Picture This

Rock photography is a vital but often overlooked part of the music industry. Think of some artists and what springs to mind just as readily as their music is an iconic image of them from a record cover or a music magazine.

Many of the iconic images of rock’s recent past feature at the BME in one way or another helping us to illustrate the history of British music. In our ‘On Tour’ section for example we have amazing images of Hendrix taken by Bruce Fleming who hung out with Jimi in London and got to take the cover photograph for the ‘Are You Experienced’ album. Bruce has even loaned us the Hasselblad camera that he took that very image with.  Sheila Rock’s iconic punk image of Jordan outside Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Sex’ shop decorates one of our walls and still looks amazing over 40 years on.  Jordan herself has been in to visit BME and was happy to pose for us next to this enduring image.

The increasing recognition of the importance of music photography is reflected in the number of  books published featuring the works of key photographers. Over the next few weeks we are fortunate enough to have two events featuring photographers talking about their work.

On the 11th October we have Charles Moriarty talking about his book ‘Back To Amy’. It is a gorgeous publication featuring many previously unseen pictures of Amy in the early stages of her career.  The photos and the interviews with Amy’s Mother and others who were close to Amy give a real insight into her life at that time. Above all else it reminds you that when you strip away all the tabloid nonsense Amy was a smart, funny, beautiful young woman, fun to be around and living life to the full.  The fact that she was a massively talented artist who left us two brilliant albums before her tragic death is why people remain fascinated by her story.  Moriarty, through his images and his interviews gives us a real insight into what Amy was really like and for that alone this book is worth your attention.

Then on 19th October we are lucky enough to be joined by one of the photographic greats, Kevin Cummins.  Manchester born Cummins has photographed pretty much every rock act that matters including the likes of Bowie, Jagger, The Stones Roses, Joy Division, Blur and Oasis to name just a few. Kevin’s latest work the brilliantly titled ‘Morrissey: Alone and Palely Loitering’  covers a ten year period from The Smiths through to the early years of Morrisey’s solo career.  As you would expect from Cummins the images are never less than stunning.

If you have ever heard Kevin talk about his work then you will know that he is a fascinating interviewee. He is considered but funny and while fully recognising the importance of his work he is never over precious.  What’s more he has a brilliant anecdote at hand from almost all his shoots and his stories about Bowie and Duran Duran among my favourites.

This book is interesting in all sorts of ways. If you are a Smiths and/or Morrissey fan you can not only enjoy the visual treats but Kevin gives intriguing insights into his subject and how aware Morrissey has always been about his own image and how he likes to be represented.

But even if you aren’t particularly a Morrissey fan then there is plenty here to interest you.  Scattered throughout the book are real insights from Kevin on why he got into photography, who inspired him, how he works with his subjects and the stories behind particular images. As someone who has always admired great live shots of bands I loved reading Kevin’s words on the practical problems a photographer faces in getting that perfect on-stage image. 

The book finishes with a slightly different angle: images of people who show their devotion to Morrissey by decorating their bodies with tattoos featuring images of the man himself or lyrics from his songs. (This part of the book is accompanied by a lovely short essay by Gail Crowther which explores this strange phenomenon.)

It was really only when I began writing for music publications that I truly realised the importance of photography for musicians. But when you think about it the photograph in a feature about a band is often just as important as what the group actually say to the interviewer. The picture gives you a feel for what the band are about and it explains why artists, their managers and record labels are prepared to pay substantial sums to get the right promo shot. 

I have been lucky enough to work with some great photographers in my time. As a young journalist I was reviewing a group called Imagination for the NME. This was the first time I worked with the great Kevin Cummins himself and I still remember the night vividly.  Kevin has photographed all my favourite bands: Joy Division, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Clash, and suddenly here I was working with him! I was only 19 years old and still new to the mad world of NME so I was understandably a little nervous.  But our conversation quickly turned to football and I soon relaxed.  Then I remember Kevin switching into action and becoming completely focused on getting exactly the right shot. I have still got a copy of that review and while I don’t think the pictures from that gig have ever made it into one of Kevin’s books they still look pretty damn good. For Kevin I guess it was just another night’s work.

For the event at the BME Kevin we are delighted to announce that Kevin will be interviewed by author and broadcaster, Peter Hooton. Peter is the singer in Liverpool band The Farm, who at the height of their fame were photographed many times by Cummins. Famously the band once dressed up as characters from Dad’s Army for a particularly memorable session with Kevin for the NME.

I was fortunate in that I was writing for the NME at a great time for rock photography and when many of the best like Kevin and Anton Corbijn were working for the same publication.   The first photographer I worked with around that time was John Stoddart. We were both just starting out but it was clear that John was a real talent from the off. We partied hard but John always delivered brilliant work. I remember one Saturday afternoon adventure where John introduced me to the delights of a drink called Aussie White. It was a not very subtle drink that knocked me sideways but seemed to have no impact whatsoever on John!

 It was in the same period that I wrote the first ever Frankie Goes To Hollywood review for a national music paper. John came up with some extraordinary images of the band that fitted perfectly with the risqué nature of the group. And that was it really – John was off and running. Although he moved away from rock photography he has gone on to be a top photographer with a very successful career photographing the rich and famous.

Mark McNulty is another brilliant photographer I have worked with a lot over the years and he is still continuing to produce stunning work. Mark seemed to really come to the fore when we were both covering the explosion of dance music in the late 80’s for publications like Mixmag, ID, and The Face. Mark was a master at somehow managing to get amazing shots which perfectly brought home the energy and madness of those gloriously hedonistic nights. To keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs: now that is a real skill!

To find out more about our upcoming events, click here!