The Agit Reader

New Order
by Kevin Cummins

April 13th, 2015  |  by Stephen Slaybaugh

New OrderIn recent years, it seems like there has been no shortage of books to emerge from the Joy Division/New Order camp. A compendium of the notebooks of deceased Joy Division singer Ian Curtis was released last year, and Bernard Sumner, guitarist in both bands and New Order’s frontman, also published his memoir. Meanwhile, bassist Peter Hook released his personal history of Joy Division and has a book focusing on New Order due out this fall. Add to that list the recent pragmatically titled New Order (Rizzoli), a book of photographs taken by Kevin Cummins, a former NME photographer also responsible for a book of Joy Division pics published a few years ago.

With the photographs prefaced by Cummins interviewing each of the band members (as well as an essay by Generation X author Douglas Coupland), the rapport between the photographer and the band is apparent, and the exchanges delving into the band’s history provide real insight. That rapport is even more evident in the meat of the book, with Cummins’ work showing an intimacy with his subject matter, regardless of whether the band is at leisure or onstage.

What is most striking, though, is how the photos in the book are reflective of New Order’s transformation from Joy Division. The stoic pics of Cummins’ previous volume may seem more iconic, but how can they not given that band’s history? Ended in tragedy and only in existence for three years, Joy Division is probably an easier subject matter to capture within the given constraints of a book. New Order, on the other hand, has a much longer history (30 some years) and encapsulating the band in a few dozen photos can’t help but turn out to be a much more varied pictorial. Nevertheless, the earliest photos here, taken in February 1981—just nine months after Curtis’ death—resonate with the same qualities of Cummins’ Joy Division work. The lighting is low and full of contrasting shadows, yet these pics somehow seem less bleak, especially those in color. Such subdued hues are representative of New Order’s slow emergence out of the darkness of the previous year.

That New Order would go on to international pop stardom is well known, and while the book culminates with shots from their massive tour in support of Republic, it isn’t so much their rise to fame that is captured, though it is to a degree. What is more evident is the personalities that made up the band. There are several series of portraits, and to me, these are Cummins’ best work. The two color series from 1983, one from Manchester and one poolside in DC, are particularly wonderful, as are the shadow-drenched pics from 1985. Like those on the sleeves for Low-Life, these photos show the varied personalities that form the band while conveying the unified idea of a band.

Of course the unfortunate continuance of the New Order story has been the bickering between Sumner and Hook, resulting in the latter leaving the band and the rest continuing on without him. So in a way, bad haircuts and fashion choices aside, this book also captures the group as we’d like to remember them: a great band at the top of its game.

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