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Featured Artist: Jake Summerton, photographing The Las

Featured Artist: Jake Summerton, Photographer
‘The La’s 1987’ – Rarities Album Release & Liverpool Exhibition runs:
15th September – 7th October 2017
The Florrie, 377 Mill St, Liverpool L8 4RF

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

The release of The Las’ new album, 1987, is a chance to redefine the short lived history of a huge band, but the photography of Jake Summerton remembers the band as we knew them, performers and people who made people happy. His photographic records of a tour with the band just before they line up changed are going on display at The Florrie from 15th September, and I wanted to find out more.

I met Jake in Café Tabac, on Bold Street, incidentally the scene for one of his proudest photos, without much of a plan, just wanting to find out more about the photographer than the band. I think he was expecting to talk about the band, and cautiously side step revealing things he shouldn’t, but no, this one was on him. The exhibition coming to The Florrie later this month is a photo series by a thoughtful photographer that loves what he does.

Jake Summerton, the photographer whose work makes up the body of this show makes images as an obsession. His desire to capture moments comes from landscape and life led to a collection of work that far exceeds The Las. I asked him about his inspirations as a photographer and he brought up names I’d never heard of, but who are now part of my vocabulary. The photographer behind this exhibition at The Florrie, one of Liverpool’s most inspiring, and unexpected, art venues is someone I hope finds time to exhibit more of his work.

His beginnings in photography, too, are so critically connected to Liverpool that I’m amazed he’s not featured on Art in Liverpool before. Growing up in the city, his dad came back from service in Korea and Japan with photographs of Shinzo Temple, and scenes he’d never imagined. Photographs taken on a half frame 33mm camera.

His fascination started there, but his career in photography wasn’t much more than a whisper until he got involved with Liverpool Youth Theatre. His work with the Youth Theatre led to photographing some of the first utterances of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers.

Summerton went on to maintain a bond with Willy Russell that saw him there at the birth of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, an, at one point, even swapping homes with the iconic writer. We got talking about an exhibition that was on in Kirkby of paintings by Russell, and also, about some of the other influences on the photographer’s life and work:

I’ve always admired artists like Margaret Cameron and Faye Godwin, a photographer and working mum, who was the best female land photographer I ever came across, and not enough people know her work even exists. They’re people I aspire to but I’m not stupid enough to believe I’ll ever be as good as.

He’s a clearly a humble photographer, and wouldn’t even take credit for this exhibition, giving note to his son, Andy, who came up with the idea for the exhibition, and Paul Hemmings, who left The Las to form The Lightning Seeds, just after Jake Summerton had been touring with the band.

On working with The Las, the subject of this exhibition and album launch at The Florrie next week, Jake recalled one of the most magical moments in live music that saw the upheaval of an iconic band:

I packed all my gear and went off to London to find the house. It was being renovated. We had to squat there, and we were going backwards and forwards to Go! Discs, recording the album. Anyway, a day after that we started the tour. First we went off to North East Polytechnic, then Manchester, then Leeds, and finished up at The Royal Court.

I remember getting permission to go up into the lighting rigs, and ended up hanging off rigs taking photos while they played. I’ll always remember that gig, everybody was just yelling, and screaming, and happy. And shortly after that they started leaving the band.

This album was recorded around that time, and the images of the tour sum up a time that was clearly a melting point for the band, but that’s what good photographers do. They stand in the background and capture things that are more than a photograph, they frame a moment in time, and Jake Summerton is incredibly aware of how important that framing is. We got talking for a while, on a bit of a tangent about the blurry line that separates photography from other art forms, and his response took me back to the early stages of my education, learning about the importance of observation:

Go to an art gallery. Look at your favourite paintings, and look at the lines. They come in from left to right, a third in, and a third down. It’s how you draw someone in. Follow a photograph in a newspaper, and you’ll find it too. There’s no secret to photography, or art, but there is to getting it right.

John Power The La’s, 1987. photo. Jake Summerton

And then off to see Willy Russell’s show in Kirkby he went, and our conversation was over, but I’m looking forward to getting to know his work more next week. Head to The Florrie from the 15th to find out more about him, his work, and the band he spent his early career following around, only to see them break apart before his eyes.

Lee Mavers_The La’s 1987. photo. Jake Summerton

‘The La’s 1987’ – Rarities Album Release & Liverpool Exhibition runs:
15th September – 7th October 2017
The Florrie, 377 Mill St, Liverpool L8 4RF

Lee Mavers & John Power. photo. Andy Summerton 21st Birthday, 11 June 88