Jack Wilson reviews For the Record: Photography & the Art of the Album Cover, on display at The Photographers' Gallery until 12 June 2022
I grew up around vinyl as my dad is a DJ who plays his on the radio fortnightly. He has his own studio in the back garden, and even then, all of his vinyl doesn't fit in there, making it impossible to turn around in my house without seeing a record. His love of music has rubbed off on me, and since 2020, I've been collecting my own vinyl.
For the Record: Photography and The Art of the Album Cover (2022) was perfect for me as my two main interests of music and photography collided. On my way up to the Photographers Gallery, I listened to my favourite album of all time, Nirvana's Nevermind which I was hoping would be on display. There was an exhibition on each floor, yet For the Record stood out most to me because of my love for music. I found myself darting around the exhibit looking for albums and photographers I recognised.
I was surprised to see so many photographers that I knew, like William Wegman, Irving Penn, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyerowitz, Elliot Erwitt and a few others. It would be impossible to write about every album cover exhibited, so I will focus on one album in particular; The Beatles Abbey Road.
Photographed by Iain Macmillan, this is one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Macmillan took six photographs until they got the final image, which amazes me as it's such a precise and carefully timed photo. A lot of the band's album covers are iconic, but Abbey Road is the most symbolic, partially because it was their last (recorded) album. The exhibition explores how the photograph provoked rumours and speculation because of clues that Macmillan hid in the image. People theorised Paul McCartney was dead, and had been replaced with a lookalike because he was the only Beatle walking with his right foot forward and without any shoes on. I was fascinated by this as the Beatles are one of my favourite bands, and I was glad the exhibit brought this up – I would have never learnt about this interesting bit of Beatles trivia otherwise.
This was easily my favourite part of the exhibit, I had never seen these photographs before and I particularly liked the one on the left demonstrating the closeness between the group. Another highlight was the Photo-Copy section. I enjoyed observing how artists were influenced by others before them, for example New York City, George Benson, and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers all made their own version of the Abbey Road album cover.
It’s remarkable to think about how influential and important album covers have become in popular culture. This particular album cover was even recreated in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (1996).
The Photo Shock section of the exhibition explores artists who were able to get around censors on their covers; artists like Roxy music, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. My prayers were answered as the photobook mentions Nirvana's iconic Nevermind cover.
The exhibition included many other albums and photographers alongside those I’ve mentioned. If you love music and photography, this is a perfect exhibition that brings to light the relationship between artist and photographer, and is ideal for you.
Written by Jack Wilson.
For the Record: Photography and The Art of the Album Cover is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until June 12.