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TPG exhibition celebrates the art of the album cover

April 5, 2022

For the Record: Photography & the Art of the Album Cover is a new exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG) London that celebrates the unique ‘object d’art’ that is the album cover – it runs from 8 April till 12 June 2022.

The showcase of classic album cover art reflects upon its influential role in shaping and making music artists – both in front of and behind the camera.

The classic cover of the Abbey Road album by The Beatles, as shot by Iain Macmillan

Vinyl: The Beatles, Abbey Road, Apple Records – PCS 7088, England, 1969. Photography: Iain Macmillan; Design: John Kosh

From the iconic Abbey Road album cover of The Beatles, shot by the late Iain Macmillan, to Robert Frank’s legendary imagery for the Rolling Stones, Annie Leibovitz’s visionary work with Cyndi Lauper and Jean-Paul Goude’s unforgettable Grace Jones LP covers, including Island Life.

The classic portrait of Miles David on the cover of the 1986 Tutu album as shot by Irving Penn. LP design by Eiko Ishioka

Vinyl: Miles Davis, Tutu, Warner Bros. Records, 1-25490, USA, 1986. Photography: Irving Penn; Design: Eiko Ishioka

The show also looks at classic album cover images such as Herb Ritts’ iconic image of Madonna on the cover of True Blue, Jean Baptiste Mondino’s image of a nude Prince on the cover of Lovesexy, Irving Penn’s mesmerising close up of Miles Davies on Tutu, and Robert Mappelthorpe’s intimate portrait of Patti Smith on the cover of the Horses album.

The creative collaborations between visual and recording artists are a part of the legend of musical and photographic history – and the point of departure for this exhibition.

Vinyl: Prince, Lovesexy, Paisley Park - 9 25720-1, USA, 1988. Photography: Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Design: Laura LiPuma

Vinyl: Prince, Lovesexy, Paisley Park – 9 25720-1, USA, 1988. Photography: Jean-Baptiste Mondino; Design: Laura LiPuma

For the Record brings together over 200 album covers, highlighting the central role photography has played 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.

Key photographers

The exhibition features work from such photographic and artistic luminaries as Andy Warhol (who shot the lead image of Mick Jagger on the Love You Live LP from 1977) and also famously shot the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album.

Other photographers featured include 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 and William Eggleston.

Vinyl: The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup, The Rolling Stones Records, COC 59101, USA, 1973. Photography: David Bailey; Design: Ray Laurence

Vinyl: The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup, The Rolling Stones Records, COC 59101, USA, 1973. Photography: David Bailey; Design: Ray Laurence

The exhibition also looks at the contribution of a range of equally visionary, though perhaps lesser- known artists, photographers, graphic designers and creatives.

Long-term collaborations

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 (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 photographic prints alongside the covers).

Vinyl: Thelonious Monk, Monk, Columbia, CS 9091, USA, 1964. Photography: W. Eugene Smith

Vinyl: Thelonious Monk, Monk, Columbia, CS 9091, USA, 1964. Photography: W. Eugene Smith

The exhibition also considers the significance of the visual iconography adopted by a range of other musical genres.

The Hipgnosis agency

While the highly stylised graphics and photography of the Hipgnosis design 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, which featured startling documentary images from Jack Delano and Dorothea Lange (amongst others) reflecting the conditions in America’s deep south.

Vinyl: Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffitti, Swan Song, SSK 89400, England, 1975. Photography: Elliott Erwitt; Design: AGI/Mike Doud/Peter Corriston

Vinyl: Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffitti, Swan Song, SSK 89400, England, 1975. Photography: Elliott Erwitt; Design: AGI/Mike Doud/Peter Corriston

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 30x30cm square format that is the Album Cover, while offering a fascinating journey through significant moments in musical, artistic and cultural history.

The exhibition is supported by Simons Muirhead Burton.

Antoine de Beaupré collection

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 over 15,000 albums forms the basis of the display.  

Antoine de Beaupré is a curator, gallerist, composer and collector who has worked extensively in the field of photography.

He began his career by opening a specialist bookstore of antique and contemporary photography before founding Galerie 213 in 1997.

This led to the development of Editions 213 and international curatorial work, most recently, La Movida for Les Recontres d’Arles in 2019.

de Beaupré graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in composition in 1996 and has been an avid record collector ever since.

Vinyl: The Rolling Stones, Love You Live, Rolling Stones Records COC 2-9001, USA, 1977. Photography & Design: Andy Warhol

Vinyl: The Rolling Stones, Love You Live, Rolling Stones Records COC 2-9001, USA, 1977. Photography & Design: Andy Warhol

The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery is at 16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho, London.

To find out more about the events and exhibition go to The Photographers Gallery website.


Related articles:

How the Abbey Road album cover was shot

Greatest album photography: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones

Greatest album photography of all time: Nirvana’s Nevermind

Greatest album cover photography: Aladdin Sane by David Bowie

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