“I’m an outsider. I didn’t want to be their friends or consider myself part of the band or the scene. I just wanted to take pictures, take some nice shots and then go home.”
“I’ve always had a bit of an outsider view of it all and I think they’ve really appreciated that. That I didn’t want to be their mates, I just wanted to do good work.”
But when Richard Kelly talks about the past decade or so, it must have been tempting to get involved personally. He didn’t and so the names don’t constitute name dropping, just fascinating stories and, in this case, insights into a rock and roll world that have never been seen before.
So, no name dropping, but to set the scene I’ll drop in a few. The Arctic Monkeys, AmyWinehouse, Pete Doherty, Florence + the Machine, Lee Scratch Perry, Lemmie, The Prodigy, John Cooper Clarke. One of Richard’s favourite shots is of the Arctic Monkeys with a sticker on stage in the shot, quoting Cliff Richards; ‘I knew I wanted to be involved in this world of rock and roll.’ Precisely.
His exhibition of work at Colony, Ancoats, started by chance. Earlier this year, clearing up boxes in storage, Richard came across one box with unpublished music work stretching back to 1999. I’m imagining the fascination he must have found in this Pandora’s box of almost forgotten prints and contact sheets.
I guess we’ve all done something similar in other contexts. Like maybe rediscovering a box of childhood toys. The idea for a retrospective solo exhibition – his first – formed as he rummaged through old memories. With work that was private, not for sale, not commissioned. Just collected and personal.
There’s a stunning shot of Amy Winehouse that, I’m sure, could have been sold. It captures, “The chaos she was in,” said Richard. “There was no way that I would have even considered profiting from that chaos.”
And another shot of Pete Doherty. “Chaotic again. 3am in the morning, crack and heroin on the table, Rising Damp on the telly.” Private rock star moments that would never have been seen if that box hadn’t been opened.
Richard left school at sixteen. “Too much messing about,” he admitted. “But I got a job at the Manchester Evening News as a messenger. That was pre-email, so all it meant was running around with messages. But I used to see the photographers coming in and out when they wanted, not wearing suits, doing interesting things.
So I saved up and enrolled on an evening course at college… Eventually I saved up enough to go to John Moores University and do a degree in Documentary Fine Art. But I was a student, so I was partying and raving too. Sometimes close to here, at Sankeys.”
That’s when the stars aligned and Richard began to photograph rock and rollers, just as personal projects, often door-stepping them as they turned up for sound checks. Photographer’s assistant in Manchester, then London…and a growing reputation for capturing the people making the music.
He was commissioned for Dazed and Confused magazine to shoot the Arctic Monkeys on a press call as their rise to stardom started. Then called back by the Monkeys when they didn’t like their ‘official’ marketing shots by another photographer, leading to more music commissions for Richard.
“When I first met the Monkeys I had to ask them what they sounded like. They did a three number gig just for me. I did the commission for Dazed, but I was so keen to do a good job that I shot it on film. Film, processing and prints cost me £75 and I was only paid £50 for the job. I just wanted the project to be good.” It obviously was.
So, here in these few words, a twenty year recollection of music makers. “I don’t want to do a dramatic Greta Garbo and say look at my work, it’s my legacy. I just want people to see work that’s never been seen before. My work these days is portraiture and commercial work. But I’ve also included music work from this year. I’ve been working with a bunch of kids from Moss Side.
“They are this egalitarian group who do hip hop together. I like hip hop and house music. It’s just ‘do what you want and have fun.’ It doesn’t have to have a face or a name. I shot the kids last Summer when the sun was shining. I’ve included them in the exhibition because it’s a nice round up of twenty years – 1999 to 2019.”
Although there’s one print featured which is of a wall, not a person…and is just pre 1999. It is of a wall in Longsight in 1998 with ‘Free Ian Brown’ painted on it. The print is for sale to closed bids and the profit will be donated to the British Cultural Archive, aiming to record Manchester heritage through documentary and social photography. Outsider Richard Kelly is playing his part in that heritage.
Selected Music Works: 1999-2019
Dates: Friday 15th November – Tuesday 14th January 2020
Venue: Colony Ancoats