Pink Floyd - Saucerful Of Secrets (Album Cover) © Pink Floyd, EMI Harvest, 1968.
Aubrey 'Po' Powell and Storm Thorgerson were part of the Cambridge 'set' of the 1960s, which comprised various members of Pink Floyd, including a young Syd Barrett, plus assorted philosopers, film-makers, playwrights and poets.
Po was studying film technique at the London Film School, while Storm was at the Royal College of Art doing a degree course in film and television. Their friends in Pink Floyd were having modest success as the house band at the UFO club in London's Tottenham Court Road, were under contract with EMI, and had a couple of hit singles. In 1968 the Floyd asked Po and Storm to design the cover for their second album, A Saucerful Of Secrets (above). Having never designed an album cover before they were far from daunted. Their design experience had so far consisted of photographing their friends in period costume and cowboy outfits to grace the covers of paperback books. Utilizing the photography department's facilities at the Royal College of Art and knocking up a makeshift darkroom in Po's flat, they managed to produce the first of mny fantastic album covers.
Po and Storm took studio space in Denmark Street, the 'Tin Pan Alley' of London - a street full of guitr shops, rehearsal roooms and agents, ideally located halfway between EMI in Manchester Square and CBS in New Oxford Street. The studio though, was far from glamorous. The building had served as offices for jobbing song writers but before that, so it was rumoured, it was a leper colony. At £7.00 a week rent they weren't complaining.
Having started out under the wonderful moniker Consciosness Incorporated (yes, really), Po and Storm called their new studio Hipgnosis - a word they had seen scribbled on a wall of their flat by an acquaintance, Adrian Haggard.
Most of the work Hipgnosis was photo-based surrealism with splashes of post-hippy hallucinogenic imagery. It had very little, if any, affinity with what was happening on the West Coast of America - in much the same way that 1960s 'swinging' London was poles apart in style from Haight Ashbury, San Francisco.
Following A Saucerful of Secrets, EMI commissioned Hipgnosis to produce more album sleeves, notably for Pink Floyd. These included covers for Ummagumma, the soundtrack to More, and Atom Heart Mother, but it was 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon (below) that puttheir name on the map.
A lot of Hipgnosis' imagery was a mix of Magritte and visual puns. Images were often created from montaged photos intricately cut out and stripped together, then re-photographed and retouched, as in Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy. What made the images even more surreal was that everything was in sharp focus - the background, the foreground, the lot.
By 1974 Hipgnosis had been joined by Peter Christopherson, who brought with him great technical knowledge and superb lighting skills. They worked closely, too, with illustator ad designer George Hardie of NTA studios, Covent Garden. Other designers who collaborated with Hipgnosis were illustrator Colin Elgie, ace retoucher Richard Manning, and Richard Evans.
Although they will forever be associated with Pink Floyd, Hipgnoss created some of the most iconic album covers for other big-name artistes including Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney & Wings, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabath, 10cc and Genesis.
Considering neither Po nor Storm had any formal design training, they did remarkably well. As Storm said: "Neither of us had studied graphics or attended photography classes. We were self-taught or, rather, learnt on the hoof."
Forty years on Storm is still designing, producing some great work for The Cranberries, Biffy Clyro, Mars Volta, and Pink Floyd, while Po is directing and producing documentary films.
Source: Richard Evans - The Art of the Album Cover and How to Design Them
Recommended Reading: For the Love of Vinyl - The Album Art of Hipgnosis
20.01.13: hipgnosis album covers
Black Sabbath - Technical Ecstasy
© Black Sabbath/Vertigo, 1974
Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel
© Peter Gabriel/Charisma, 1980
Images © Various.
Text © Richard Evans/Chartwell Books.
All Rights Reserved.