"Hipgnosis Portraits" - Aubrey 'Po' Powell
Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Hipgnosis Portraits - Aubrey Po Powell, 2014

Released on October 20th, 2014 in the UK and Europe, and November 11th in North America) is Hipgnosis Portraits, a fascinating new book from Aubrey 'Po' Powell looking at the history of the legendary album artwork design team.

In just fifteen years, Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson, Po, and Peter Christopherson) established themselves as the most important design collective in music history. Their innovative cover art defines the albums of the biggest names of the late 1960s, 70s and early 80s: AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, The Police, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, T. Rex, Wings, Yes and XTC, to name just a few. Their iconic designs (which include The Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy) grace a staggering number of major releases. Their boundary-breaking conceptual approach earned them five Grammy nominations for package design, and their influence today can be seen in all creative fields from advertising to fashion.

This new book is divided into two main sections. Part I, Imagination, tells the story behind the cover artwork from germination through to the final sleeve design, supported by a wide array of previously unseen archival materials and text from Aubrey Powell. Part II, Realization, showcases the band portraits themselves, whether album covers or otherwise, in beautiful, large-scale reproductions.

As you'll see from our review, which unfolds below, the book is a real treat and showcases many rare pictures, including some wonderful, previously unseen shots from Syd Barrett photo sessions, and the creation of the picture-within-picture image for the cover of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma album.

When I initially saw the cover image, I had no idea that there would be extra attention to detail. The black bars over the eyes of those on the cover - to hide their identities - is mirrored by the title of the book, AND the list of 60-odd artists within, stuck on the outside of the shrinkwrap, rather than just printed. However, that attention to detail is typical, and exactly what we all came to love, and expect, from the good people of Hipgnosis.

The Floydian attention is easily grabbed on the very first page past the copyright/credits/publication details page, with a stunning picture of Syd Barrett taken in 1970, in London, by Po and Storm. Sat by an open window, side lit and having a drink, it's an evocative shot of Barrett which I've never seen before. A great start!

Early on, Po sets out the chaos and mess of the studios where such meticulously created artwork came together. The conditions described were clearly not for the feint hearted, yet the book brings into sharp relief the reason why the canon of artwork created by Hipgnosis over the years is so timeless, and still revered.

It was a result of Storm's foresight that files were kep on each and every assignment, stored for the day they'd be needed again. With his sad passing approaching, he passed the files to Po to push ahead with this book, an idea they had discussed and now had a greater sense of urgency.

The wealth of incredible materials seemed to come almost as a torrent, both in the files that Storm had squirrelled away in his office studio, and in the collections of others which were unearthed during Po's research for the book. Portraits is the result of Po's work getting hold of these, then sorting and editing them into this fascinating book - with equally absorbing text to talk about meaning, inspiration, or problems that lay behind the images.

Storm's books, of course, would include his playful prose, answering few questions about the imagery, and often raising fresh questions! Po takes a more measured look at things, giving good detail about life as part of Hipgnosis, the equipment used, the meanings behind certain images, and the locations - and efforts - involved.

In a piece written last year, Storm himself explained their approach to portraits - or rather, why they as a team tended to shy away, preferring the abstract, the complex, or the mundane (such as a cow, as a very good example) to a posed picture, something they acknowledge as never their strong point.

Thus, their efforts went full-pelt into the stunning tableau, situations or statements which adorn a good chunk of most of our record collections. Those images though are the tip of the iceberg, as this book ably demonstrates.

As the narrative progresses, more and more detail is revealed about life in Hipgnosis, as well as the realities of life working with the many and varied musicians.

Coming as little surprise, there are a good range of previously unseen Pink Floyd pictures within, including the Belsize Park session, a great infrared shot from Hampstead Heath in 1968, a contact sheet of Ummagumma shots, and a wonderful sequence of rehearsal shots from 1977. The accompanying text for each image is also fascinating and revelatory.

Hipgnosis Portraits is a book which will absorb music fans of all sorts - with the design studio looking after such a range of artists from the likes of AC/DC right through to Leo Sayer, the gamut of musical styles have been touched by the hand of Hipgnosis. For Floyd fans, there is much specific material to recommend the book, but we hope that equal time will be spent by the reader on all the images and text within.

You can order the book through the following direct links: Amazon UK, Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, Amazon Japan, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Espana and Amazon Italy. These direct links all help us with our ongoing site running costs, and it is much appreciated if purchases are made after entering Amazon using one of our links!