GALLERY: Kevin Cummins’ Manics Shots

Before tQ editor John Doran interviews him at Manchester's Louder Than Words festival this weekend, Kevin Cummins talks us through some of his best shots of the Manic Street Preachers from his upcoming book, Assassinated Beauty

Renowned rock photographer Kevin Cummins has shot the Manic Street Preachers more than any other band. His work with such iconic rock groups as Joy Division and The Stone Roses helped both to create their public personae and cement their visual legacy by taking each band’s own striking aesthetic and imbuing it with his own artistic vision, creating a body of work that takes the musician’s ideas of self-presentation to their furthest extremes. His work is very much concerned with propagating and preserving the myth of the otherworldly rock artist; as he tells us ahead of appearing at Louder Than Words this weekend: "I don’t want my bands to be normal; I want them to be untouchable. I want them to be beautiful."

So, when the Manic Street Preachers entered the scene in 1986 to a musical landscape dominated by sub-par psychedelics and neo-hippy slackers, they were a godsend for a photographer like Cummins, being both visual and musical anathema to the prevailing trends of the time and projecting an angrier, more intelligent and sexier aesthetic than any other group around. This was something immediately evident to Cummins on his first meeting with the band for a shoot in Paris in 1992, as he remembers. "I just kinda liked their attitude … they’d shamelessly borrowed from The Clash, but they’d given it a slightly different direction." Over his years as chief photographer for the NME Cummins would both document and contribute to the changing visual presentation of the band. When talking to Cummins however it’s evident that for him the ideas of the band were just important as their look, as he talks of being introduced to the work of photojournalist Kevin Carter through a Manics song of the same name: "I didn’t know anything about him until they wrote that song, and I admire them for things like that… They’re educating their audience which I admire a lot. They’re not lecturing you because they’re making it entertainment as well, but subconsciously you’re taking a lot in when you listen to them.’

Now Kevin is releasing a visual biography of his work with the Manic Street Preachers, Assassinated Beauty, which will be out in December via Faber & Faber. Having been offered a four-book deal by the publisher after the success of his book documenting the musicians of Manchester (Looking For The Light Through The Pouring Rain), he felt a collection on the Manics would be important because, "They have very devoted fans in the same way that Joy Division did, so it just seemed like a natural progression." The work, published December 4, covers Cummins’ work with the band from the period just before the release of 1992’s Generation Terrorists to the immediate aftermath of Richey Edwards tragic disappearance and the group’s initial re-emergence as a three-piece.

For the project Cummins interviewed James Dean Bradfield, speaking at length about both the iconography of the band and "the emotional experience of losing a friend, but still not understanding where he was". The book also contains an introduction by Michael Sheen, the Welsh actor and longtime fan who has appeared in the Manics’ video for ‘(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love’, whom Cummins approached when he was playing Hamlet at the Young Vic. The pair spent an afternoon chatting about the group, and the introduction was written up in the actor’s words. During our interview Cummins stresses that the book will be more than a visual record of the band’s history, but will focus both on the band’s changing self-presentation and the ideas they presented, asserting: "I don’t really like books where you’ve just got a relentless slog through a band’s history. I think it needs room to breathe." Hence the book will be broken up with standalone ‘slogan pages’ which present the ideas and people the band reference in their interviews and songs.

Cummins asserts the importance of rock photography, like his distinctive work with the Manics, as the first point of contact with new music in the pre-internet age in a telling anecdote: "I did a talk before Tony Wilson died, with Wilson, Paul Morley and Bill Drummond about media manipulation. I was talking about how the visual is far more important than the written word in rock music, which Drummond and Morley obviously said was rubbish. So I pulled four NME covers out and asked them who wrote the features, which nobody knew. Paul Morley had written two of them and even he didn’t remember!"

Kevin Cummins will be discussing the book with the Quietus’ John Doran at Louder Than Words festival this weekend, on Saturday 15 November; head here for full details and tickets

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