Kevin Cummins at Leeds Creative Networks

Best known for his portraits of Joy Division, Kevin Cummins attracted a sell out crowd at Creative Networks – the gravitational pull of a young, dead rock star exerts its influence over vast distances of time.

Mr Cummins explained that he had written his presentation on the train up from London. This produced appreciative laughter from the audience. I steeled myself with apprehension, justifiably so, as he then invited us all to watch television.

He had a 15 minute film about… well, about what he was supposed to be talking about that evening – his life as a photographer and his relationship with Ian Curtis, the suicidal singer from Joy Division. If I had wanted to watch television, I would have stayed at home. Anyway, my main criticism of the film (and rock history in general) is the scant credit given to Martin Hannett for creating the Joy Division sound. He was to Joy Division what Trevor Horn was to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After the television show, the audience clapped the… what? the machinery that transmitted the video? I just don’t understand why people clap after seeing a video. OK, in this case, a character from the video was sharing the moment with the audience, but I have seen it done at live video links where it is just a dead screen with coloured shadows flickering across it – weird.

So, the human part of the evening kicked off and we were treated to a knockabout routine from Bridget March, the host for the evening and Mr. Cummins, when, in Mr. Bean fashion, Bridget accidentally revealed all the images Mr. Cummins was going to show us in his presentation whilst he hilariously remonstrated with her about her incompetence. It was a genuinely funny moment.

Eventually the technology was bludgeoned into some kind of mutinous submission with the screen locked into displaying the giant face of the late Tony Wilson, the owner of The Hacienda night-club. Appropriately, he was looking down on the audience with a sardonic smile. Finally, Mr. Cummins was about to begin his presentation, only for him to discover he could not find his reading glasses. More hilarity ensued as a, ‘glasses hunt’ proceeded around the lectern. Eventually, Bridget saved the best punch-line for last when she revealed that she had them in her hand all the time they were looking for them. Tony Wilson beamed with droll mirth.

Suitably bespectacled, he then confessed that he had originally forgotten to include any images in his presentation (this guy is a photographer, remember) but managed to find a cd of some of his images at the last minute, one of which was the image of Tony Wilson who continuing to smirk at us on high as if to let us know that we were about to witness one of the world’s cruellest jokes.

Mr. Cummins duly read from his notes (rather well, as it happened. I suspect they were just a crutch) and described the life of the professional photographer in the music business. It became apparent that he is a canny operator and had the good fortune to start his career when mainstream media still had a stranglehold on distribution. His cleverest piece of work though, was to read up on copyright law whilst still at college and he subsequently had the presence of mind to maintain his copyright on all of his images – something he admitted that was impossible in today’s climate – a move that has kept the royalties pouring into his bank account ever since.

He also described a tense shoot with Javier Bardem where he tried to produce something different in the five minutes he was given to work with the Hollywood actor. His result was a masterpiece and Bardem’s PR company  preferred his shot to the vastly more expensive studio shoot they had paid for with another photographer. I kept thinking, “yes, so where is this freakin’ photo!” but when I looked at the screen, Tony Wilson continued to wink at me as if to say, ‘I told you this was going to be a cruel joke.’

We did eventually see the photo as Mr. Cummins whizzed through his images right at the end of his presentation when their impact was somewhat lost, but he is an affable guy and he had some interesting things to say, “The way to get on with these rock stars is not to try and be their friends but to talk about them all the time.” and included snippets of gossip about certain high profile performers. He also talked frankly about money, copyright and the digital revolution, in which, he is now out of his depth as – like the music industry as a whole is discovering – copyright laws are largely ineffectual. He also complained bitterly that everyone with an iphone now thinks that they’re a photographer… Exactly! Mr Cummins, exactly! For years I’ve been complaining that everyone with a larynx thinks that that qualifies them to be a presenter.

To be on the safe side, and not to invoke the copyright wrath of Mr. Cummins, the waggish picture of Tony Wilson I refer to, can be viewed here;

15 Responses to “Kevin Cummins at Leeds Creative Networks”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Chitty, Ivor Tymchak. Ivor Tymchak said: @rasharples @bridget_cn @DarrenScotland @matt_bullock @RichardMichie My review of last night; http://tinyurl.com/5t9hber [...]

  2. Kevin Cummins says:

    Hmm … I think people enjoyed it more than you did. I didn’t profess to be ‘out of my depth’ with regard to anything. You clearly have your own axe to grind with regard to broadcasting. I felt the film. – which was made specifically for events like this and not for tv – gave a good insight into the Joy Div story. Do you think I should have invited Johnny Marr, Noel G, David Peace, Maconie, stephen Morris, Morley, bernard Sumner et al up to Leeds for the evening too? I brought all the photos on my macbook pro. I couldn’t plug it in – they insisted it had to work on the pc in the lecture theatre. So I had to transfer the pics shortly before I started the presentation. I made a joke of it because I didn’t want to be disrespectful to my hosts. And my glasses did disappear. So what. I felt the evening went well. Sorry you didn’t. Perhaps I can come watch you do one of these presentations one day. I didn’t take a fee for it. It’s two days of my life imparting information culled from a 35 year (so far) career. I assumed I was giving people a bit of background and help. Sorry that it didn’t work for you. Also sorry for any typos. Attempting to do this on BlackBerry on train – without glasses …

  3. Rachel M says:

    I thought it was great.

    As a photographer, it was amazing for me to gain a bit of a glimpse into the workings of someone I very much look up to.

    These opportunities don’t come up very much, and I walked away feeling inspired.

    He’s not a performing seal, he’s a photographer.

  4. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Kevin, thanks for visiting. To be honest, when I write, I’m a bit like a photographer; I’m conscious of the image I want to portray and I also want to produce an interesting photograph, so I play with the depth of field, crop, select the ISO rating etc. Then I might do some post production… you get the picture. I believe you said you did the same thing with the Ian Curtis photographs.

    The review was a bit of fun and information for people who were not able to attend. For those who did attend, the review (like a music paper review of a live performance) is of passing interest because they have their own perceptions of the evening – they either enjoyed it, or they didn’t. As it happened, I quite enjoyed it but felt it could have been so much better.

    I attended that evening to hear you speak about your photographs. The video you showed, I could have watched on YouTube. Let me take your argument to it’s logical conclusion, instead of a 15 minute video, why didn’t you go into much greater depth and have a 2 hour video? You wouldn’t have to speak, ‘live’ at all then. It just doesn’t make sense.

    When I speak at a strange venue, I take everything I will need to do the presentation on my laptop, a cd and a memory stick to cover all eventualities. ‘Assume Nothing’ is the title of one of my talks. It was a good cover story you used though, because I believed it.

    I didn’t mean to belittle your professionalism when I said you were out of your depth with the digital revolution, what I meant to say was that, everyone is out of their depth because no-one knows where it is headed or how it will all end.

    I confess, I am a hard task master when it comes to presentation skills and I don’t criticise to be spiteful. I criticise in an attempt to alert people to areas of improvement. Perhaps I did use a, too contrasty grade of paper to print on, as it were, when I wrote the review and I apologise if I have caused you any offense. I think it is laudable when someone gives up their time to give something back and as you can see from the other comment here, some people got a huge amount from your presentation.

    As rock stars know only too well, being in the public realm can be both a blessing and a curse. It comes with the territory, as they say.

  5. Kevin Cummins says:

    The film is an introduction to my career. It answers the questions – without the audience asking – about how I started etc. It has good vox-pops with internationally famous musicians and a respected broadcaster and a writer. It would be pretty dull if I said ‘ and stephen morris said this about me once’ etc.

  6. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Kevin, I’m trying to be helpful here, honestly, I am. You have pretty much damned yourself with your own words. Let me paraphrase what I think you mean in your comment;
    ‘The film does the job of introducing me in a much better way than I ever could. It has lots of famous people in and plays great music. Then dull me comes on and it’s downhill all the way.’

    The hardest lesson to learn in the speaking profession, is that your presentation is not about you, it’s about the audience. What can you do for them? It’s not about self-aggrandizement, it’s about sharing your life lessons and experiences with those who wish to learn from them. This is a uniquely human experience and has great power.

    Take my advice, ditch the video and start to have some faith in your own story. You are privileged to have been so fortunate in your career and you underestimate the value of it to those who wish to emulate you. That sharing experience can be as exciting as you want to make it.

    I’ll bet, during a photo shoot, you never put the camera to your eye and think, “Well, this is going to be dull… perhaps I should have showed them the video first.”

  7. James says:

    I’m really shocked and disappointed that someone could submit such a negative review of what I thought was the best Creative Network event that I’d been to. I grew up admiring Kevin’s work in the pages of the NME but sadly wasn’t old enough to see many of the bands live. I thought the film brilliantly captured the energy and atmosphere of the time and portrayed how Kevin and the bands he loved worked in collaboration to create something which transcended the ordinary for us all to treasure. I think you have completely misinterpreted Kevin’s reasons for showing the film. While, as Johnny Marr pointed out, Kevin is “modest and doesn’t make much of a fuss” he does have faith in his own ability and I for one found him an engaging speaker, the best we’ve had at Creative Network. I just hope your nitpicking doesn’t put Kevin off giving up his precious time to talk for free at similar events in the future. If it does, I think it would be very much our loss.

  8. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Thanks for visiting James and for taking the time to comment. I absolutely respect your opinion of the event and as you make clear in your comment, you went with the expectation of thoroughly enjoying yourself that evening.

    If I could ask you to extend the same courtesy to me for a moment I will try to explain why I responded in the way I did to the event.

    I had no expectation of the evening. Those early photographs of Joy Division, was all I knew of Kevin’s work, in fact, I wasn’t even aware of who the photographer was until that evening. This meant I could be objective (as much as we can ever be) about his presentation because I had no emotional investment in his work. Thus, I was able to study the mechanics of his presentation as well as his content.

    Imagine a hard core fan goes to see their favourite band. The band decide to show a fifteen minute video of themselves before they go on stage. The fan would probably love this simply because it involves his or her heroes. Then imagine a disinterested music photographer attending the same event. He or she might be thinking, “Huh, I’ve come to photograph a live performance, why are they showing a video?”

    And don’t worry about Kevin being put off from speaking in the future; one thing I did learn from the evening is that he is made of sterner stuff than that.

  9. Aphrodite says:

    Are your own workshops and presentations as motivational, inspirational and encouraging as your review of a what most people thought was a brilliant evening with Kevin Cummins?

    SatNav for the soul?……………. unproven I think. I will stick to the stars for the next eternity.

  10. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Aphrodite, it is not for me to imagine what other people think of my presentations, you would need to ask them yourself (or, indeed, attend one yourself).

    I’m a little mystified as to why people think I have written a bad review of his presentation (I even say he does a pretty good job), all I have done is point out that some of his stage mechanics could do with some improvement – what is wrong with that? As yet, no-one has explained to me why a video is better than a human presence during a live presentation.

    I am so grateful for your last paragraph, however. My main purpose in my presentations is to get people to question and to think. You are doing that but I also try to get people to be clear in their thinking. You talk of, “the next eternity”, apart from that being a contradiction, can I ask you where you get your evidence from as to there being another eternity?

  11. Ponie Malone says:

    I’ve just read your review. What a peculiar person you must be.

    It sounds to me like you’re confusing what was a discussion about photography with what you wanted which sounds like a history of Joy Division ( you say: “Anyway, my main criticism of the film (and rock history in general) is the scant credit given to Martin Hannett for creating the Joy Division sound. He was to Joy Division what Trevor Horn was to Frankie Goes to Hollywood”).

    I assume that Kevin Cummins was there to talk about photography. If it’s a Joy Division’s production values you were after, I’d say you were at the wrong event.

    Maybe ask for your money back? Oh, hang on, it was free.

  12. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Excellent, Ponie… you make my point perfectly. I was there to hear a talk about photography, so why did Mr Cummins show a video about rock stars?

    As I was shown a video about Joy Division, which referenced Martin Hannett, I thought I would add my twopenny worth to the discussion – as an aside. Had Mr Cummins just talked about his photography, I wouldn’t have done so.

    I suppose I could have asked for my time back, but a) I happen to like Joy Division, and b) that’s something they can never give back to you.

  13. sqgl says:

    Politics aside, that is an entertaining read (and I wasn’t even there :) Hopefully now, 6 months after the event, both of you can laugh about it.

    Ivor does not always speak glowingly of himself either. Check “Weight Training” http://www.tymchak.com/blog/?p=534. A good example of humility when things don’t go right… but how many years after the event did that see the light of day?

    It is understandable that Kevin prefers to use a video rather than having to muster enthusiasm relating old stories to strangers over and over again. Surely that gives him energy to focus on more relevant aspects of his art (technical mishaps notwithstanding :) . I too would prefer such a video left as a youtube URL on a flier. Perhaps there are copyright concerns?

    As a musician myself I agree that Hannet was the JD sound but am surprised if any non-musician notices – good on you Ivor for trying to redress the perception.

  14. ivor says:

    Thanks for visiting Jo and for your honest comment. I take your point about not wanting to repeat old stories to strangers but how many comedians have been tempted to put their old jokes on a video and show that to the audience before they come on? It’s the live performers job to keep things fresh and to tell that story/gag in a way that sounds like they just thought of it.

    And thank you for reading the, “Weight-Training” story (which had some fiction in it, it must be said). I’m not sure what made me revisit the story after so many decades but I certainly wasn’t embarrassed about its content. As a musician, you might also like to read my impressions of a rock ‘n roll tour I did (also decades ago) when I fronted a band: “Czech’s drugs and rock n’ roll” http://www.tymchak.com/blog/?p=279

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