Akin to art photography

Some album covers are there solely for the purpose of representing the staff involved into the recording process. Some, on the other hand, are a visual and metaphysical representation of the musical and lyrical content, something that takes the album’s concept further and adds another facet to the audial experience. These are 10 classic album covers akin to art photography.

Another Time, Another Place by Bryan Ferry (1974)


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You could argue about our first pick, for a modern art photo is often associated with a grim subject matter, usually executed in a monochromatic manner and offering a visual provocation to deal with. Here, instead, we have Bryan Ferry on his second solo outing acting out a full-blown 70’s swagger while being complacent and conscious about his dandy-esque attributes. However, things are not that simple for this sleeve screams postmodernist art even more than a photo of a dummy with a black cone on its head shot with a polaroid camera. This is the daydream of Terry Richardson’s, something that encapsulates the self-recycling and self-referencing nature of the popular culture. To make the case even more evident, the record was essentially a cover album of early 60’s soul and country repertoire. The pose in itself is artless - it’s a handsome, carefree playboy rendered in a wonderful color code during the era when a masterful imitation began to appear as an art form itself.

The Idiot by Iggy Pop (1977)


image source: devonrecordclub.com

Iggy’s 70’s career revival, fueled by the creative ambition of the late David Bowie, gave the world some of the most powerfully depressing, cold-blooded and original audial experience ever, a sound that left mouths open, critics perplexed, and influenced more bands one could possibly think of. Full of street energy and post-punk aesthetic, more than anything, this photo is an affirmation of the artist’s love towards German Expressionism, the distinct artworks of Erich Heckel to be more scrupulous. The broken, angular pose, the deformation of space and the peculiar lighting are the elements coming straight from the cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The title, borrowed from the classic 19-th century novel by Fjodor Dostojevski, gives the additional kick of nihilism. As one would say, Berlin makes you reconsider.

Peter Gabriel by Peter Gabriel (1977)


image source: www.soundstation.dk

Coming from an artist who has just recently lost his band (left it, to be more precise), it’s a surprisingly strong, well-produced and, despite what the record sleeve deceptively indicates, a very uplifting album (the single Solsbury Hill should be prescribed as the medicine for cases of severe depression). Wrapped up in the symphonic manner cherished by the producer Bob Ezrin, the record also has a sleeve of almost impossibly great color relations! Remember that it was 1977 and no hue enchanting or generating computer app was available, so let's quickly disintegrate the legend. First of all, the fresh droplets were sprayed with a water hose; secondly, it’s the car of the Hipgnosis (a former art design group) owner and the designer of the album cover. Finally, it’s a hand-colored black and white photography with reflections modified with the help of a scalpel. Besides the amazing ambiance, the effort alone makes this a true art photo!

Horses by Patti Smith (1975)


image source: www.fashionmagazine.com

This is a breathtaking androgyny provided by the sharp contouring of Patti Smith’s distinct facial features and the general sense of minimalism, which was also apparent on the vinyl itself. This cover photograph was taken by the famous and controversial American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; again, someone Terry Richardson still has a lot to do to surpass both impact-wise and purely from the artistry point of view. Some of the most iconic celebrity portraits were made when the man made the shutter close, so it’s no surprise that one the most critically acclaimed albums off all time was embellished with a beautifully divine stature of the Patti Smith. A commanding three chord power punk rock with beat poetics drawing imaginary landscapes one wants to disappear in, it’s an album that sees Patti Smith merging Sinatra and Baudelaire on its cover without a trace of trying too hard. Although shot without any intention of being a statement of any kind, the cover was later named by the American academic and social critic Camille Paglia as “one of the greatest pictures of a woman ever taken”.

Discreet Music by Brian Eno (1975)


image source: thiseternalrotation.blogspot.com

Not only was this the fourth studio album of the world famous ambient music pioneer and all around intriguing figure by the name of Brian Eno, it was also his first that clearly defined a new musical direction. He took a step towards more abstract, instrumental and a more ideologically complex music than we’ve previously known, music that would demand a new way of audial perception. Built on the so-called furniture music concept, it’s an idea of music that blends together with the environment where it’s being played, shifting away from the center of the listener’s focus. It is a brave and a rather revolutionary approach that spawned a record with no contemporaries. Other than that, the album has a stunning sleeve art depicting a twilight-tinged sky with a bit of exaggerated contrast used to a great, dreamy effect. The photo takes roughly 40% of the sleeve’s surface, almost begging for an exposition in some sort of an experimental lo-fi photo gallery.

Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan (1966)


image source: www.sacurrent.com

A deliberately selected shot by Dylan himself, it was actually one of the abortive takings made by the photographer Jerry Schatzberg during a session to create the cover art for the 1966’s Blonde on Blonde album. Frequently described as one of Dylan’s greatest musical ventures, it is covered with a record sleeve that features only a 12 x 12 close up of Dylan with no indications of the record’s title or the artist’s name whatsoever. Some speculate that the lack of focus stands for the LSD trip experience while the truth is a bit more casual than that. At the time of the session, temperatures in New York City had reached an all time low resulting in both Dylan and Schatzberg shivering uncontrollably. Only two photos from the whole session were more or less focused, but none of those had what the singer/songwriter was aiming for. There you have it, without any further rambling, it is, technically speaking, a failed photography that provided a completely unexpected artistic side effect, just like great art usually does!

Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel (1968)


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Simon and Garfunkel is a strange and a somewhat dubious combination. Their feuds are legendary, mostly public and decades crossing, while their appearance, in a sense, already indicates two huge personalities being grown completely apart from each other. At the same time, they could create a vocal harmony not witnessed in the popular music ever since they decided to disband their first incarnation, create a song that made millions of eyes watery whenever it gets an airplay and function as one of the leading bands of the cultural movement of the 1960’s. Bookends is their fourth studio effort and the one that has Mrs.Robinson on it. As for the cover photo, it is the absolutely best of theirs, for it’s the only one that doesn’t feel dated and cliche 60’s like most of their back catalog's visual packaging unfortunately does. It’s about two identically dressed individuals with starkly different approaches to life; two artists that despite their inner turmoil managed to create music that’s simply irresistible. It is a photo of distance and tension, a photo of two iconic faces, a photo that does not belong to a particular time.

Rid of Me by PJ Harvey (1993)


image source: www.nuncalosabre.com

Serendipity, serendipity. This photo of Harvey was taken in an absolute darkness lit up only by a split-second flash that managed to catch all that was there to catch. The rumor is that the bathroom of Maria Mochnacz was so tight, there was literally no room for the photographer, which was Maria herself, to even check the progress of the session or the particular scene during its making. To not see what you’re actually doing is a bliss, in this case. We got an iconic album cover art that sees PJ casting her hair in a dynamic and astonishing motion, disobeying the industry’s archetypes and being as uncompromising as the music itself. These were the early 90’s, and once again, a creative vacuum opened door for the invention of soundscapes we never thought were possible. The carefree attitude and the anti-class demeanor is something PJ has championed in the most honest and awesome way since the recording of her debut album Dry. Give her a try, for the sound is simply invigorating.

Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones (1971)


image source: www.vinylschallplatten.com

Some say that this is what the peak of the powers sounds like when it’s recorded. It’s the first Stones album featuring the exceptional guitar licks of Mick Taylor and bits and pieces of Jagger himself strumming the instrument. It’s the record that has Wild Horses and Brown Sugar on it, a duo of songs that seals the deal for most of the Stones appreciators. The title, being as much of an innuendo as it can possibly be, makes the iconic cover photo even more suggestive, rebellious and brave. It’s basically the crotch of a male model clad in super tight blue jeans and… well, the rest is pretty much obvious and leaves little to the imagination. Though conceived by Andy Warhol, it is by no means his photography for the real author is Billy Name, a long time Warhol confidante and the archivist of the Warhol factory from 1964 to 1970, the man who’s partly responsible for the iconic stills from the era. It is also the first record of the band that utilized the famous “tongue and lips” logo, one of the early records to use interactive cover art (in one of its early incarnations with a working zipper) and a cover photo that was entitled “Nr. 1 Greatest Album Cover” of all time by VH1 in 2003. Other than that, the music is fabulously raunchy!

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon (1970)


image source: www.emaze.com

Before loathing everything in your way, remember that this list is not meant to be viewed in a chronological order, and there’s no quality competition going on here. It is purely subjective and, acknowledging the vast amount of recorded music around, made while being conscious that it’s nearly impossible to gather all of the album cover art masterpieces circulating out there. The last one goes to the joint Lennon/Ono conceptual effort known as The Plastic Ono Band and the album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The lo-fi photography of Lennon leaning against Yoko’s legs was taken with a rather primitive consumer-grade Instamatic camera, thus ensuring the dreamy and ethereal quality. An almost identical cover art with the roles switched vice-versa was decorating Yoko’s own debut album Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band that came out the same year. The music itself is simple and rich at the same time, masterfully catching the “sleeping by the pond” vibe the record’s cover photo radiates. The usually bombastic production values of Phil Spector are pretty much absent, giving the stage for a resonating and emotionally loaded minimalist arrangements. This might be John Lennon at his most honest and immaculate. Sure, there are many similar album covers, but this one has the weird ability to infuse the spectator with ease.

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