In May 1980, Ian Curtis, lead singer of post-punk band Joy Division committed suicide. Kevin’s portrait of Curtis has since developed iconic status
What were you intending with the portrait of Ian Curtis?
I thought a straight portrait of Ian would make a better cover than a band shot. I got him to look straight into my eyes and then I brought the camera up so that he was still looking at me. The rest of the band stood near me trying to make him laugh. I told him to zone out and ignore them because we wanted Joy Division to look like serious young men. I felt it had the elements of classic portraiture. Why does it work as a classic portrait?
I think the strength of a good portrait is to break the barrier of the camera down. It was taken in the street, with him standing against a lamppost on a very snowy day. How important are these pictures?
People’s perceptions of artists are formed by those pictures. I did a talk where we were discussing media manipulation, and I said I wouldn’t want to release pictures of Ian smiling because it didn’t fit what we were trying to say about them. At the end of the talk, this girl came up to me and said: “Have you got any pictures of my dad smiling?” It was Natalie Curtis, his daughter, who I hadn’t seen since she was a baby. She has no memory of her father, but she knows him through my pictures. That’s quite a responsibility.