When Ian Curtis hanged himself it was visceral, a full stop. When Richey Edwards vanished on February 1, 1995, his fate was uncertain and, though he was legally declared dead in 2008, there is no finality.

What binds them both is the intuitive lens of award-winning photographer Kevin Cummins whose images, most notably of Joy Division and The Smiths, reach both under the skin and into the psyche, capturing aspects that others might not dare to see.

Kevin, who spent tens years as chief photographer for New Musical Express, has just launched an exhibition at Proud Camden to coincide with his latest book Assassinated Beauty: Photographs of Manic Street Preachers, which includes never seen before photographs of the band on and off stage alongside studio shots.

Kevin’s first pictures of the band, taken in Paris in March 1991, reveal how Richey and fellow guitarist Nicky Wire had already established an alluring identity while lead singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore trailed slightly behind.

“James and Sean hadn’t quite worked out how they were going to look off stage,” says Kevin. “The earlier pictures look like two separate bands or like they’d brought the kids along because they couldn’t get a babysitter.”

A few months after Paris, Kevin worked on the band’s first NME cover, which featured Nicky and Richey lying on a gold cloth.

“At that time it was unusual not to put the lead singer on the cover, but the pictures were not strong enough for a full band shot,” says Kevin.

“They knew how important that first cover was, that this was going to be their legacy, so Nicky and Richey asked these girls in a nightclub to give them love bites so they could look even trashier in the pictures. They were always thinking ahead.”

At first glance the shots seem like teen mag pin-ups, but look again and you see the feeling beneath the idealised form.

“They had a sense of the sexually ambiguous, but the picture has a real tenderness about it, you can’t see from the shot but they’re actually holding hands. They could be lovers, they could be anything. “I saw it as my duty to intrigue and ask questions in pictures. It’s not like now where people buying the paper can access music at a click of a button. The only way to hear bands back then was by searching them out yourself.

“What we didn’t understand at the time was that there were people round the world buying the NME and sending off to Britain to buy records on our recommendation. We just did it for other people in the office so seeing people reading the NME on the Tube was a shock. We were bitterly disappointed as they all looked so normal.”

Behind the flamboyant clothes and the eyeliner, the Manics could be normal too.

“When we went to Bankok in 1994 I got some lovely pictures out on the streets with Richey looking like a startled young boy. It was the look I wanted in the picture, but the reality was that half an hour earlier we were watching Man City and Man United in the pub, having a pint.”

The Assassinated Beauty exhibition is at Proud Camden, Chalk Farm Road, until January 2015. Assassinated Beauty: Photographs of Manic Street Preachers by Kevin Cummins is published by Faber & Faber on December 4.