Hipgnosis - Portraits: Aubrey Powell

Letting sumptuous light in on the design team’s incredible photo archive.

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The creative triumvirate of Aubrey Powell, Storm Thorgerson and Peter Christopherson became known to the world as Hipgnosis, and they’re rightly celebrated in the art and music industry for creating some of the most iconic album sleeves of the 1970s and early 80s.

And just when you thought you’d seen all their output, here is a book that showcases the photographic archive that built up around album shoots both accepted and rejected. Here in a strikingly fascinating volume are 366 images showing the degree of ingenuity that they brought to album design, especially with regards to the desire to do away completely with conventional band portraiture. Hipgnosis’ main photographer Powell narrates the story behind both the genesis of the company and the album ideas that fuelled its inexorable rise. Technical experimentation was the key for them, from using different film stock to pushing film ASA limits during processing, to cooking prints and smearing undeveloped Polaroids. Going through 15 years’ worth of files containing negatives and contact sheets that have been untouched in over four decades, Powell has been able to show us a magnificent collection of unseen photographs. It’s a revelatory work. The definition of progressive is taking the norm and enhancing it or breaking through the very barriers of convention, so how fitting that Hipgnosis are aligned with some of the iconic prog artists of the 70s. Background stories of Pink Floyd shots dressed as WW1 aviators or goofing around in Belsize Park, or a naked Peter Gabriel and images from his first three solo albums all serve to break down the myth that’s built up behind these so-called enigmatic rock stars. It’s a joy to see new shots of Syd Barrett, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and even Olivia Newton-John, amongst others. Portraits is an excellent tribute to the then-groundbreaking photography of a creative team at the height of their powers. All this, of course, in the pre-Photoshop era, and they were taking out-of-focus shots long before the camera phone…