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Irish Eye: Colm Henry

Karen Regn looks at U2 for us lot

Published on November 24th 2011.

Irish Eye: Colm Henry

THE SPECTRE of U2 is looming in the Northern Quarter.  

In black and white, photographs of young Bono and the crew are life-size, shot before Bono donned massive black glasses and things got more complicated...and he got more boring. 

 “When you’re hiding behind the camera, you’re not part of it. You’re not an active participant."

Colm Henry, one of Ireland’s most stylish portrait photographers, is principally known as the photographer to Hot Press music magazine, U2, Riverdance, Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher, Mary Black and other traditional Irish musicians. 

His show, occupies three floors’ worth of vertical space at Manchester Photographic Gallery. His 1m by 1.5m photographs of the U2 are printed on metal, which is more durable than canvas and looks better without a frame - a style Colm hopes apartment-dwellers will find appealing.  

U2 look completely un-styled in one photo snapped at their first “real” gig after university. The picture is taken at a make-shift venue in a market’s empty car park, a gig space where Colm used to be a regular to in the late 70s. 

He admits to being quite taken with U2 from the start, even in what he calls their early, "messy” days, a time in which their cohesiveness was tested and the band projected the fame they wanted, even before they had it.

“They have this generosity of spirit with one another,” he said.  “That’s why they have stuck together.” 

Colm, who owns a gallery in Dublin where he shows his prints and test-drives them for public reception, has his reasons for choosing Manchester over Dublin for this exhibition. 

He has no delusions about U2’s mixed following in Dublin, and the show is likely to do better here in Manchester.  Also, this is the most musical city in the British Isles according to him, and because Joy Division and The Smiths were strong influences on the band, he feels it’s the most credible location.  

“I couldn’t have had it in Newcastle, could I?” he joked.   

On the ground floor are celebrated photos of Phil Lynott and Tom Waits, both taken in 1983.  Of the Waits shot, which is close-in, grainy, and as contemplative as the man’s music, the musician himself has said, “This is an ‘inner-view’ and not an interview photo.” 

Exhibition With Phil Lynott Looking Out From The BackExhibition With Phil Lynott Looking Out From The Back

The show, says Colm, becomes more esoteric on the top floor.  Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott, Sinead O’Connor, and The Pogues are among the shots in sleek black frames that line the wall, alongside other musicians that will strike a nostalgic chord with members of Manchester’s Irish community and music fans generally. 

When asked if he felt like a voyeur at times, following musicians around and hovering at the periphery of conversations, he said:  “When you’re hiding behind the camera, you’re not part of it.  You’re not an active participant. That’s the thing about being about being a photographer you can’t get away from.” 

But the public eye will be on Colm and his work as the exhibition continues until 4 December, with a show featuring Kevin Cummins’ work on Joy Division to follow from 6 January. 

The gallery, which also operates a photographic school and studio, opened in August 2010.  

“The response from the public has been amazing so far,” said Andrew Hill, Managing Director of Manchester Photographic Gallery. “We’re very pleased as a gallery to exhibit Colm’s work.” 

Manchester Photographic Gallery, 3B Tariff Street, Manchester, M1 2FF. An Irish Eye is on until 4 December.


Colm HenryColm Henry


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