Hot on the heels of his Joy Division exhibition at Proud Camden in 2012, Kevin Cummins - rock photographer, music mag photo stalwart, documentarian of UK bands for forty years - returns with a strange and interesting look at New Order.
New Order were a Factory band comprised of former Joy Division members, formed in the grief and fog after the death of Ian Curtis. The exhibition is dedicated to various points in the eighties, nineties and two-thousands, but the focal point is New Order in America, post-'Blue Monday', enjoying international acclaim. New Order in America were the strange, English ‘other’ band, and spent a long period in ‘83 touring around the States - more specifically, New York.
In the middle of the exhibition is a photo of Bernard Sumner standing on a training pitch in an estate in front of John Barnes. Sumner looks grumpy. Barnes looks confused. There is a can of Stella on the floor. This photo represents the incongruity of Cummins’ best work, work that is typically English. The black and white New York stage shots of Peter Hook in leather trousers, bass slung low while playing a gig are greatest-hits-album-insert gold, but visually they aren’t nearly as interesting as when Cummins is setting the scene outside of a normal magazine photo shoot. He is at his best when he is photographing a band on a stage other than a live one - he is a masterful director when setting the band in a context less traditional than NME live pictures.
In the exhibition, photos of perennially sunglassed-Bernard Sumner looking grumpy in America are juxtaposed with photos of Bernard Sumner looking grumpy on stage. But although the onstage photos are (ironically) less staged, strangely they are less about the band than the posed ones. Visually, what is most interesting about New Order are the shots taken in the gaps between their performances: Gillian Gilbert wreathed in shadows; Sumner looking grumpy with an American number plate;Peter Hook bisected by shadows, lighting a fag, eyes to the floor; a tetraptych of the four band members basking by a pool in LA sunlight in 1983 during the height of their fame. Those sunbathing Kodak borders of C-type pictures epitomise New Order in the middle of something unreal: they look like they've wandered in from a Brett Easton Ellis novel.
The exhibition (in the middle of Camden market - prepare to walk through enthusiastic tourists and Noel Fielding fanboys to get there) is a view of Cummins’ transition, or perhaps evolution, through the ages. Between 1983 and the reformation of New Order in 2011, Kevin Cummins took staged photos of a Mancunian band not at home and bathing in America after 'Blue Monday' came out and a US tour beckoned. And these gelatin silver photos belie a band in the middle of a strange dream. Cummins’ exhibition is not Madchester, it’s not the Hacienda, it’s a band out of context. I would highly recommend you go and see it immediately.