Review: Iconic Smiths photography on display at Lowry

The Smiths by Stephen Wright
The Smiths by Stephen Wright

A new exhibition at The Lowry is showcasing the work of photographer Stephen Wright – famed for capturing the iconic image of The Smiths outside Salford Lads’ Club.

Featured on the inside sleeve of the Queen Is Dead, 30 years old this year, the image helped to put the Lads’ Club on the map for music fans who still turn up in their droves to create their own version. It played an important role in the story of The Smiths too.

The Smiths by Stephen Wright at The Lowry
The Smiths by Stephen Wright at The Lowry

Today the image is part of the collections of the National Portrait gallery, Manchester Art gallery and Salford Museum.

For a brief period it will form part of this temporary exhibition at the Lowry too.

Contained in two glass cabinets and featuring a dozen or so pictures, it probably isn’t worth making a special journey to the Lowry for, but is well worth a look if you’re visiting any way.

It’s interesting to note how young The Smiths really were during the short period when they achieved so much, and how much of a part that good old fashioned photography played in defining an image which remains intoxicating to millions.

In this often contrived and Photoshopped digital world, it’s amazing to see how much of what Wright achieved was down to intimate familiarity with the band, a cool eye for an atmospheric look, and the gritty backdrop provided by the mean streets of Salford.

You’ll find the exhibition in the first floor  to the left of the entrance to the main Lowry gallery.

The Smiths: images created on a murky and cold Salford day in 1985

Commenting on that Lads’ Club shot, Wright says: “That photo of The Smiths was taken on a murky and cold Salford day in 1985. They were at the peak of their success and I’m so proud that the image has become recognisable worldwide. It’s funny really – I remember developing the shot in a makeshift darkroom in my bedroom – using chemicals that I kept in old fizzy drinks bottles.”

Michael Simpson, director of visual art at The Lowry, said: “The Smiths are of the most influential British guitar groups of all time – and Stephen’s shot outside Salford Lads’ Club is how they are remembered to this day.

“His collection is a must-see for any Smiths fan – and we are proud to display them in the same season that we present 30 Days of The Smiths, a Lowry commissioned sound artwork that brings together music of The Smiths with the stories of real Smiths living in Salford today.”

Wright began his career as a live music photographer. He has photographed some of the biggest names in the industry, including: Madonna, Prince, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and James Brown.

In 2015, a photograph of The Smiths taken by Stephen and donated to Salford Lads Club for a year to use on a charity T-shirt raised £60,000 and funded a trip for teenagers from the Club to visit Native Indians in South Dakota.

A dark day in Salford with The Smiths: Photographs by Stephen Wright at The Lowry, Salford between April 9 and June 5.

The exhibition coincides with 30 Days of The Smiths, a sound artwork by Oberman Knocks that forms part of The Lowry’s Week 53 festival. It features interviews by the poet Jackie Kay with real Smiths living in Salford today. Their tales are set to the tune of Panic, This Charming Man and What Difference Does It Make. The piece will premiere at The Lowry on Thursday 5 May.

For more information go to the 30-days-of-the-smiths website.