When Harry met John Cooper Clarke – and began a seven-year hunt to find the Great Mancunians

It started with a rushed photo-shoot under Blackfriars Bridge. The master of the gritty sonnet, edgy poet, John Cooper Clarke, generously posed for student Harry Yeates.

The location was important – just inside Salford, and next to the performer’s life-sized stencil embossed on a wall by artist Stewy. JCC had performed at the Albert Hall in Manchester and the morning after the show, I agreed to meet Harry.

Harry’s portrait won praise at Manchester College’s end of year show in 2016. It also sowed the seeds for an inspired, long-term quest, to find more suitable subjects, who would help hone the talents of students. Over the next two years a list of “Greater Mancunians” grew and included Johnny Marr, Andy Burnham, and famed Factory Records graphic designer, Peter Saville.

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The pandemic then brought the idea to a halt. But as restrictions eased it was summarized and by the end of this year it is expected 100 contributors will have been interviewed and photographed.

They chose to include entertainers, community champions, hospital staff, politicians, and sports stars who shine a light on the “human side of the Manchester story.” The project’s conclusion will see 120 photographic portraits with words about each person’s career or standing in the region created by Manchester College students. They will then be displayed at Manchester Central Library in 2024.

Student, Harry Yeates, with John Cooper Clarke, at the photo-shoot which started the Great Mancunians project by Manchester College.

A book will also be published. It is likely to spark lively debate as to who should – and shouldn’t – be on the list.

Harry Potts, is the main co-ordinator of the project, and is a tutor, and Head of Photography at the College. He previously worked as a news photographer for among others, the Salford City Reporter and the MEN Media.

All the photography is done by students – under Potts’ supervision. The aim is to give talented young students the work experience skills vital to break into the creative industries. They regularly collaborate to draw up a wish list of potential contributors who have been highlighted in news stories and current events.

Potts said: “The project is very much a celebration of the Mancunian spirit. Crucially, when an invitation to join Greater Mancunians is accepted, we ask the contributor to choose the location for the photography.

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“This is an integral part of the project as we want the image to have poignancy and context, set against the backdrop of a Mancunian narrative. For example Professor of Emergency Medicine Tony Redmond chose inside the NHS Nightingale Hospital.

Susannah Penney, a consultant head, neck, and thyroid surgeon at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust – and a Great Mancunian

“Actor Bill Roache was photographed on the set of Coronation Street. Tate Director Maria Balshaw chose the Andy Warhol exhibition at The Whitworth and footballer and manager Brian Kidd took us back to the streets of Collyhurst where he perfected his football skills as a boy.

“We always do our research ahead of the shoot online using Google street view maps and arrive early to seek out creative opportunities – spaces, natural backdrops, lighting, angles, and props. The photography wherever possible is undertaken using natural light to ensure a visually authentic representation of the person in situ, evoking a classic reportage style of portraiture.

Bill Roache, who played Ken Barlow, pictured on the set of Coronation Street.

“One or two students are involved in each shoot and are encouraged to engage with and communicate their creative ideas to the contributor. This is critical to the photographers creating the best work possible. The students edit their own imagery and engage in a selection process to determine the strongest work for the projects’ online gallery and blog.”

The College says the project is a celebration of “the city’s creativity, resilience, endeavour, ingenuity, social justice, and civic pride.” The Manchester bee is widespread and there are an abundance of websites and blogsites creating content celebrating cultural events and happenings in the city,

Boxing legend, Manchester City fan, and Great Mancunian, Ricky Hatton.

“Manchester is very visibly being developed into a true world city, filled with amazing architecture, cherished heritage, sport, hospitality, entertainment, retail, media, and art which has grabbed national and international attention.”

Boxer, Ricky Hatton, was one of those chosen for the project. He said: “I jumped at the chance of being involved in this great project. It was a pleasure to invite these talented young people to the gym and I think they did a very good job. The photos are brilliant.”

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Sports presenter and Manchester United fan, Mark Chapman, was pictured at Sale FC’s ground. He said: “One of the best I have ever done – both in terms of the photos, fun, and professionalism on set.”

Sports presenter, Mark Chapman – on the terraces at Sale FC.

Poet, Tony Walsh, who is also known as Longfella, lay down in the gutter on a double yellow line for student Katie O’Neill to take his picture, while standing on a set of steps. He said: “I was really impressed with Katie. She has a great eye, knew what she wanted and did really well at directing me and setting up the shots. She’s clearly excellent with the camera too and I am delighted with the images. I am sure her talent will take her a long way.”

Katie said: “Being part of the Greater Mancunians project has given me the fantastic opportunity to learn new photographic skills and just as importantly how to interact and communicate with people. If I compare my first shoot for the project to my most recent, I can see an improvement in the work that I create and, in my confidence, when approaching and working with new people.

Poet, Tony Walsh, pictured by Manchester College student, Katie O’Neill.

“The project has also helped me to progress with my personal journey with photography and be able to create a relationship between the image and the subjects and their stories. It has also allowed to make fantastic contacts with so many people around Manchester; many of who I am still in contact with.

“I have had multiple images from various shoots published within articles and books and seeing these visually have helped massively with pushing me in the career that I want. I have been able to reflect on the great improvements that I have made and it’s helped me with exploring new skills in photography.

Charity worker Judy Vickers – one hundred plus Great Mancunians.

“My ambitions when it comes to photography in the long run is to be able to work freelance. I cover most areas of photography but with a more focused approach to documentary and portraiture.

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“I really like the idea of ​​being able to bring a story together with both text and visual imagery; most of the time these stories end up being those that are often avoided by most, so it’s great to go deep into the subject and bring out finer details.I’d love to be able to travel to create these stories and make them available to the public.

Bury-born Mary Ellen McTague, chef, and Great Mancunian.

“My ultimate goal in photography would be to use these stories to help educate people and to help those learn the importance of photography when it comes to documentation.” Happy Mondays singer, Shaun Ryder, said: “As a proud Salfordian I was more than happy to be part of the project.

“Awesome portraits by the photography students.” Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester , night time economy tsar, said: “I’m over the moon with these images, incredible.”

Manchester NHS worker, Debra Williams, photographed for Manchester College’s Greater Mancunians project

Also featured is Manchester Royal Infirmary nurse, Debra Williams, who appeared as an angel in a giant mural in the city’s Northern Quarter. The artwork was created by street artist, Akse-P19 as a tribute to all frontline workers across the region. She was on duty on the night of the Manchester Arena bombing.

Anti gun-crime campaigner, Erinma Bell, one of 100 Greater Mancunians pictured for the Manchester College project

Student, Jenny Douglas, who took her picture next to the mural, said: “This was the project’s first socially distanced photo shoot and I was a little nervous about how it would work out. I cycled into town to meet Debra and tutor Harry on a sunny day in a very quiet city center.

“We used the giant mural as the main backdrop for the shoot and Debra was very bubbly and easy to direct. Debra was very supportive and even changed in to her nurse scrubs for the last portraits of the session.

Football commentator, Salford-born, John ‘Motty’ Motson

“I was extremely pleased with my final images, they managed to capture Debra’s personality and the important message of thanks to frontline workers.”

In a fitting end, Harry Yeates, whose picture of John Cooper Clarke, began the project will be asked to take the picture of the last of the 120 Mancunians later this year.

Among others who have been chosen for the project are Salford musician, and Joy Division and New Order member, Peter Hook; Bury-born chef, Mary Ellen McTague; poet, Lem Sissay; musician, Kevin Godley; presenter Terry Christian, and world-renowned artist, and friend of LS Lowry, Harold Riley; photographer, Kevin Cummins; Helen Pankhurst, women’s rights activist, and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst; and Manchester Royal Infirmary consultant, Susannah Penney.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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