The Image of Joy Division

joy division

Lots of stories around this weekend about the sad death of Tony Wilson.

It also span off lots of stories about bands that he’d been involved with and that time in Manchester. This story in the Observer caught my interest:

Closer to the birth of a music legend

It’s a piece by Kevin Cummings who photographed Joy Division. If you’ve ever been in or around a music scene that includes Joy Division as part of its makeup you’ll be aware of what an amazing ‘image’ there is around them. An image constructed from a mixture of the music, tragic legend, ground breaking graphic design, and amazing yet bleak photography of the band.

The article reveals how a lot of the things that make up Joy Division’s photographic image may have been part of a very fortunate set of almost accidents:

When I was shooting for the NME in this, my first year out of college, I had very little money. I had to pay for my own film and processing (£10 per roll) and hope that the NME would use more than one shot in order to make a profit. (£6.50 was the repro rate at that time). Consequently I was very parsimonious with film. I rarely wasted a shot.

So it means that there are very few images of any of them looking goofy or mucking around. All of the shots were taken with purpose (from the point of view of a ‘serious’ music photographer).

Often, as Ian stood in front of my camera looking contemplative, the other band members, bassist Peter Hook ‘Hooky’, drummer Stephen Morris and guitarist Bernard Sumner, would stand behind him pulling faces. Occasionally Ian would yawn. These images only exist in my mind. I could never commit them to film. I couldn’t afford to. Would my pictures tell a different story if I’d had the luxury of being able to shoot endless frames digitally?

Then when you imagine what would happen if all of the fans also had digital cameras and had captured everything too. The mystique around the bad would have been massively eroded.

But the quote that made me slap my head most of all was this one:

It was pointless shooting the band in colour. I’d be wasting money. Publications that were prepared to feature the band only published in black and white. Peter Hook told me that even he thinks of Joy Division as a black and white band.

So Joy Division weren’t a monochrome band after all, it was all a matter of photographic economics!

It just got me thinking about how bands now have to appear and behave totally differently and that their performances and images are much more the property of the public. Which I’d sort of thought was a good thing. But reading that article made me question whether it is or not. Maybe it’s not better or worse, just different.

5 thoughts on “The Image of Joy Division”

  1. Great post Ian. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Its also a brilliant example of what Nicolas Taleb the writer of the Black Swan calls the narrative fallacy.

  2. Aaah serendipity. I’ve been trying to remember the Black Swan for weeks. I knew there was a book I wanted to read, but had totally forgotten the title!

    Nice one.

  3. I went to see the Ian Curtis film Control at the Melbourne Film Festival last week. It was beautifully shot in B&W. Now I know why.

    Shane about Wilson. A true original.

  4. awesome awesome awesome mate

    narrative fallacy – driven by necessity the myth of a monochrome band emerged

    so now – have we lost the mystery thanks to the constant cache of culture and life being broadcast?

    Or we can now use these tools to construct different myths? The ‘camera doesn’t lie’ fallacy allowed early image smiths to make people believe fairies were real.

    Does your flickr stream paint an accurate picture of your life?

    Does an excess of representation insist on a greater degree of ‘truth’ coming through?

    Or can you use the appearance of openness to manufacture your ‘real’?

    hoaxes are the first stage of every medium’s establishment – fairies, war of the worlds, lonely girl…

    once we know not to believe, the real manipulation of representation can begin.

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