Bernard (Butler) was always very self-conscious, and he also didn’t really enjoy the attention Brett was getting and felt it should be about the band. You often get that, when you’ve got a pretty male singer or a woman fronting a male band you’re always going to focus on the singer, and it was quite often a problem for them. Not for me though – they would say “well it has to be a band shot on the cover”, and I’d say, “well I don’t tell you what to put on the cover of your records”.
Yes, and that’s one of the questions in the book isn’t it – you ask each of them how the band felt about the singer alone being featured on the cover of NME.
Yes. Noel was great, he asked me what was going on the cover and I said a picture of Liam. He just said, “He looked great there didn’t he, why wouldn’t you put him on the cover.” I don’t think that affected them particularly.
I’ve never taken sides in band – I don’t ever take sides in public, I might have my own point of view, but it doesn’t matter what I think. I’ve managed to get on with the warring partners (Morrissey/Marr, Hooky/Sumner, Noel/Liam) all the time which is quite good. I still shoot Hooky and I’ve got a Joy Division book coming out in October – I did new interviews with Stephen and with Hooky for it. I’d already done an interview with Bernard I hadn’t used much of. I used Bernard’s interview about the formation of the band and why he’d wanted to get into music originally; Stephen’s interview is about how they coped with the loss of Ian, and post-Ian and being New Order and how they coped with the legacy; and Hooky’s is about keeping the legacy alive and taking it on the road and being the keeper of the keys a way. There’s a nice flow to it.
You’re releasing four CDs worth of songs to go with the book. The songs you’ve chosen, did you choose them all yourself?
I worked closely with somebody to do it, who’s got far more experience of that than I have. I don’t own all these songs, but if there was something I didn’t like that they were trying to get hold of, I’d have just said no I don’t want that on it. Generally, it’s a collaboration. Because you can get everything free from Spotify wherever, quite early on we talked about the idea and thought let’s find some obscure B-sides, and let’s find some different versions of songs that maybe aren’t as easy to track down, plus the odd live ones, and so on. And so we ended up with a nice set of four great CDs.
Having focused on rarities, covers and B-sides, for some bands, like Longpigs, you’ve chosen their most well-known song, why’s that?
I think you have to with bands who are lesser-known. But with Blur there would have been no point in having Parklife on it. Blur was the hardest one to get, because both Blur and Oasis don’t really like to go on compilations, and it was only down to using my name that they agreed at the end. Blur’s caveat was that we couldn’t use a picture of them on the cover to promote it.
A lot of the songs are artists you’ve shot, but quite a few you don’t have photos for?
Quite a lot are people I haven’t shot. But you can’t photograph everybody, and I just thought it was a nice soundtrack for the period and it reclaimed the music a little bit. As I said, there are no politics involved in this – here’s four great albums, just enjoy them. I think it’s done really well on advance sales; Rough Trade sold all their signed copies straight away. I still don’t have mine by the way, I’m still waiting for my own!
I just think it was a nice thing to do. You get criticised for every single thing you do at the moment – on some website, they said it was great but unfortunately it had readers’ comments. On any below the line comments people are going to criticise you – why haven’t you put this on, why haven’t you put this on, what gives you the right to compile a record – and you kind of feel like “well go and compile your own then”. Just enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy it move on and don’t listen to it. I don’t listen to music I don’t like. But I don’t then deny everybody else the right to listen to it. People take offence at things they’re not even offended by just for the hell of it.
If you had to do a similar book about current artists in terms of political impact and creativity, who would be in it?
I think it would be a very slim volume, wouldn’t it? And that’s because I think digital is destroying iconography and it’s all too accessible, and people don’t listen to it properly. That’s why there’s such a thirst for nostalgia. I mean, Noel says Oasis would never reform – we were the last great analogue band. Can you imagine if we did a gig, we could play a gig any size we want and every single person would be watching it on their film and filming it and not engaging – he said you look at Knebworth and everyone’s into it, they’re not all filming it. So, there’s no point now.
Jack White’s got the right idea, he won’t let anyone film the gigs and they have those lock pouches; everyone puts their phone in and gets it on the way out. It doesn’t cause a massive queue or bottleneck, it’s really fast, and everyone at the gig’s just watching and getting into it, it’s like going to an old skool gig.
Looking back on your career which era that you’ve shot defines your legacy?
I don’t think any of it particularly. I started properly with punk, so that’s an important period for me, but I learnt a lot from that. It was very short-lived, but it was a very exciting time, going to gigs nearly every night and shooting on film and everything that came with that – the uncertainty of not knowing whether any of the pictures have come out, even though you know they have, but anything can go wrong with your camera. And also, you’re photographing people in very sweaty clubs where everybody’s smoking as well and when you look at the negatives, it’s like some of them are shot through gauze because of that. I used to use a darkroom about 10 miles outside Manchester city centre, and after a gig I’d have to drive there, process the film, take a couple of hours, then contact sheet it, pick the pictures I wanted, print those, let them wash and dry, take them back into town, put them on Red Star parcels on Piccadilly so that the NME would get them for 9 o’clock in the morning. So, if I did a gig, I’d go out at about 6 in the evening and I’d get home at 6 in the morning, and I’d get £6.50 for a picture if it was used, for 12 hours work. It cost me £20 to do that so I’d lose £13 or £14 on every live show job I did for the NME.
That’s why it’s vitally important to keep my copyright because although I wasn’t sure what the longevity of interest in the work would be, I always knew that historically it would have some impact. I didn’t realise how important it would be for a while. I didn’t overshoot because I couldn’t afford to, and we were paying for our own film and processing, but at some point, a bit later on, probably around the time of the Smiths, I felt this was now an important archive and I had to keep building on it. Hence, the Manchester book. Which also helped make Manchester a brand for what everybody likes Manchester for, and that cemented it. The interesting thing was that it had a beginning and end that book – and it had a lovely narrative flow through it. A French editor who desperately wanted to publish it but couldn’t agree the right money with Faber, said “I read your book like it was a novel – you read a piece and then it takes you through the pictures, and then you read another piece” – and that’s exactly what I wanted with it. I’d had the idea for a couple of years; Faber originally approached me to do an autobiography which I didn’t want to do, but I said I could do an autobiographical look at my own city.
When did you move down to London?
I moved in 1987. I don’t miss Manchester because it’s a different city now, but I go back every second week to watch Man City. People think I still live there, everyone thinks I live in Manchester – sometimes after a match they’ll say, oh are you coming home tonight? I say, no I’m getting the train to London, oh what are you going down there for mate – because I live there. Oh, when did you move? 30 years ago! Or you’ll be sitting in the pub before a game, and someone comes up to you and carries on a conversation you were having two weeks earlier like you’ve just been to the toilet or something. It’s funny but I am pretty intrinsically linked with the city. I moved down to London just as it was all taking off properly with the Mondays and Stone Roses, so I had to keep going back, I was back and forth all the time you know. I’ve spent more time on trains than anyone I know apart from the train driver.
Is there something specific you feel you’d like to do next?
I’ve got a couple of ideas – one’s completely non-musical, and the other is that I’d really like to do an exhibition of all the main protagonists from Manchester’s heyday but do very stark black and white portraits of them as they are now. But it’s very difficult to get people to agree to do something like that because they still see themselves as that person from 1983 or 1991, and they constantly use pictures from their best period. I can appreciate that vanity because I think we all tend to look at ourselves in maybe a rosier way than the mirror tells us we look.
In some way, as we all get older, a lot of these people actually look better.
I agree, and I think it would be a really lovely show but it’s quite hard to do. Also, it wouldn’t get commissioned, so I’d have to fund it myself and then hope that I go somewhere with it. I’m always being asked to do exhibitions of existing work, but that’s been difficult over the last 15 months. I was due to have another exhibition in Buenos Aires just before all this kicked off, so that’s kind of on a backburner as well, but I was hugely successful when I did a show out there. So I don’t know really. The Ian Curtis Memento Mori book or artwork (see our review), whatever you want to call it, was something I’d worked on for six years. I’d just get off the train when I was going to Manchester and go to the cemetery and take pictures of stuff people had left for Ian over a period of time. I shot them all on black cloth so they looked like studio pieces and it’s very lovely – it was a very personal project really. We just did 130 copies. I didn’t involve anybody else; it was very much a solo idea. It’s nice that we were able to do a lovely collectable piece of the work, so I’m more interested in doing stuff like that. I’m going to do a Fall book next October; I’ve not quite decided on the format, but the Britpop book has done really well in the first three months and Cassell wants to do another book with me.
You’ve got to be the only music photographer that puts out one that does this, this number of books.
Books that sell! I have a problem with books, because I don’t ever want to do anything that’s not going to sell. Faber wanted to do a Stone Roses book to follow the Manics one and I didn’t – I didn’t feel I had the photographs and also, I didn’t feel it would sell properly at the time and so that was difficult, so I just said I’m not doing it. I want my books to have longevity, and they’ve always sold really well because I’ve always been very careful with what I’ve done. I studied photography and graphic design, so I’ve a really clear idea what I want the book to look like, without interfering too much but by working with people who have a similar vision.
Your books all tell a story, they’re not just about showing off photos.
No, I’ve never wanted that – I’ve got hundreds of photography books and loads of monograms, and there are two things I really can’t bear in a photographer’s monograph – one is wall-to-wall relentless photos, with absolutely no break or understanding of why these shots were taken and what they refer to, and the other is thumbnail edits at the back with “a great picture of my mate Elton” – they’re not your mates, it’s a professional relationship. You might be friendly with people, they might be your friend, but this idea that somebody like Herb Ritts has where everybody he photographed was his new best friend, it’s excruciating – if you’re just photographing your friends as you see them, or you don’t want to upset them in a picture then you’re not doing your job properly. A portrait is a very personal thing – it’s not necessarily just about the artist, it’s about the relationship between the two of you. When you shoot a portrait, you don’t ever want them looking at the end of your lens, they’ve got to look straight through it at you, and they’ve got to relate to you. You can see the difference when you look at portraits, you can tell who’s a good portrait photographer and who’s just taking a photograph.
I remember you saying that about Morrissey when you were talking to John Robb, it was a really good tip for people coming into portraiture.
Morrissey is great to photograph, I’ve always enjoyed working with him and he understands and enjoys the process. He’s also very creative, he has loads of ideas that you can’t possibly use but he’s exhausting to work with – he doesn’t just turn up and say, well what’re you doing? With most bands you can use it as an icebreaker really – what would you like, have you got any ideas? I photographed The Colourfield once for a sleeve and that was quite funny. I’ve worked with Terry (Hall) quite a bit. We’d done three sleeves already, I asked him what we were going to do for this, and he said he didn’t really know, just to do what I wanted. We ended up messing around for a bit and trying a few things out; going in closer and closer to the four of them just using four sections of their face, going in very tight looking down on them. Later, when they were making a video for the single, they asked me to shoot it – I think it was the period when I was moving down to London – and I read the concept and it was all about a photographer trying to do the cover shot and making a bollocks of it about three times, and in the end exhausted he walks over to them and says, “hey things could be beautiful”. I said are you taking the piss out of me, they said a bit yeah, and I asked who’s playing the photographer and they said you are. So, I turned up and I had to be in this video, playing myself, and the setups they did for the three pictures for me were massively pisstaking, it was dead funny – I’d been massively stitched up but in quite an amusing way.
When I photographed Joy Division, I asked what they wanted, and they said can we do a picture of us queueing up at a bus stop – they wanted to show how ordinary they were.
You did a mix of live and studio, but you seemed to lean more towards portraiture?
Yeah, I like portraiture in an urban setting. I always felt it was quite important to locate people in time and a studio portrait takes you away from that, that could be taken any time. The only thing that ages in a studio portrait is the sitter, your subject, whereas in an urban setting the whole picture ages because the city changes. I use the studio a lot and I feel quite at home in it. If a band’s in the studio I’ve got three or four set lighting ideas that I can always use and then I can play around with things. Another thing that’s very important is to remember that their time is more valuable than yours– I always say that 90% of my job is sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for someone to turn up, and it’s the same if you’re in the studio. Record companies might say the band is going to turn up at 11am but they won’t – they’re not going to turn up at 11 in the morning unless they’ve been out all night, and then they’re just going to be a mess anyway, they’ll be asleep.
Once I did what was quite a complicated shot to shoot on film with New Order for an NME cover, probably in 1985; it was a shot with three silhouettes and one person in the foreground. I did each one in turn, lit up at the front with the other three in silhouette. The day before that shoot I spent all day prepping, photographing it with friends, getting the lighting exactly right, getting the exposure exactly right, sending colour film to the lab to get it back to look at to make sure it was exactly as I wanted it. Then when New Order turn up the next day the session takes 15 minutes and they say, “it’s a piece of piss your job isn’t it!” They don’t need to know that I spent 12 hours the day before getting it right.
But when I was studying photography that was something I learnt from Snowdon – because he had to photograph the Royal Family quite a lot, and you can’t just get the Royal Family standing around in Hampton Court and say, right, I haven’t really got an idea yet, but what we’ll do is…why don’t we try it with you there and you there…. Everything’s prepped, he’s maybe spent three days working on the shape of that shot with friends and assistants, he’s got the picture and then he just tells them “there’s the shot, move into those positions”. Bands get bored really easily – I imagine the Royal Family do too – bands get bored and you can’t just say to them “right we’ve rented the studio for the day and the lighting’s not turned up and I’m expecting the backdrop any minute…” – you’ve got to be able to just put them into the shot. You can warm up by chatting to them and you can warm up by shooting a little bit just to ease into it – sometimes I used to just shoot without film for one roll just to see where they were looking and how it would work – but their time is the reason you’re there and it’s really important to understand that. I’ve seen so many photographers not having that level of respect for the people they’re working with, and I just think why wouldn’t you prep it, why wouldn’t you get the shot ready? You can’t just turn up and say, “what are we going to do today?”.
With gigs it was harder to prep at the time. I used to look at old photographs and I would know whether a musician looked to stage left or stage right a lot of the time, or where the headstock of their guitar was going to be most of the time so that I could be in the right place not to get their face obscured by that or have them turning away from me all the time. So I always stood where I knew I’d get the best shots. I learnt that really early on when I photographed Bowie for the Ziggy Stardust tour; I was at college and just took a camera in, and when he did Width Of A Circle he did a whole mime of a butterfly coming out of a box and all that bollocks, and then he has his arms out like this [to the sides]. There was a moment, he only had that one moment because he moved his arms soon after, and I wasn’t in the right place for it in the Free Trade Hall. I was 19 and in my first year, and I thought “that just doesn’t work from here”. But I knew where that shot would look best from, so I went to see him in Leeds two weeks later and stood in a position where I knew it would work, waited for that shot and got it – one frame. It was shot on a college Pentax and it was that shot really that helped me to understand that you don’t ever settle for just walking into a room and taking a picture; you can do that if you really want, but you should always strive to get the best shot out of a situation. If it means going back it doesn’t matter – you don’t have a taxi meter on your camera, and even if it takes a week to get the shot you want, then you’ve got it.
If it all stopped now, what would you say was the pinnacle of your career.
I don’t think I’ve reached that yet! But I think doing the Manchester City book was a great achievement actually, because I spent a year with City, and it was a way of working that I wasn’t used to. The players thought it was hilarious, they got used to me being around and they’d say to me “You’re not used to being up and out at 10 in the morning, are you?”. That would be no. I don’t mind getting up, but I don’t switch on until about 2 in the afternoon generally. They’d just laugh, they’d finish work at midday, and that would be the time I was clicking into gear.
When I shoot I know instinctively whether that light is right for a black and white portrait or something. Working in colour was quite different. I wanted the feeling of the book when you first opened it to be like going to your first game as an 8-year-old and walking in, in August, and seeing this vast expanse of green, where if you live in an inner-city, you’ve never seen that much green in your life, with the blue sky and the sky blue of the shirts – all these strong colours. I wanted people to recapture that magic by looking at it and remembering their first game. It was a great moment for me, the book’s lovely and I’m really proud of it.
Do you still shoot in film now at all?
No, there’s no point, nobody wants you to. To be honest, you can recreate any of that in Photoshop to a degree, if it’s for publication. If it’s for a 20×16 print on a wall then I think film is better, but digital is great to work with; it’s got so much latitude, you can photograph anything with digital and get a picture from it. When I shoot something, I know what I’d be doing with the background on Photoshop immediately – it’s the same when you shoot on film, I can shoot on film and think I know what I’m going to do with this in the darkroom, so don’t worry about what’s there.
What’s the most nightmare shoot you’ve had?
I don’t get involved in nightmare shoots because I don’t get annoyed about them. Bizarrely my friends think I’ve got absolutely no patience with anyone but when I’m working, I’ve got tonnes of it. I get paid for sitting around waiting.
Is there anyone you wouldn’t work with again?
Well Duran Duran were a massive problem (see Kevin’s interview with John Robb below). It was just a problem because they had no respect for us and we were messed about for a week – but I had a week in New York so I don’t care particularly, it’s just a funny story. If they don’t want to do a picture, it doesn’t bother me. I’m there to do a job but if I can’t do my job then I’ve got the experience not to worry about it, whereas if it was your first commission for a paper and all this went on, you’d be lying in your room crying because you’d think they’d never use you again if you came back without a photo. I generally get on with most people I work with and we’ve always got something in common, but even if you haven’t you just talk to them about what they’re into, which is generally themselves, and then they’ll talk for ages. But I can’t think that there’s anyone I wouldn’t work with again – if Duran Duran asked me to do an album sleeve, I’d do it, you know, clear the air. But I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone where I’ve thought “I’ll never speak to that person again”, never fallen out with anyone I’ve worked with.
Do you have any of your own pictures on your walls?
No. It’s not an art gallery. I’ve got pictures by lots of other photographers. Actually, that’s not true, I do have a picture of Richey (Edwards) in my kitchen – a colour shot with the Marilyn Monroe stamps all over his body. That’s the only picture of mine I’ve got up, I think. I could have a picture of Ian up I suppose but I haven’t. I liked the playing with iconography element of that photo of Richey because he’s the subject, but he’s got Marilyn Monroe all over him, so it was more an art piece more than anything.
Is there any one picture that you would say represents you, the one you would want to be remembered for?
A picture of Ian Curtis I think. The bridge picture is the one I’m best known for and it’s an interesting shot in many ways, because when I look at it, I know now how I would photograph that if it wasn’t one of the first commissions I’d ever done. But I like the innocence of that picture and I like the way they’re not posing as a band. It’s not a band shot, it’s an architectural shot of Manchester at that time. It’s a picture that not only defines the band, but it defines that era. It says an awful lot about Manchester and it’s interesting to get so much information in a picture with so little information.
In a way you could perfect it, but it would take away from it. It works because it’s what it is.
It would take the innocence away from it, I think. Shooting in snow’s an absolute nightmare in black and white, it’s really difficult, I’d had no experience of shooting like that, and I was absolutely terrified shooting that on the Saturday and processing it two days later and not knowing what the hell I’d got. It came about because NME was doing a piece about three Manchester bands, in the way that the music press at the time just liked to wrap up a city in one piece so we didn’t have to pester them again; we were doing a band called The Passage, Spherical Objects and Joy Division. Paul Morley liked Spherical Objects and Steve Solamar, their singer, was also the DJ at the Electric Circus and he had this fantastic dub reggae collection. He was great, he was really interesting, Steve. Paul was convinced this should be the main part of the feature, so we shot quite a lot of stuff around Spherical Objects.
But then when we did the Joy Division ones and spoke to them, we changed our minds about them, because up until then we’d always felt they were outsiders to the Manchester scene a little bit, but during the interview, Paul said to me “God they’re really, really angry and determined about what they want to do, they’re great”, so that then became the main focus of the piece. They believed in what they were doing, and they were angry about what was happening around them.
Last question – if you could get six people around a pub table for a chat, dead or alive, who would they be?
Morrissey and Marr, Hooky and Bernard, and Liam and Noel – I’d leave the money on the table and let them sort it all out…
1. Blur – Young And Lovely
2. Suede – He’s Dead
3. Huggy Bear – Her Jazz
4. Cornershop – England’s Dreaming
5. The Fall – Lost In Music
6. New Order – Regret (New Order Mix)
7. James – Sometimes
8. Elastica – Pussycat
9. The Auteurs – Lenny Valentino (Original Mix)
10. Saint Etienne – Pale Movie (Lemonentry Mix)
11. Inspiral Carpets featuring Mark E. Smith – ‘I Want You’
12. Terrorvision – The Model
13. S*M*A*S*H – Barrabas (Piloted)
14. Shed Seven – Dolphin
15. Catatonia – Whale
16. Echobelly – Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never (Live, Wetlands, New York)
17. Gene – Be My Light, Be My Guide
18. Manic Street Preachers – The Drowners (Live)
1. Primal Scream – Jailbird (Dust Brothers Remix)
2. Paul Weller vs. Portishead – Wild Wood (Sheared Wood Remix)
3. Radiohead – Planet Telex (Hexidecimal Mix)
4. The Cardigans – The Boys Are Back In Town
5. Menswear – I’ll Manage Somehow (Original Single Mix)
6. Powder – 20th Century Gods
7. The Lightning Seeds – Lucifer Sam
8. Pulp – Razzmatazz (Acoustic Version)
9. Duffy – London Girls
10. Cast – Fine Time
11. Heavy Stereo ‘Sleep Freak’
12. Supergrass – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
13. Feeder – Rush (Live)
14. Audioweb – Sleeper (Sleepless In Balham Mix)
15. Northern Uproar – Rollercoaster
16. The Wannadies – Lee Remick
17. Kula Shaker – Tattva (Lucky 13 Mix)
1. Marion – Let’s All Go Together (Slide Mix)
2. Dodgy – Grateful Moon
3. Ride – Black Nite Crash
4. Fluffy – Husband
5. Lush – Ciao!
6. Electrafixion – Sister Pain (Acoustic)
7. Out Of My Hair – Safe Boy
8. Spacehog – In The Meantime
9. Space – Neighbourhood
10. Whipping Boy – Fiction (Live – The Furnace In Dublin)
11. Plastic Fantastic – Complimentary Electron
12. Longpigs – On And On
13. Dubstar – Elevator Song
14. Jocasta – The Land Of Do As You Please
15. Sleeper – Atomic
16. Ash – Does Your Mother Know
17. Ocean Colour Scene – Travellers Tune (Original Version)
18. The Supernaturals – Smile
1. Super Furry Animals – Something For The Weekend (Rockfield Version)
2. Silver Sun – There Will Never Be Another Me
3. The Boo Radleys – What’s In The Box (See Whatcha Got)
4. The Bluetones – Marblehead Johnson
5. The Charlatans – The Two Of Us
6. Me Me Me – Hanging Around
7. Shampoo – Cars
8. Babybird – You’re Gorgeous Too
9. Salad – I Want You
10. Bis – Wee Love
11. Kenickie – In Your Car
12. Speedy – Boy Wonder
13. Reef – Yer Old (Young Version)
14. Electronic – All That I Need
15. 60Ft Dolls – Pretty Horses
16. These Animal Men – Wichita Lineman
17. The Aloof – One Night Stand (7” Version)
18. Oasis – Champagne Supernova (Brendan Lynch Mix)
A1. Blur – Young And Lovely
A2. Suede – He’s Dead
A3. Elastica – Pussycat
A4. The Auteurs – Lenny Valentino (Original Mix)
A5. Echobelly – Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never (Live, Wetlands, New York)
A6. Gene – Be My Light, Be My Guide
A7. Menswear – I’ll Manage Somehow (Original Single Mix)
B1. The Lightning Seeds – Lucifer Sam
B2. Ride – Black Nite Crash
B3. The Boo Radleys – What’s In The Box (See Whatcha Got)
B4. Ash – Does Your Mother Know
B5. Dodgy – Grateful Moon
B6. Lush – Ciao!
B7. Pulp – Razzmatazz (Acoustic Version)
C1. Primal Scream – Jailbird (Dust Brothers Remix)
C2. Paul Weller vs. Portishead – Wild Wood (Sheared Wood Remix)
C3. Radiohead – Planet Telex (Hexidecimal Mix)
C4. Supergrass – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
C5. Marion – Let’s All Go Together (Slide Mix)
C6. The Bluetones – Marblehead Johnson
D1. The Charlatans – The Two Of Us
D2. Shed Seven – Dolphin
D3. Kula Shaker – Tattva (Lucky 13 Mix)
D4. Kenickie – In Your Car
D5. Sleeper – Atomic
D6. Oasis – Champagne Supernova (Brendan Lynch Mix)
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