STEPHEN WRIGHT: PROCESSING THE SMITHS

Stephen Wright, photographer of iconic sleeve shots for The Smiths’ 1986 studio album ‘The Queen is Dead’ talks to us about shooting the most iconic musicians of the 80s. The damp dark day in Manchester outside a rough working man’s venue- Salford Lad’s Club- with a shivering Marr and a smirking Morrissey- remains forever ingrained in his memory. Today, he gives a recount of his special moment…

“Everyone seems to know this photo of the Smiths – what you may call a Marmite band ….you love or hate them. I for one was and 26 years later still am a massive fan..

When I was first starting as a photographer in the early 80’s everything was happening in Manchester  – a city of rain, sex and rock and roll The Hacienda had just opened and Manchester music dominated the Manchester music scene. I met some ver clever talented people and was luck to shoot some great musicians from the older established stars to the new pretenders. Factory bands led the way in terms of mystic and whilst New Order were kings of the patch it was the Smiths that took the crown of the Manchester music scene. 

Trying to describe the Smiths live is a tough one, as it was always just such a great show . An adoring crowd and Morrissey in total command of the whole audience!

I shot them live several times and sent the shots down to Rough Trade, The first show was at the Free Trade Hall and was truly magnificent. A riotous moving audience meant taking photos was hard and I only had 2 lenses and 1 roll of film. Later voted as a famous Rock sot was an image of Morrissey’s rear with flowers hanging from his jeans . But my favourite is one him flaying the flowers above his head shot from side stage.

A year or so later I had a call asking me to do a session with the band for a possible album sleeve- what an honour!

 It really should have gone to a  big time photographer – Anton Corbijn , Pennie Smith or Annie Liebovitz. Instead it went to a fan with his first Nikon. The shoot itself was in November in Salford on a damp dark day – it should have cancelled really as it was so poor for photography!  We spent a bit of time at a couple of locations but the Salford Lads club was the key one. You can even see Johnny shivering in some of the images. Somehow the casual poses and the grim weather give the photos certain natural and gritty character and I love the way Morrissey stands there arms folded and smirking. Every time I look at that photo it still makes me smile too

Years later that photo seems to have taken on a life of its own. For years fans have gone back to the Salford lads club and its become a shrine to the Smiths fans who pose for their own version of the photo. All a bit like people posing on the Abbey road pedestrian crossing. 

I’m rather proud that this image is enjoyed so much years later. I find it all a bit funny that the film was processed in a darkroom set up in my bedroom and in old pop bottles yet there’s a print in the National Portrait Gallery collection , The Manchester art gallery and the Salford Art gallery.  I love the fact that there are now signed prints as far afield as Australia , Japan Los Angeles and Bolton. 

From Manchester with love…….”- Stephen Wright, photographer

http://www.wrightphoto.co.uk

www.smithsphotos.com

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