The premature passing of a rock star or pop icon is never easy to contend with. After idolizing, worshipping and hanging onto every word spoken, written and sung by your idol, saying goodbye permanently is nearly on a par with the death of someone physically part of your immediate family circle. All that remains is a headstone, perhaps an engraved epitaph and ultimately flowers, messages, candles, memorabilia, even food or water. But what brings people to these so-called shrines? Jim Morrison's Paris grave is one of the city's most-visited tourist attractions, Elvis Presley's Graceland is almost a rock 'n' roll theme park and, on a less grand scale, Marc Bolan's (in Barnes) occupies the roadside area of his fatal car crash. Michael Jackson's Forest Lawn shrine is beyond comprehension, as is his legacy.
Ian Curtis wasn't a victim of a heavy rock-star lifestyle, nor did he play up to his audience, covet groupies or act like a diva. He was, well, normal. And modest. He lived in a modest terraced house in a modest Northern mill town with a modest income from a modest band that changed modest worlds without really trying. Joy Division's legacy is borne out of modesty and hope rather than stereotypical darkness, despair and misery, although Curtis suffered depression, brought about partly by his worsening epilepsy and fractured marriage. The music was largely magical and modest. No big-name producers and no cart-wheeling clowns. Even his headstone is quietly affecting - it reads, 'love will tear us apart', a reference to the band's posthumous single (voted Best Song of the last 60 Years in a recent NME poll).
PhD student and photographer Jennifer Otter (joydevotion.blogspot.co.uk) has been embarking on a pilgrimage of her own in recent years by studying the myth of Curtis and documenting how fans pay tribute to him at his grave-side. She has captured images of his memorial stone, the 'trash, trinkets and tributes' and used them as research for her course. Finally these images have been gathered in one place for a FREE exhibition at London's XOYO gallery which starts on 19th July. Apart from Otter's personal photos, acclaimed Joy Divison photographer and friend of the band, Kevin Cummins will DJ at the opening night's event, alongside Sarah Blackwood (Dubstar).
Joy Devotion: A Year in the Life of a Rock Shrine (exhibition only) continues from 20th to 31st July (closed Sundays) - admission FREE.