album covers

album covers at the photographers gallery

For the Record: Pho­tog­ra­phy & the Art of the Album Cov­er cel­e­brates the unique ‘object d’art’ that is the Album Cov­er and reflects upon its role in shap­ing and mak­ing artists — both in front of and behind the cam­era.   

From Robert Frank’s leg­endary imagery for The Rolling Stones, Annie Lei­bovitz’s vision­ary work with Cyn­di Lau­per, Jean-Paul Goude’s unfor­get­table Grace Jones cov­ers, Herb Ritts’ icon­ic image of Madon­na, Jean Bap­tiste Mondi­no’s Prince, Irv­ing Penn’s mes­meris­ing close up of Miles Davies, to Robert Map­pelthor­pe’s inti­mate por­trait of Pat­ti Smith, the cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tions between visu­al and record­ing artists is the stuff of musi­cal and pho­to­graph­ic his­to­ry — and the point of depar­ture for this exhibition.

For the Record brings togeth­er over 200 album cov­ers, high­light­ing the cen­tral role pho­tog­ra­phy plays in defin­ing artists and bands, and show­cas­ing some of the most icon­ic album cov­ers of our times. While many of the artistes on the cov­ers will be instant­ly recog­nis­able, the exhi­bi­tion illu­mi­nates the often over­looked and mul­ti­fac­eted con­tri­bu­tions of pho­tog­ra­phers and oth­er visu­al artists to the iden­ti­ty of the ‘stars’ and the labels themselves.

Fea­tur­ing work from such pho­to­graph­ic and artis­tic lumi­nar­ies as Andy Warhol, Cindy Sher­man, David Bai­ley, David LaChapelle, Ed Ruscha, Elliott Erwitt, Guy Bour­din, Helen Levitt, Irv­ing Penn, Jeff Wall, Joseph Beuys, Juer­gen Teller, Lee Fried­lan­der, Nan Goldin, Richard Ave­don, William Eggle­ston and more, many of whom had their careers launched through their cov­er images, the exhi­bi­tion also looks at the con­tri­bu­tion of a range of equal­ly vision­ary, though per­haps less­er-known artists, pho­tog­ra­phers, graph­ic design­ers and creatives. 

The exhi­bi­tion is arranged around a series of the­mat­ic-led ‘chap­ters’, pre­sent­ing the phys­i­cal cov­ers them­selves, and exem­pli­fy­ing both sin­gu­lar and longer-term cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tions such as Lee Fried­lan­der’s sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship with Atlantic Records (and includ­ing his cov­ers of such greats as Hank Craw­ford and Ray Charles) and Fran­cis Wolff’s icon­ic black and white work with the Blue Note jazz label (which in some cas­es fea­tures the orig­i­nal work­ing prints along­side the cov­ers). The exhi­bi­tion also con­sid­ers the sig­nif­i­cance of the visu­al iconog­ra­phy adopt­ed by a range of oth­er musi­cal gen­res.  While the high­ly stylised graph­ics of the Hipg­no­sisdesign agency exem­pli­fied a tech­ni­colour, sur­re­al­is­tic, and utopi­an imag­i­nary world for Pink Floyd, oth­er choic­es of art­work illus­trate how the album cov­er has repur­posed and re-appro­pri­at­ed many of the century’s anony­mous press and social doc­u­men­tary images that have acquired sym­bol­ic sta­tus beyond their orig­i­nal mean­ing.  This is espe­cial­ly evi­dent in the series of cov­ers for his­toric blues record­ings released by the Yazoo label in the 1960s, fea­tur­ing star­tling doc­u­men­tary images from Jack Delano and Dorothea Lange (amongst oth­ers) reflect­ing the con­di­tions in America’s deep south.

Shin­ing a light on the myr­i­ad ways this plat­form has been used by artists and labels, this exten­sive pre­sen­ta­tion offers a love let­ter to the much-prized 30cm x 30cm square for­mat that is the Album Cov­er, while offer­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney through sig­nif­i­cant moments in musi­cal, artis­tic and cul­tur­al history. 

For the Record: Pho­tog­ra­phy & The Art of The Album Cov­er is curat­ed and pre­sent­ed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with col­lec­tor and exhi­bi­tion orig­i­na­tor, Antoine de Beaupré, whose col­lec­tion of 15,000+ albums form the basis of the display. 

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