She's best known as the Eurythmics singer and co-songwriter of hits including, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and "Thorn in My Side", but currently Annie Lennox's first ever visual art exhibition of photographic collages is being held in Salford in a very low-key exhibition.
Despite the fact she does not call herself a "photographer" but a "visual artist", Lennox has recently been busy snapping locations in Manchester and Salford on her mobile phone.
"I have always been a very visual person and a keen observer," says Lennox, who looks for beauty in strange places like "diamonds in mud". "I really got into photography four years ago. For me, pointing and clicking my phone is absolutely fine. People say that isn't the art of photography but I don't agree. You have to have a good eye and it's the result that matters. I've wanted to do this for ages. I also started writing songs because I had this burning activity in my heart and head to express myself. This is a baby step."
Her 19 prints in the show titled, Glorious Manford Salchester, (a play on Manchester and Salford), which runs until next week at the Lowry Hotel, Salford, pay homage to the North-west of England, combining snapshots of Old Victorian industrial buildings, urban wastelands, skylines, street graffiti and flowers. She constantly records things she finds herself intuitively drawn to in everyday life, particularly the past.
"I am fascinated by history and particularly the Victorian era," says Lennox. "Manchester and Salford was the hub of the whole industrial revolution during the British Empire."
Kaleidoscopic prints with repeated single images show roads that lead to nowhere, juxtaposed with a slither of yellow flowers and floating buildings in the sky that look like they are sinking into the sea.
Abstract photographic collages contrast pretty lace and open blue sky with barbed wire, foreboding walls and Manchester Cathedral. Glass-fronted office blocks reflect the sky on the windows, which she has collaged. While many are powerful works, including a Manchester street in the sky that looks like a meteorite about to crash into Earth, others look like she has been cutting and pasting from Google Images.
Only a few prints are uncomplicated, including a photograph of David Begbie's sculpture in the Lowry Hotel of a female figure reflected on the wall, which she has then multiplied.
"There is a severe lack of people in my pictures," says Lennox. "It's ironic as a lot of people take photos of me."
It was in March that Lennox had a brainwave to put on a serious visual art show. She was staying at the Lowry Hotel when the touring V&A Lennox retrospective show House of Annie Lennox stopped off at the Lowry Centre in Salford Quays. On the first floor of the hotel she came across the Comme Ca Art (CCA) gallery, where there was a photo exhibition of pop stars eating their favourite food in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
It was only a matter of time before her 19 Entertainment team, run by Simon Fuller, who also manages the Beckhams, contacted CCA dealers in Manchester to set up a meeting with Lennox and its owner Claire Turner to develop Lennox's idea together.
"She showed me images on a computer that she had taken with a phone," says Turner, who is now Lennox's art dealer. "Then Annie came up with the idea to turn them into photographic collages – playing with composition and visually contrasting imagery. You can read a lot more into them than first meets the eye," she says.
Lennox then toured Manchester and Salford in a van for the day – jumping out with her assistant and Turner – "I was on such a high it was brilliant" – to "point and click" her mobile phone when she felt powerfully drawn to something.
"I've got this bag of imagery like beads, and I just found the first image I was drawn to and then started to play with it. Then I introduced another image that would change the meaning of the first by clashing or harmonising with it," says Lennox. "It's the same as when I'm writing songs. I've always done it very intuitively, starting with one line. So there is a parallel between what I've been doing and songwriting."
While this small and local exhibition in Salford is "a thank you" to the people at the Lowry "who were so kind to me", the prints are on sale online on the CCA website until the end of 2013. Limited editions of 100 hand-signed prints cost from £200 (small), £300 (medium) to £400 (large).
The ones proving to be the most popular include two prints, which if you look closely, show Lennox's reflection in them. In Print 6, a collage of daisies and Manchester's worker bee symbols, you see the top of Lennox's head and arm with a mobile phone reflected in a glass window with 1804 etched on it. In Print 9, featuring brown buildings and graffiti art showing a man and a cow, her dark outline is barely visible as she takes the photo.
"For me, the world is incredibly symbolic and visual. Photography is about light and shadow, and I think the songs that I have written over the years have been about the light – the emotional joy and beauty in the world. But we also live in the shadow and darkness," says Lennox. "I want people to feel connected and transported by familiar things that might otherwise be unseen or overlooked. In my view, everything is contradictory, mysterious, inaccessible, insignificant, and yet thoroughly meaningful and profound at the same time."
Lennox is planning on another series of new photographic collages next year in Manchester. But in the meantime, she is taking time out to work out what she wants to do next creatively, in between her activist work in aid of HIV and women's rights. "I just got married in September [to South African charity chief Mitch Besser] so I'd like to spend some time being married," says Lennox. "I'm just going to see what happens. If photography turns into a career, I will welcome it because I'm loving it."
Glorious Manford Salchester, the Lowry Hotel (thelowryhotel.com) until 27 November. Prints are on sale at commecaart.com until the end of 2013