‘TWO MANCS’. The Karin Albinsson interview.
Approaching a quarter of a century ago, photographer Karin Albinson created a photo exhibition known as ‘Ten Mancs’. The subject matter consisted of portraits of famous/influential Mancunians. Chris Sievey and Frank Sidebottom were part of that collection, amongst other luminaries such as Tony Wilson, Shaun Ryder from Happy Mondays and Mani from Stone Roses, to name a couple.
Fast forward to 2020 and we are proud to announce collaboration between 11:37 Sievey Enterprises and Karin Albinsson Photography to produce a limited run of photo art prints based on Karin’s stunning images.
In July 2020, Karin visited 11:37 HQ to emboss, hand number and sign her prints. We also sat down for a quick chat over coffee and donuts:
11:37: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, what your background is and your connection to Chris Sievey?
KA: I’m from Sweden but I’ve been living in Manchester since the 80s. Once my children grew up, I started to study myself and graduated my photography course in the mid 90s. My ex-husband Chris Whitehead was the manager for NORTHERN UPROAR and was a good friend of Chris’s. So that was my connection to him. At that time in the mid 90s, I got to know Chris as ‘Chris’...I was not really too aware of Frank.
11:37: At that period of time, Frank was winding down (hard to say whether that was voluntary or involuntary.) He was very prolific during the late 80’s and early 90’s but by that time, Chris had taken his foot off the throttle.
KA: In 1997, I created an exhibition entitled ‘Ten Mancs’. I asked Chris if he would like to be photographed as both Chris and as Frank, to show who was behind Frank. He declined saying he could not do that as he didn’t want anyone to know Frank’s identity. However, he did agree to take part solely as Frank.
We set up a photo-shoot in a big house in Styal Village in Cheshire. We created this scene with Frank laid out on a chaise longue with a moustache and a glass of sherry. He wanted to look Victorian! So I had that shot, which turned out great but that concept was really Chris’s. I still felt it was important to get a more powerful ‘portrait’ shot of Frank.
11:37: It was always very difficult to give any kind of direction to Chris...and totally impossible to give it to Frank!
KA: Yes! Well some time passed and then he phoned me up and, out of the blue said that that he had been thinking about my proposal and that he would agree to me photographing Frank and Chris next to each other.
11:37: Did he give you any indication as to what had changed?
KA: Not really. He just said that it was about time that people knew who he was.
11:37: That is very insightful to hear that as far back as 1997, he was already thinking about coming out from behind the Frank persona!
KA: Yes! I really did not want to push it but when he told me he wanted to do it....I got really excited about getting the shots.
11:37: So the setup and composition of the shots, side by side, did that come from you or Chris?
KA: That was what I had originally planned to do...but then he said he wasn’t prepared to do it.
11:37: So you planted a seed, let him go away with that idea and he eventually came back and said, let’s do it?
11:37: You must have been quite persuasive! It’s remarkable that you gave Chris the idea, suggested the framework for the shots and he didn’t hijack it from you.
KA: He definitely wanted to be part of the exhibition and he knew that a lot of people were going to see it.
11:37: And not everyone that would have viewed the exhibition would necessarily know Chris...but you can guarantee that EVERYBODY would know who Frank was! That’s a window into what was going on in his mind at that time. It backs up the narrative that was established in the BEING FRANK documentary that Chris always intended to publicly reveal himself but for him to be thinking about doing it all those years ago, is very interesting. It wasn’t a ‘5 year Plan’...it was a ‘13 Year Plan’.
11:37: How does it feel to finally see your photos released as they were originally intended?
KA: I feel honoured to be asked. It’s just really nice to see them being used and I believe that Chris himself would be really happy about it.
11:37: It should also be pointed out that you have managed to capture a really flattering photo of Chris in his later years.
KA: I was really lucky to have him to myself in a studio environment and being able to spend the time to create these images.
11:37: How long did you spend in the studio?
KA: Probably a good couple of hours. It was back in the day when you shot on rolls of film, not digital. I remember we did a session with Frank then we took a little break. Then we shot with Chris. We tried to get the two shots to look as similar as possible. He looks very serious in the image.
11:37: who looks serious...Chris or Frank?
KA: (laughs) well both of them...Frank looks serious too!
11:37: Frank looks somewhat forlorn. As if he’s thinking “What does the future hold for me?”
KA: He does! They do have the same expression, leaning in towards each other. It’s amazing that just through his body language he was able to project that feeling. Frank looks melancholy.
11:37: Obviously, they are the same person in both pictures and the feelings that come across are generated predominantly by the subject but actually, you set the mood perfectly with a cinematic background. It feels very intimate; it feels like we are looking at something that is secretive.
KA: The red curtains reflect the ‘showbiz’ history but the mood captures him as he truly was.
11:37: Did you direct Chris or did he strike his own poses?
KA: I directed him. As a photographer, it was easier to direct him as I could see directly in the lens what I was aiming for It was so nice that he was willing to do it for me. I did a lot of prep by drawing sketches beforehand. I wonder if I still have those somewhere too.
11:37: Your image is unique. There are not many other pictures that have been crafted with as much care of either Chris or Frank. Most of the photography out there is documentary-style or press related etc. This shot has been set up in a controlled environment with beautiful lighting, which is why we are so thrilled by it.
KA: It’s so nice to see them so beautifully printed!
11:37: You mentioned you knew Chris socially, would you elaborate on that? What would his mindset have been at that time?
KA: It was clear to me that he was feeling low at that time. Personal problems, drinking too much, generally being naughty in all sorts of ways. It was on and off with his wife, Paula. I remember they would come round to our house when they were trying to patch things up.
I have a nice memory about Chris from this time. He got me a ticket to see David Bowie at the Manchester Academy, which was sold out. I’m a huge Bowie fan and I understood that I would probably never, ever get the opportunity again to see Bowie at such a small venue. I recall we were running late and were rushing to get there, not wanting to miss the start. When we finally got in, it was packed...and Chris went straight to the bar! I squeezed my way right to the front whilst Chris spent the entire performance at the back of the room in the bar. You were not allowed to take cameras into the venue but I managed to take a full set of photographs of Bowie that I will treasure forever. One of them eventually got used as a cover shot for Viva magazine when he passed away. Without Chris I would not have been able to see and photograph Bowie.
11:37: Did Chris tell you his David Bowie anecdote?
KA: (laughs) I don’t think so?
11:37: OK, we will hold back on that for now as it probably warrants an entire blog post of its own!
KA: Another nice memory is when Frank came along to Stockport Art College around 1996, to do some entertainment at a photography course graduation event. He did his required 20 minute slot but then stayed all night as Frank; he never took the head off! One of the top students had his photographs on display in lovely frames. He was a very big Frank fan and he took a lot of Polaroids of Frank and then traded them for his framed prints, they did a swap.
11:37: Thanks Karin for taking the time to speak with us and for collaborating in what has turned out to be a top drawer photo art print. The prints will be made available for sale in the 11:37 web shop late September as part of our autumn wave of new products!