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Martin O'Neill - Interview

  by Marie Hazelwood

published: 24 / 12 / 2015

Martin O'Neill - Interview


Marie Hazelwood speaks to photographer Martin O'Neill who in 1979 took photographs of Joy Division at an early gig in Manchester

Marie Hazelwood speaks to Manchester-based photographer Martin O’Neill, who captured Joy Division at a gig in 1979 at the Bowdon Vale Youth Club. He takes us back in his memories to the day, of being amazed by Ian Curtis' dancing and of Peter Hook telling him to “fuck off” from the stage. PB: Although any fan when thinking about Joy Division photographs instantly thinks of the iconic shots by Kevin Cummins, there are also the photos taken by you, another Manchester based photographer. Could you take us back to that day when you photographed the band for a mid-week gig and tell us all that happened? MO: The gig I photographed was one of a series held for local bands at Bowdon Vale Youth Club, in Altrincham, Manchester Others that played on those Wednesday nights included The Freshies (Singer Chris Sievey who later 'became' Frank Sidebottom), Fast Cars and V2. When I was photographing Joy Division I started out in the crowd but moved closer until I was right in front of Ian Curtis and then, eventually, I got on stage and shot from behind Ian. This is when Hooky famously told me to "Fuck off"! I do remember being quite shocked when I saw Ian start to dance. I'd never seen anything like that before! It always amuses me when people see these shots for the first time. They nearly always comment on the wallpaper in the background and on the young age of the audience. Well, it WAS a youth club! PB: What did you think about Joy Division’s music back then? How aware of Joy Division were you before you photographed them? MO: I liked Joy Division's music and I was slightly aware of the band because I shot two rolls of film on them instead of the normal one! I saw them once more at The Apollo in Manchester without a camera in my hand. PB: After photographing Joy Division and The Smiths at the Free Trade Hall did you have a desire to become a music photographer at all? MO: Having shot Joy Division and The Smiths - and quite a few other bands actually, I didn't feel the need to be specifically a music photographer - I was happy as long as I was a photographer. Ironically, after a while, I began to come out of gigs that I'd photographed and I'd wonder "What was the gig like?" because I'd been concentrating on the photography, rather than the music, I was missing the gig itself, so I stopped taking pictures at them. Also, access has become so bad now. In those days I could just take a camera into a gig and shoot. Nowadays you're given three songs and then told to leave! PB: You have now done quite a few exhibitions: 'Made in Eccles; and 'I Remember Nothing' which took place in Macclesfield for the 35th anniversary of Ian’s death. Could you tell us little more about that? MO: Exhibitions are important to me because despite the Internet, I still think it's nicer if people can actually stand in front of one of your prints and see the real thing. 'Made in Eccles' was a show I had at the People's History Museum in Manchester and it featured shots I'd done as a kid growing up in Eccles. Most of the shots were done even before the 1979 Joy Division pictures. The shots of Hooky's gig, at Christ Church, Macclesfield in May, went up at Incubation Arts in Macclesfield. It was called 'I Remember Nothing' as I always use that as the title for the collection of Joy Division photographs and also because, these days, I have rather hazy memories of the 1979 gig! It is of course, also a Joy Division song title. When I heard of Hooky's gig I knew I needed to photograph it. I specifically wanted to replicate a shot I'd done in 1979, and was rather pleased with the result. PB: You are also involved with 'Project Incubation' at which your exhibition will become permanent. How is this progressing? MO: As far as I know, the permanent Joy Division exhibition at Incubation is looking very likely. Let's put it this way, my exhibition there is finished but I haven't been back to collect the prints. PB: Have you heard that Ian’s house has been purchased and is currently being transformed into a museum? What do you think about that? MO: I'm not crazy about Ian's house possibly being turned into a museum. That's a bit morbid for me. Is that still planned? All I can say is I'm glad I'm not one of the neighbours! PB: To go back to Kevin Cummins, who has become known as Joy Division’s photographer, I think your photographs are as equally haunting and beautiful. Did you never want to compete with him? MO: I'm pleased you think that about my photographs. Thank you! I think Kevin's a fantastic photographer though there was never any attempt to 'compete' with him as he went off specifically into the world of music photography and as I mentioned, I didn't want to specialize. PB: An Art related question: As a photographer from both eras what do you appreciate more: film or digital photography? MO: Film or digital? The big debate! I loved film because, well… that was all we had and the quality was fantastic. Now, I love digital because, it's all we have (unless you want to spend a fortune on film and processing). They are two completely different disciplines though. If you look at my negatives from the Joy Division gig, you can see how sparing I was with each frame. Every shot had to count. Cummins talks about the same thing when he photographed the band for those iconic 'bridge' shots. You were always aware that the film in your camera was finite - 36 shots and that was your lot! It certainly made you - no pun intended - focus on what you were photographing. These days people can blast away forever in the hope that there's a 'good shot' in there. Where's the discipline in that? Actually, don't get me started on that debate... PB: Thank you. Photos by Martin O' Neill. Made in Eccles photo gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/art_from_light/sets/72157650472152774 Music Photography by Martin: http://www.studiofivefour.com/#!music/ck5w “So this is Permanence” Peter Hook at Christ King Church in Macclesfield, May 2015 https://www.flickr.com/photos/art_from_light/sets/72157653536802539 Studio 54: http://www.studiofivefour.com

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