not a member? click here to sign up
Cummins As You Are
The man who captured iconic snaps of Manchester’s legends, Kevin Cummins is integral to the stories of everyone from Joy Division to The Stone Roses. Now he unveils his Smiths collection...
Craig Fitzpatrick, 20 Jun 2012
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, Kevin Cummins is one of the greatest storytellers of our era. “I did a talk a few years ago with Tony Wilson,” he chuckles. “He was saying how the words were always more important than the images. So I said, ‘okay, here’s five of my best NME covers, tell me who wrote the accompanying pieces’. No one knew any of them! Paul Morley was on the panel and Paul didn’t even remember that he’d written one of them!”
A Manc through and through Kevin became the NME’s de facto northern snapper in the ‘70s, giving him the tantalising chance to immortalise some of the greatest rock groups the world has ever known.
“By the time The Smiths arrived,” he notes, “I realised I was sitting on an interesting archive and it was important to keep that going.”
Manchester: So Much To Answer For, an exhibition of Cummins’ startling visual work with the band, runs in London until July 15. Among the legendary shots is a captivating early picture of Morrissey which was originally destined for bigger things...
“It was supposed to be their first cover for the NME. Him lying on his back, in the grass, with his hands outstretched. I love that shot and it would have made such a great cover. But the features editor pulled it at the last minute and put Big Country on the cover instead because, he said, ‘The Smiths would never be big enough to be on the cover of the NME’. Bit ironic really when you realise they went on to be on the cover about 40 times thereafter!
“There was a real energy between the four of them. They all brought something to the party. It was quite cute when I first photographed them. The Smiths weren’t used to being photographed and just stood there in the exact same positions they would on stage. They hadn’t really thought beyond that.”
Of all the New Orders and Stone Roses he’s shot, Cummins points to a certain quiffed figure as the one who always knew what he wanted visually.
“I enjoyed working with Morrissey and he obviously enjoyed working with me. So you break the barrier of the camera down. He then started reacting to me instead of the camera. So when the viewer’s looking at the picture, you have him looking at me and, by default, you. It’s quite flirtatious in a way. People find him difficult to work with but I think all great artists are difficult to work with because they’re very single-minded.”