A review of Kevin Cummins’ book…


As the Forever Manchester blogger, I felt it was my duty to let you all know about the most prolific book on Manchester I have read in recent months. I received legendary Mancunian, Kevin Cummins’ book ‘Manchester: Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain’ as a Christmas present and ‘oh my’, what an unexpected treat! The book displays an exceptionally beautiful selection of photographs documenting the gritty beauty of Post-Industrial urban space in Northern working class towns, showing how twenty years of regeneration has changed the face of modern Manchester. Cummins’ work managed to present a nuanced engagement of a city “trapped between wrecked grandeur and abortive modernisation”. Through the use of both image and prose, Cummins’ illustrates that Manchester as a Post-Industrial space was essentially a paradox; it was an “almost collapsed space littered with sly corners and abrupt cul-de-sacs, disturbing bricked-up doorways and truncated secret alleyways decorated with rust and decay” yet a “postmodern Cavern” which ultimately led to the almost gentrified urban landscape of Manchester today; to “Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and boutique hotels, to canalside apartments and a miraculous kind of soot-free illuminated self-confidence.” The photographs of bands such as Joy Division, The Buzzcocks and The Smiths who all aided the reinvention of Manchester as both a cultural and musical capital effectively illustrate that it was in fact the apparent “grimy, dank [and] dreamless” urban space of the city which forced people to move away from “the mighty industrial past…the statuesque warehouses and factories” and the subsequent “uncanny ache that cries out from they silence of [these] solid things” by transforming “the stubborn, miserable, crumbling brick walls and the bleak city pavements into sound, the derelict old buildings would mutate into rhythm, as if the soot and ash and dust could be cleared away by dreams.” This very ‘dream’ is a dream which can be seen in modern culture and society; a dream to move away from the stigmatised, disillusioned working class values seen in films such as This is England, the articulation of this disenchantment in Control by Anton Corbijin and the expression of working class angst and creativity in Twenty Four Hour Party People. This ‘dream’ is visually presented many times throughout Cummins’ work. For example, it is a ‘dream’ to move away from the images of the dilapidated and bleak post-industrial emptiness illustrated in the photograph of Shudehill in 1979 or the vast areas of wasteland captured in Hulme to the Manchester we see today; a “glittering [example] of modernist chic”. Essentially, the book focuses of the urban, cultural and musical landscape of Manchester and traces the journey from a “swampy emblem of a great, brutal Victorian city” populated by the “unemployed, the desperate…laid-off car-workers, single mums [and] scallies” to a regenerated and cosmopolitan metropolis.

The way in which Cummins’ illustrates the narrow confines of an industrial city so poignantly and yet, beautifully is quite simply remarkable. A five star piece of work in my opinion and a book I will treasure for years to come. All you Mancunians get down to your nearest bookstore…I can assure you, it’s money well spent!