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Kevin Cummins Exemplar

Anne Louise Kershaw loves an exhibition at Manchester Photographic Gallery

Published on January 20th 2012.

Kevin Cummins Exemplar

AMIDST a week of ‘January blues’ came a buzz amongst the creative Mancs in my network. Tweets roared about the launch of Kevin Cummins’ Exemplar exhibition at Manchester Photographic Gallery - on till the end of February. 

Such creative tight-arsery resulted in a small, but beautifully melancholic, image collection that visually represented the way people heard Joy Division’s music. 

Anyone into music who thinks they don’t know the photographer Kevin Cummins is wrong. His work has been the base coat and Hall of Fame of musical imagery for the past 30 years.

This isn’t surprising as Cummins was associated with the NME for over 25 years (10 of which as their chief photographer). Think Nicky Wire with ‘Culture Slut’ across his chest, think blue-paint Stone Roses, think Bjork (I often do), think Bowie, Courtney Love … you get the picture. 

Kevin Cummins %26#38%3B Stephan MorrisKevin Cummins left and Stephen Morris of Joy Division and New Order. This picture by Anne Louise Kershaw all other images by Kevin Cummins

Amongst these musical visions, if you think of Joy Division, it’s likely you’ll be thinking in terms of Cummins (apart from the strip lighting shot at Lancaster Gate, that was by Anton Corbijn, Control director). Whether an intense live shot – capturing Ian Curtis’ transfixed stare or erratic dancing – or the eerie industrial landscape of the band on Hulme Bridge in the snow, Cummins’ vision is what visually defined them. 

Cummins was beginning his career as Joy Division were beginning to find their feet. A relationship formed allowing Cummins matchless access to a band on a mission, and Joy Division the opportunity to be captured the way they wanted. 

Cummins, who paid for his own film back in those days, had to make sure that each image counted. Consequently, whether shooting for the NME or for the band at rehearsals or gigs, he “rarely wasted a shot”. As most publications wanted black and white pictures he rarely wasted money shooting in colour either. Such creative tight-arsery resulted in a small, but beautifully melancholic, image collection that visually represented the way people heard Joy Division’s music. 

These images and more, including hand scrawled lyrics and set lists and so on, are displayed in silver gelatin print, each surrounded by remains of the original negatives. This adds a ‘photographic’ feel to the exhibition, highlighting not only the subject, but also the photographer and photography process. 

Architecturally, the gallery’s glass façade provides a constant reminder of the heritage surrounding the images. Viewing Joy Division, collars raised on that icy bridge, with the industrial trappings so synonymous with Manchester on view through the glass in the gallery, there couldn’t be a setting more suitable to grasp the beauty of these pictures.

Manchester Photographic Gallery is at Tariff Street, Northern Quarter, City, 0161 236 2446. Click here for the website. Exemplar: Joy Division by Kevin Cummins, Manchester Photographic  6 January - 26 February.

You can read more from Anne Louise Kershaw here.









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