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Getting The Measure Of Kevin Cummins

 Can you remember the first photograph you ever took?

''Yes, It was a photo of my dad in Trafalgar Square when I was five. I got a camera for my birthday and shot a roll of film when we went on holiday to London.''

Who was the most difficult person or group to shoot?

''I generally don’t find people difficult to shoot. It’s my job. If they don’t turn up, that’s difficult - but generally they want to get it over with as quickly as possible, so people are usually pretty cooperative. Having said that, Prince Charles was the rudest most uncooperative person I’ve ever been commissioned to photograph, with John Motson running him a close second.''

Speaking of which is Peter hook still asking you to pay him for that bridge photo?

''No. That’s long in the past now. In fact he’s just given me a really interesting interview for my forthcoming Joy Division book'' 

You always attend the entire gig when shooting a band, how do you stay focussed (literally and metaphorically) in the heat of the moment? 

''Again, it’s something that doesn’t worry me. It’s a job, so I just do it to the best of my ability. If you’re shooting from the pit in front of the stage, you just have to remember that other people are there to do their jobs too - stewards, road crew, etc. Don’t be a dick and think the gig revolves around you. You’re just one part of the whole roadshow. If you don’t get the photo you were hoping for, it’s not the end of the world. Go to another gig and try to do it there.''

You shot The Smiths and Morrissey quite a lot, what’s your take on the modern day Morrissey compared to his persona back in the early days?  

''I’ve not met Morrissey for quite a long time. He sent me a very nice letter when my Manchester: Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain came out. All I know is what I read about him, which is similar to how everyone else gets their information.'' 

Bjork shot by Kevin , 1993.
Public Enemy, 1988.

Aside from the more technical elements can someone be taught to take a good photograph or is it more of an instinctive thing that either you can or can’t do?

''You can learn about composition and use of light - natural light or studio lighting - and how to expose the image correctly and so on. In fact, you can never stop learning. The art of crafting a great photo becomes intuitive, but never think you know everything. You don’t.''

Has digital photography ruined the magic and excitement of gradually developing something  in a dark room?

''Well knowing that you‘ve got the photo makes it more relaxing, rather than waiting for a couple of days to get it processed. Working with it on a computer is similar to darkroom work, and my hands are no longer stained with the chemistry. And I can also work in a darkroom with archive material. Everything I shot up to 2003 is on film.''

You’ve been involved in some incredible music scenes and attended some phenomenal gigs but is there a specific time and a place that was particularly special to you and is there a photo you’ve taken that reminds you of this period?

''I enjoy all of it. It’s not worth doing if you don’t enjoy it. Punk was great. The energy in the small scruffy venues was great. Nobody moaning that the beer was crap. We were just there for the music. I’ve got lots of good memories. Spike Island for the Stone Roses - shooting it from the stage was quite special. Bowie’s 50th birthday gig at Madison Square Garden was pretty special too - and photographing him the following day, out on the streets in New York City without anyone giving him a second glance. Happy Mondays at the Maracana in Rio. Again, shooting from the stage and seeing the vast crowd loving it, during the heaviest rainstorm I’ve ever known (which is praise indeed when you come from Manchester). We all thought we were going to be electrocuted.''

As well as getting to see what you’re up to at the moment this series of interviews are designed to unearth something lesser known or fairly surprising about you. Despite being synonymous with Manchester it may surprise some people to discuss that you’ve spent nearly half your life in London having moved there in 1987. What made you decide to make the move?

''The music press and the media generally was/is based here. It was the only way to make it work.''

The following year the acid house explosion happened in Manchester and then Madchester, did you spend quite a lot on trains during that time?

''Yes. I still do - I still go to watch City every match. I know every inch of that west coast mainline between London and Manchester.''

It was around this time that you started to shoot more in colour too, was this a direct reaction to the psychedelic influences of this scene?

''Yes, partly. The NME was printing in colour more regularly. Colour suited the bands; the drugs were more psychedelic. To be honest, we got paid more for colour, due to an outdated agreement with the publishers from back when it was a rarity. Nobody had ever thought to change it and we weren’t going to suggest it. So we got paid double the black and white rate for every colour shot used.''

Does living in Tooting play havoc with your lifelong dedication to Man City too?

''Not really. It was a bit of a nightmare when the train line was having loads of work done on it. Now it’s pretty quick (although I’ve not used it since last March). It gives me and my friends time to catch up and chat shit.''

What also might surprise (some) people is the amount of famous people you’ve shot aside from NME friendly faces. Which big hitters have you had in front of your lens and do you have any favourites?

''Lots of footballers obviously. Actors, writers and so on. I like most people I work with - there are a few exceptions as I said earlier. Eddie Izzard was good to work with, he just came round to my house to do the photos. Quentin Crisp was great. I shot him outside his apartment in New York. I enjoyed photographing Tony Benn too because I admired his politics.''

What do you think is the most powerful photograph you’ve taken?

''Probably the portrait of Ian Curtis wearing his overcoat while having a cigarette on a cold late afternoon on 6 January 1979.''


Ian Curtis by Kevin, 1979.

What are you up to next?

''Making a cup of tea.''