1.Firstly, why did you decide to publish a strictly limited edition
book of your Manic Street Preachers photographs now?
Ive been waiting for the right publisher to do it with really.
I did a Joy Division one about 3 years or so ago, and we were going
to put this out more-or-less straight afterwards, but then I had another
book out, the Manchester book with Faber, so I just thought that it
was too much to release at the same time. So, Ive been waiting
for a gap really to put it out
Its more for my personal
reasons really, rather than anything to do with the band, but I was
speaking to Gillian at Hall or Nothing (long-term MSP Press Officer)
and I told her that we were bringing it out and she said, Oh,
thatll be great, because theyll have their new Singles Collection
out by then!
2.How did you choose which shots to include and how long was the
Ive photographed them quite a lot over their career, so
its really difficult, because you keep changing your mind as well
(laughing). The photographs are more-or-less chronological, but its
tough, because you sit down with all of the images and you start chipping
away at them. Then, when Id got a collection of about 400 pictures,
I scanned all of those in and then looked at them and decided to work
out which pairs worked best next to each other. Then I gave the designers
about 250 images for them to do the artwork.
3.The band were famously excited to be photographed by you and as
scholars of the music press, knew all of your previous work. But, can
you remember your first impressions of meeting the Manics and were they
comfortable being in front of the lens?
The first time that I met them was in Paris, when I did a small
piece for the NMEs monthly magazine, VOX. I think they played
at La Locomotive the night before we did the pictures and I had to photograph
them on Sunday morning quite early, because I had to go back to London,
so they were pretty hungover! When you look at the pictures, James and
Sean almost look like theyre about to go to sleep (laughing)!
I felt at the time, although Nicky and Richey had a very definable image,
Sean and James still hadnt really worked out how they fitted in
with those two. So, a few months later when I shot them for their first
NME cover (May 1, 1991), we talked about it in the office, how wed
put Richey and Nicky on the cover rather than a full band shot.
4.When shooting musicians, youve stated that Its always
more interesting if its a collaborative process. I prefer working
with visually creative people, although that youre always
aware that your responsibility is to create photographs
that complement their sound and personalities. So, did MSP have
much involvement in the planning stage of each of your shoots?
Well, not really in the planning stage (pausing), the thing is,
in the past, you used to get a lot more time with bands and musicians
than you do these days. Ive been all over the world with them,
so you used to get quite a lot of time before you had to shoot anyway
and so there was time to discuss it. When they were having their first
NME cover shoot, they had obviously discussed it together, because Richey
and Nicky went out the night before and asked girls in this club they
were in to give them love bites, so they would look really trashy the
following day. So, I liked that and I liked the way they wanted to be
involved, because quite often bands dont really want any involvement,
or they have ideas that you cant possibly turn into a good photograph.
With the Manics, they were interested, but they didnt ever come
to me and say, This is what wed like. So everything
that Ive shot, has been my idea and my way of working with them.
5.You travelled with the group to Bangkok in April 1994, with Nicky
once saying, Wed just peaked with our look out there (in
Thailand). Kevin should do a book just from that trip. Unfortunately
he only took about 40 pictures the lazy sod. Can you tell
us more about this infamous trek, as well as anything about
the shows themselves?
Cheeky fucker. It was more like 400 shots which is 300
more than Id normally take on a session
When we did the
NME cover shot though, it was so hot and the drains were quite pungent
(laughing), that halfway through the session as we were shooting it,
Nicky was looking greener and greener (laughing), until at one point,
he just disappeared and went to throw-up! Then, he looked marginally
better, although like he now had a horrible taste in his mouth (laughing).
So, that was quite a difficult shot to do. I had the idea that I wanted
to shoot them at night and we wanted to do some pictures around Patpong
and so on, but it was quite difficult, because there were lots of teenagers
hanging around whod been to the gigs, who were really excited
at the fact that the Manics were there. I managed to take Richey out
on his own one night, just around the streets, but I never got a full
band shot which is what I was looking for. Oddly, I went back to Thailand
some years ago with Placebo and I did the shot of them that Id
originally wanted to do with the Manics (laughing). But, the whole trip
was quite interesting, because they were the first band to play there
I think and it was very different its culturally very different.
They had these huge murals painted with their album and their faces
on, and the kids had to be really well-behaved at the gigs you know,
almost like they were controlling them. It used to be similar in Japan,
because when I went to Tokyo with Morrissey, he played at the Budokan
and its a huge venue and the whole place was in pens there
were about 12 to 15 people in each one. So, it makes it very regimented.
When the Manics started, all the kids at the front were really getting
into it, but it felt like the security was probably a bit heavy as well.
*I ask Kevin how Richey was coping at the time*
Well, he quite often seemed fairly preoccupied, but wed
take him out and hed enjoy himself for a while. Then, hed
wander off (pausing), the others hung around a lot more together and
hed kind of just occasionally disappear for a few hours, then
hed come back and he would seem fine. Its tough really,
because there are a lot of people whove died young and when you
work closely with someone, its a terrible shock, obviously. But
none of us thought, Richeys an accident waiting to happen,
none of us thought that at all, we just thought he was like a lot of
musicians, because he was quite wrapped-up in himself at the time.
6.Do you have any cherished Manic Street Preachers sessions / looks?
Well, I like all of the stuff that I did with them, because theyre
one of my favourite bands and so I always loved working with them! You
know, I never felt like it was a job, it was never a chore photographing
them and every time I photographed them, their look was different! They
were always open to suggestions as well and theres a lovely shot
which again was part of an NME cover session where I photographed
Richey with a statue, which is a black and white photo that looks great!
He was kind of clutching it and then hed just drift off into his
own world, and as I was photographing him in this courtyard in Wales
I think it was possibly a recording studio or a rehearsal space
but James and Nicky walked passed and Nicky shouted at him, Youre
such a whore Richey, youll do anything to get on the cover of
the NME! They were always great to work with and I always wanted
to shoot more with them really there was never a moment where
I would think, Im really glad that sessions over.
7.Of all the music paper headlines that accompanied your work, as
well as the bands own spray-painted shirt slogans which
placed further emphasis on their indignation, frustration, profundity,
loneliness and strong-minded artistic expression are there any
that have always stayed with you?
With headlines, Id have to look at them all to try and remember
what they are, because I dont tend to look at them, though I make
sure the pictures are used properly. However, I do remember the David
Bowie one where hes smoking on the cover and they put Ciggy
Stardust (laughing)! But, I cant remember many coverlines.
As for the Manics spray-painted shirt slogans, theres several
pieces like that in the book, and also, obviously for their first ever
NME session, I wrote Culture SLUT with lipstick on Nickys
chest. Were also using quotes by people the Manics often referenced
in the book as well, so theres quotes from Karl Marx and various
others dotted throughout, which I think ties it in with their aesthetic
quite well. Jon Savage is also writing an essay for the book, which
is really nice of him, so youll be able contextualise slogans
8.Are studio portraits, live photographs and candid shots, equally important
I think so, and oddly, I did quite a lot of studio sessions with
the band, whereas normally, Id take more pictures on the road.
So equally, theres some very nice pictures backstage, like in
Swansea and when they appeared on Top Of The Pops, and theres
also some pictures when they did an instore signing at Tower Records
in LA. With a lot of bands, Ive maybe done some very stylised
sessions with them, but with the Manics, theres a really good
mixture of stuff theres pictures on a beach in Wales, theres
pictures in Thailand, theres pictures of them in Hollywood and
theres loads of studio sessions. I think theyre equally
important, because it just shows the progression of the band. Theyre
not like a lot of musicians who almost just look like an older version
of themselves, they change all the time, so I always felt that the visuals
were really important to the band. I was looking at the photographs
with the Manics manager, Martin Hall, and he said, Oh, theres
one of James with his blond hair! Id forgotten about that.
Its important that there are all of these photographs of them,
and I think they attract photographers really, because they are so visual!
*I say that whenever you look at any photograph of MSP, you can always
pinpoint exactly which album they were promoting*
Yeah, definitely! Whereas with a lot of bands, for instance New
Order, I can never work out which album the sessions were for. You know,
the Manics have a very definite image, although weirdly, they change
that a lot, but they do have a definite image and that is all based
on (pausing), its everything really, its the sloganeering,
the visuals and their use of iconography. So, I find them quite fascinating
because of that! I think with some bands, photographs can define how
people perceive the band, for instance with my Joy Division pictures,
you look at those pictures and you know what that band are going to
sound like. I think thats really important and I think similarly
with the Manics, because of the way they look, you do get an idea of
what their sound is like.
9.At the time, what cameras, lenses and films were you using?
Everything thats shot with them, is shot on film. So, all
the stuff on tour wouldve been shot on Nikon F3s and a lot
of the studio stuff was shot using a Hasselblad. There are also a set
of pictures that I did (for the Gold Against The Soul era) which are
Polaroid transfers, which I shot on a Polaroid 5x4 camera. Theyre
lovely and you only get one shot at it really, to get it dead right.
Its quite a difficult process, because you shoot it on 5x4 Polaroid
and then you have to soak the art paper with water and peel the Polaroid
apart, put a heavy roller onto it and roll it onto the paper. You then
leave that on the paper for maybe a minute, before peeling away the
Polaroid so that its transferred onto the paper, rather than onto
the glossy Polaroid paper. Its a really nice process, although
you have to get it right! But, I really love them and I feel that really
worked for them they were the only band that I could think of
that that kind of thing would work with. Although the NME didnt
really like them, because they didnt really understand how they
could use them (laughing).
10.Were the group keen to view / discuss prints with you, and did
they ever request copies for their own archives?
I cant remember them ever requesting copies, but they do
like them, because whenever they talk through their career in magazines,
Nicky has said that the gold sari cloth session is his favourite picture
ever! I think its an important shot for them anyway, because it
was their first cover and it just went really well it basically
defined their image at that time you know?
11.Your pictures are beautifully composed, frequently incorporating
locations to breathtaking effect, but do you have any favourite Manics
images, for either aesthetic or significant reasons?
Yeah, Ive got a lovely shot of Richey clutching this huge
Snoopy dog that a fan gave to him in Thailand hes just
clinging onto it, in the way that he then later clinged onto the statue.
So, thats a lovely picture and theres also a really lovely
picture of Nicky backstage in Swansea, with a cute necklace that somebody
has given to him. But theyre a very strong looking group, so Ive
got lots of favourite images of them and theres not a single picture
in the book that Im not happy with Im really proud
of all the pictures that Ive got!
12.For you personally, what qualities should a classic photograph
Well, there are lots of elements really, but I think a good portrait
should tell you about the subject rather than the photographer, and
I think some photographers tend to, or try to, put too much of themselves
in a picture. I also think its important to build a relationship
up with people youre working with, so that when you are shooting
them, theyre reacting to you rather than reacting to the camera.
The camera can sometimes be your barrier, and sometimes if youve
got the luxury of it when I go on the road with a band, maybe
for the first few days I wont take a picture, because I want them
to get used to me being around. Then when you bring the camera out,
theyre still responding to you. So, I think thats really
important! One responsibility I think, when you shoot musicians, is
to accurately reflect what theyre about; for example, theyd
be no point in me doing a shot of the Manics in front of a London Tube
sign, because it wouldnt suit their image and it wouldnt
suit what they were about. If you look at the gold sari cloth session,
that very, very clearly defined what they were about at the time. I
mean, if you were into glam and all that kind of stuff, youd look
at that cover and you would know you would like that band! You know,
thats what I think music photography should be about you
look at pictures and youre intrigued to know what that band sound
13.Are you happy to crop images or do you prefer to always print
I can be really precious about pictures, because I do compose
them in-camera, so thats the way I want them to look. When I was
shooting on Hasselblad which is obviously a 6x6 square
the NME was 16x12, so a picture would have to be cropped to go on the
cover. So, I would had to have been a bit over-precious to think that
they should print a square picture on the cover everytime. And also,
Im shooting for a music paper, theyre not shot for a gallery
wall, so it has to suit the medium really and certainly in those days,
because it was printed on newspaper, there was a certain way of shooting
that maybe would work on that. You know, Id always print very
hard for black and white, so that by the time it was printed on the
page, the inks would soak in. Youve got to shoot for the medium
14.Are there any shots of MSP by other photographers that you admire?
Im not a big fan of music photography, but with the Manics,
maybe some of Mitch Ikedas but he shoots millions (laughs
heartily)! He photographs them all the time, whereas Im much more
sparing with mine, even with digital, I tend to shoot digital like Im
shooting on film. I dont shoot thousands and thousands of pictures,
but Mitch does, he never stops! He foresaw what social media was all
going to be about (laughing), people documenting every second of their
lives, before anyone else thought of doing it! So, I like his stuff
just for the sheer volume of it. At the NME, we had a very specific
idea of how certain bands should look and Melody Maker had their own
idea as well, so they sometimes took them in a different direction to
us. I like the way Tom Sheehan works and how he gets on with the bands
and so on, but Ive not seen a picture of the Manics and
I dont mean to sound arrogant where Ive thought,
I wish Id taken that. Because Im happy with
the stuff that I did.
15.Of all your pictures, is there an image that youve found
to be particularly popular amongst people?
Well, it varies really and inevitably, people think I probably
live in a house full of my own pictures, but the only picture that I
have up in my house that Ive taken, is the picture of Richey with
all of the Marilyn Monroe prints over his body. Ive got a really
lovely print of that in a gold frame and it looks great!
*I ask Kevin how long it took to apply all of the Marilyn Monroe stamps
to Richeys torso*
About 2 hours (laughing)! I think a lot of people like that shot,
but you know, if people like the band, then theyve got their own
favourites I guess.
16.Do you have a favourite Manics era / any favourite songs, albums,
artwork and videos?
Not really, because I like the way they change, so there isnt
one era that defines them for me. What I found really interesting, because
you can dip in-and-out of certain bands (pausing), Im known for
liking Manchester bands and I guess I do tend to still listen to a lot
of the stuff that I grew-up with. But when I went to the Manics
Roundhouse show a couple of years ago, I just thought it was great and
I realised that I knew far more of their stuff than I thought I did.
But I like the way that they have different songs and different periods,
and if you buy an album, its not going to be like a New Order
one, which might possibly sound very close to their previous album.
They seem to work in a way that takes them in very different directions
and thats what I like about them! I find them quite challenging
and theyre not safe because a lot of bands are very
safe and I dont think the Manics are.
17.You welcomed MSPs thirst for knowledge and adventure, but
how would you sum up your time documenting the band did you get
to know them well / have lots of fond memories?
Yeah, I think so, and I think were all fond of each other
in various ways you know? I mean, when I tend to work closely with a
lot of musicians, the reason I can have a long working-relationship
with people I guess, is that theres mutual respect. And also,
unlike a lot of journalists, I dont want to be everyones
best mate. You have a good time when youre away together, but
then I dont say to them, Look, come round for dinner on
Sunday. I keep my distance and I realise that its a professional
relationship. I guess thats why Ive had a long working-relationship
with certain bands, because I dont impose on them and I dont
impose on them when theyre working either, I let them do their
own thing. I mean, sometimes, youre sailing a bit close to the
wind when youve been away for 5 days and youve still not
got a cover shot, you might have to drag them out and make them do something
then (laughing)! But, you dont have to force any of that lot to
have their picture taken, they were always very keen to have their photographs
*I ask Kevin if he noticed any difference in MSP when they became a
No, not really. I mean, anybody whos a fan of the band will
know the difference there really. They were quite melancholic I think,
for a couple of years and it was a terrible place to be in, to not know
what had happened to Richey. You would go and see them live and it was
like they were all grieving, but they didnt know how to grieve.
The fact that they would line-up onstage in exactly the same way and
leave an empty space where Richey should be, I like that and I like
how sensitive they all are, because theyre all terribly sensitive
about lots of things. I do like that and I like the fact that theyre
very comfortable with that theyre the least macho band
that Ive ever worked with! The last session I did with them was
in 1998 for Esquire
I cant remember exactly what it was,
but I got to a stage where I had to photograph a lot of other stuff.
I stopped working for the NME because IPC wanted to introduce some ridiculous
contract where they would own our work, and we wouldnt have any
access to it at all! Whereas previously, everything that Id shot,
was my copyright obviously, but they wanted to take that away form us.
So, thats when I stopped working for the NME, but I still shoot
music for Japanese magazines and for occasional British magazines and
so on. I dont know really, I felt a bit burnt-out because Id
been shooting musicians for so long, that I wanted a change of scenery
for a couple of years. But oddly, Im currently shooting quite
a lot of stuff with New Order at the moment, because theyve just
got back together without Peter Hook, so Ive been going up to
Manchester to do some things in the rehearsal rooms with them.
18.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
*I mention that all of the Manics went for chips as well, to which Kevin
laughs heartily! After our interview has finished, I then thank Kevin
for his time and wish him Good Luck with his photography and the release
of Sometimes the Skys Too Bright*
Thank You very much!
A very special thanks to Kevin, and to Zak @ AMUTi
Editions, for all of their time and help. All photographs courtesy of
and © Kevin Cummins.
I loved the trash aesthetic of the band.
It was all very obvious: Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol
and Jayne Mansfield tragic blondes.
- Kevin Cummins, 2008