album covers at the photographers gallery
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.