Manchester’s underground culture – whether that’s music, fringe theatre or alternative events – often emerges in intriguing venues, creating not just art in the moment, but a lasting impact of creative continuation.

And a key way such creativity carries on is thanks to the hard work of photographers here; going to grassroots gigs, encountering non-standard art forms and exploring unusual aspects of place – then creating an enthralling collage of imagery that is a powerful piece of social history in itself. A resource people can go back to, time-over.

There also could be considered something slightly Gothic about the practice itself; photographers often positioned on secluded balconies or in the ‘pit’, battling between the barrier and the stage.

Yet despite their work being so valuable, and hours of graft taking place behind the scenes, photographers – particularly of Manchester’s underground scenes – often do not get the attention they deserve. Whilst their images absorb the glances of many, it still is often sadly the case that they are reused without credit or acknowledgement: something HAUNT Manchester is keen to deter.

Here at HAUNT we believe that photographers deserve to be recognised, especially for their ability to document the alternative side of the city. So we decided to delve further into their work, with each evocative image of the city’s underground here attached to a named Manchester photographer…

Elspeth Mary Moore

A photographer who has managed to photograph some of the most notorious names in Manchester music history – including The Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays and Johnny Marr. Her ability to ‘capture the moment’ is her USP, and her work speaks for itself. For example, the ‘conversations with’ Dave Haslam enabled her to get up close and show the real emotions of the artists.

She has also been working more recently behind the scenes with From the Fields’ Festivals, Kendal Calling and Bluedot, The Glade stage at Glastonbury, Joe Duddell and the Festival Number 6 ensemble, and the amazing orchestral collaborations with Hacienda Classical, The Halle and the Opera North with Back to Basics. To top it all, she regularly covers a range of corporate events and weddings in particular.

According to Elspeth: “2019 marks my 30th anniversary of earning a living doing this. It has taught me that people wherever they are, on a stage, in a green room, lugging speakers, having a laugh, posing, dreaming, rehearsing, thinking, getting married, laughing, crying, singing, reading, just want a right nice memory to keep… and that’s what I try and do.” 

Photograph by Elspeth Mary Moore: Craig Charles and Graeme Park on stage at Kendal Calling 2018

Debbie Ellis

Going under the title ‘Asupremeshot’, Debbie Ellis is a freelance Photographer and Retoucher based in Manchester, whose photography work spans across music, portraiture and fashion – featured in the likes of NME, GQ and The Guardian (to name just a few). Having been herself in a band called ‘Sister Lovers’, Debbie’s music photography is particularly striking – including her punchy imagery for the locally-based contemporary grunge-punks WITCH FEVER. One of her images of the band was featured in the ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ Exhibition of rock-music history at Manchester’s Central Library (in a collaboration between the library and Rockarchive, co-curated by legendary photographer Jill Furmanovsky and music writer Jon Savage). According to Debbie:

“Music is the inspiration for my photography. And the small alt gigs are where I started out as a photographer. In small venues you can go along with your camera and learn your craft. Believe me, it's not an easy task dealing with low light and fast action. I learned quickly that new bands were such a buzz to photograph. Their hunger, passion and vulnerability are laid bare and produces some of the most striking images I've taken. 

“As a live music photographer, it’s important to keep documenting alternative bands, as I know I can give the bands some momentum, exposure on socials etc, by sharing my work. I'm not so focused on payment, I'm interested in capturing a great shot that has expression and meaning. And even that one shot can influence and inspire a lot of people and help in some small way to keep the scene alive.”

Photograph by Debbie Ellis: WITCH FEVER at ‘Subterranean Nights’ at The Peer Hat

Ed Sprake

Ed is a Glossop-based photographer who regularly takes photographs in the city, with over a decade of experience capturing Manchester’s underground club nights and live music in particular. From bringing home the basement grittiness of locations like The Ruby Lounge, to conveying the creative catharsis of alternative events happening at independent venues like AATMA, Ed’s work has made an impact – with a portfolio including Example Magazine and an ongoing tenure with In his own words:

 “I love covering the small bands. Acts who are breaking onto the scene and growing to fulfil their potential. In a world where it's increasingly difficult to break through to a larger audience, or even just get paid to play music, it's a great thing to be able to bring awareness of some incredible talent to more people. The small underground scenes in Manchester are a vibrant, chaotic and exciting place to be, it's an amazing thing to be able to spread awareness of the immense creativity that gets showcased here."

Photograph by Ed Sprake: Image of Trojan Horse playing at Rebellion, Manchester, 25/05/18

Will Shields

Will Shields a Photographer and Retoucher, known for his striking portraits of alternative individuals and expressive use of colour. Amongst his extensive portfolio – some of which can be seen on his Instagram (willshieldsphoto), Will often puts together studio shots celebrating alternative cultural perspectives. He says: “I feel it's incredibly healthy to always be meeting interesting individuals, people that are challenging mainstream society.”

Photograph by Will Shields: Image of Helen Darby with vintage kimono from Kiku Boutique and makeup by Rose Niland

Melanie Smith

With her photography work going under the title of ‘Mudkiss Photography’, Melanie has been documenting a diversity of underground music in Manchester for many years– with shots featured in NME, Guitar Bible and The Sunday Times (Culture Section) to name just a few. She has also documented a number of festivals, including Manchester-based music and culture celebration Louder Than Words, Parklife and Bluedot. She was formerly behind the Mudkiss fanzine website for five years between 2008-2013, now head of photography at punk and popular culture magazine Louder Than War (where she is also Live Reviews Editor), as well as House Photographer at Manchester’s O2 Ritz.  Recently, her work was featured in a celebration of Manchester women in music exhibition (‘Suffragette City - Portraits of women in Manchester music’) at The Refuge. According to Melanie:

"It's important for me to keep abreast of underground and alternative cultures as you never know what treasures you are likely to unearth. An example would be Bethia Beadman (pictured) taken just before she performed at the Castle Hotel to an intimate crowd in Manchester earlier this year. I love artistic individuals, innovative and vibrant people. Photographers capturing these moments in time is vital to the scene.”

Photograph by Melanie Smith/Mudkiss Photography: Image of Bethia Beadman at The Castle Hotel, Manchester

Shay Rowan

Shay is an eclectic and eager photographer with his work spanning across a range of creative culture including gigs, theatre, live events and portraiture in and around Manchester. He was also official photographer at The Greater Manchester Fringe festival and Louder Than Words festival (along with Melanie Smith), and a loyal photographer of New Dawn Fades: A Play about Joy Division and Manchester (his photographs also feature in the related graphic novel). According to Shay:

"I guess I feel blessed really. The city in which I was born and have spent all of my life in has provided me with a constant supply of every conceivable form of entertainment imaginable - music, theatre, dance, comedy, poetry, burlesque, spoken word and more.

“In venues large and, preferably, small I have spent countless nights standing in the darkness looking back in awe, marvelling at what artists are capable of creating.  For many of those years I have attempted to try and capture just a glimpse of their magic on camera. The added pleasure for me is then trying to share something of this in a way which hopefully spreads the word and draws people towards their talents.

“One such artist that I have had the great joy of becoming friends with through watching and photographing her many times is performance artist, musician, composer & sound artist DIE HEXEN.”

Photograph by Shay Rowan: Image of DIE HEXEN at Manchester Central Library

Zarina Akhtar

Zarina is photographer documenting a wide range of culture in and around the city, often exposing the unexplored angles of everyday scenes - whilst her wider work spans landscape shots, portraiture and live events. With a portfolio of experience including the featured imagery of HAUNT Manchester and covering Asia Triennial 2018 (to name just a few), Zarina’s work celebrates alternate angles of creativity. She says:

“I find the unexplored and the seemingly mundane as particular points of interest due to their position within society. Particular favourites at the moment include recycling bins and reflections...”

Photograph by Zarina Akhtar: Image of Asia Triennial Festival Manchester 2018

Lee Baxter

Photographer and designer Lee Baxter brings a graphic perspective to his images, which often capture the diverse cultural and architectural landscape of Manchester. Working across place photography, performance and portraits, his extensive portfolio features a number of shots of Manchester's LGBTQ+ scene. 

He reflects: “Alternative culture matters to me particularly on the LGBTQ+ scene as it’s a hotbed of creativity and ingenious ideas, with performances usually strung together on a shoestring. It’s also a great way for marginalised people to come together and feel accepted as part of a wider community. It’s exciting, exquisite, vibrant and obscene.”

Photograph by Lee Baxter: Image of George House Trust Drag Ball, Manchester Hall, July 2015

Paul Husband

With award-winning and published work – including on the cover of NME, Paul is a music photographer capturing promo, album covers and live shots. His images document a range of touring as well as local musicians, who have included the likes of The Blinders, ARGH KiD (pictured), Cabbage and The Slow Readers Club. He has also covered gigs of various sizes, including Arena concerts, but his passion is for the intimate, independent spaces like The Castle Hotel and The Night & Day Café.

Photograph by Paul Husband: Image of ARGH KiD

Trust A Fox

Nidge is a live music photographer and videographer who goes under the title of ‘Trust A Fox’. His slogan expresses his visceral approach in particular – ‘Music captured in images.  I hear with my eyes, to share’. Trust A Fox images are known for their dramatic scale and intensity, as well as revealing areas left perhaps under-covered by much mainstream photography. For example, his previous ‘drummers be seen’ project sought to collect images of drummers, inspired by his own experience. He reflects:

“As a former drummer, my passion has always been live performance and capturing this in live music photography has been a natural progression for me.”

Photograph by Trust A Fox: Image of The Slow Readers Club

Kenny Brown

Kenny Brown’s photographs are often powerfully personal in focus, with areas covered including ‘People’, ‘Performance’ and ‘Protest’. Amongst these he has documented a range of fascinating cultural pursuits in Manchester and beyond that often go under-covered by photographers – including the likes of archery and the ‘Scamper’ community. He has also photographed a range of grassroots gigs and eclectic events in independent venues, including Manchester’s first WAM Festival (Words and Music) curated by Dave Haslam, at The Night and Day Café.

Photograph by Kenny Brown: John Robb of Membranes

Neil Winward

Neil can often be found right at the front of the city’s grassroots gigs, a keen music-based photographer around the Manchester area. According to Neil:

"I do take photos of bigger and more successful bands, but my heart is mainly in the smaller bands, those that play the alternative, underground, Manchester scene. These bands may never make it, but they play with a verve and enjoyment, which more often than not makes for a very exciting performance.

“There are many fantastic bands in Manchester who will never hit the headlines, and I feel my role is to support them in their endeavours, and to record their performances in images. I work in collaboration with them in that way, helping them to promote their music.

“The photo is of The Empty Page performing at Night and Day recently. They are a brilliant local band, with one album out already, and more music in the pipeline. Combining photography and live music is a dream for me. It lifts my spirits, it's exciting and rewarding. And there are so many brilliant people on the scene, nearly always willing to help."

Photograph by Neil Winward: Image of The Empty Page, The Night and Day Café, Manchester

Paul Samuel

A Manchester gig-going fanatic, Paul is busy most evenings documenting the city’s grassroots music culture. This is typically in small and independent venues, celebrating creativity across genres:

“Covering alternative music matters to me because it brings together two of my favourite passions: photography and live music. I love listening to music every single day. The melodies that move you physically and emotionally. The music that lifts your mood or reminds you of a time and place. The lyrics that aptly encapsulate a feeling, a life, an experience, or a pearl of wisdom within a few sparse verses!

“With photography it is capturing something of someone’s personality or key moments that tell a story of what just happened on stage.  It is finding the moments in between moments! Those high emotion, high energy, unguarded, ‘how-did-he/she/they-get-that-moment’, moments!”

Photograph by Paul Samuel: Image of The Blinders

Karen McBride

Karen is a photographer known for her love of rock ‘n’ roll and striking, often black-and-white photographs of bands playing on the Manchester scene – and beyond. Significantly inspired by growing up listening to her Dad’s record collection, Johnny Cash in particular, and looking at pictures of Elvis, Karen is keen to express the wonderful and brave personas which can emerge in underground music:

“Working with independent bands is the lifeblood of the independent. It’s what gives us a reason to breathe, we don’t need ‘big names’ to click our cameras, the big names don’t make us who we are.

“The dark unruly raw soul of bands like the Paris Riots: they are the ones that drive us, that drag us into underground smoky venues, their egos just as big as any on an arena stage. It’s for this reason that these guys matter to me… because those guys are these guys...and why shouldn’t I and they become one, just for that one moment? They mattered then and they matter now.”

Photograph by Karen McBride: Image of The Paris Riots

Robin Linton

Robin is a keen gig photographer with a particular eye for powerful profile images – often photographing bands, singer-songwriters and acoustic acts around the city. The image he has chosen is of the singer-songwriter and musician Maddy Storm, and Robin reflects here on his photograph choice:

“A fine example of the superb talent available in the small club venue circuit. I get such a buzz from seeing a band or singer in a small venue that completely blows me away. It's great to be able to catch an artist in their formative years when they are at such an exciting stage.”

Photograph by Robin Linton: Image of Maddy Storm, Jimmy's NQ, 27/01/18

Gary M Hough

Inspired by the city’s vibrant punk scene and alternative culture, Gary M Hough is a keen photographer, with gigs being a speciality. His images often encounter grassroots artists and underground music. According to Gary:

“As a Photographer in the underground music scene, supporting local independent bands like ILL, Four Candles, Bobbie Peru and many more is really important to me… as I never as a teenager took photos of my heroes like Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, The Fall, Slaughter and the Dogs, Joy Division back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

“As resident photographer for Paul Bennett's Manchester Mid-Week Music Club I get to see and photograph many young bands and solo artists playing the small venues like Jimmy's, Night and Day Café and The Peer Hat so I'm very fortunate to have that opportunity to capture these great performers. Manchester has an amazing underground scene similar to those I experienced between 1976 and the late ‘80s and long may it thrive.”

Photograph by Gary M Hough: Image of ILL

Iain Farrell

Iain Farrell is behind Oh, Shi! Photography, with a body of vibrant work which explores Manchester’s underground scene, especially gigs and alternative modelling. According to Iain:

“I've never really thought about why I cover alternative culture, but I think there could be something in giving back to a larger group that has given me a sense of belonging compared to the mainstream.”

Photograph by Iain Farrell/Oh, Shi! Photography: Image of St Lucifer performing at Foundations Festival 2016

Disclaimer: The above photographers are just some examples of the wonderful creatives working in and around the city: by no means is this a definitive guide or a ranked list. Feel free to email us at - we always want to hear about more weird and wonderful recommendations.