Way way back when I was a lot younger there were these things called LP's. Big round vinyl disks, usually black but sometimes other colors – this was how you obtained and listened to music. One of the very cool things about these were their packages. Specifically the album covers themselves. Big square pictures, paintings, or designs adorned these covers. In many cases the covers were and are extremely memorable. Some of the photographic art used was spectacular. At least I thought so then. Even today there are a few that stand out in my mind as sublime. I'm sure my history with the music, the object of the album itself, as well as all of the things associated with both fuel some of those feelings but the photographs themselves in some cases were highly influential to me, shaping the images I aspired to make, copy, and eventually melded into my own ethos.
A few days ago one of the people I follow on twitter posted a lyric snippet from one the first record albums having a cover photo that's seared itself into my memory.
My best friends girlfriend… and she used to be mine. The Cars
I immediately responded with something along the lines of "I love that album cover" – look it up if you want (interesting picture of girl from outside of car. I also followed that up with "..but my favorite album cover of all times is Love At First Sting". Even today, I just love that album cover. Summary; The Cars album lyrics brought the cover image to mind which then brought to mind my favorite album cover photograph from the Scorpions.
Here's the punch line – get ready for this as I was shocked. It never occurred to me to research or even look for photo credits for that photograph in the past. This time I happened to look. I should have known who photographed that cover. I did feel who did. If I had to guess I probably would have said I don't know but it looks a lot like Helmut Newton. Guess what – It was. As I've mentioned a few times, looking back over decades Helumt Newton along with another two photographers have always been in my top three influences, heroes if you will. Hell, I'm even working hard on putting together what I consider a meaningful workshop experience dedicated to boiling down the essence of his particular style. I shocks me I never knew he shot this picture. It's obvious of course. I even thought it looked like it was but assumed that it was someone else that did cover art.
All of this brings me to another thought. Is album art of today, the little icon in the iTunes store or the still smaller little icon on your iPod the same experience as it was, big and square and bold. I would say it isn't. I'm not saying it's not any good – I really wouldn't know. When that art was actually the storage mechanism to protect the medium the music was recorded on you had no choice but to interact with it every time you listened to the LP. It was laying out right in front of you while the album played. Probably held in your hands and looked at continuously at least the first time you played the album. One way or another you really looked at it for more than a fleeting moment. In some cases truly absorbed it. Today it's tiny and is barely there. Gone as soon as you start the song and switch back to angry birds or some other distraction. You certainly aren't forced to view it in any meaningful way.