Sound Meets Vision in Total Records

A new book from Aperture presents a visual history of photography’s role in shaping music’s image.

It wasn’t long ago that music came packaged in a physical cover to judge it by. Out now, Total Records: Photography and the Art of the Album Cover (Aperture) recalls a time when album art could linger like an apparition next to the memory of a song. Assembled in this volume are more than 400 record covers. Together, they highlight the crucial role photography played in projecting a musician’s look and attitude to a widening audience, even in the days when record labels were hardly seen as purveyors of mass media. From this platform emerged collaborations between photographers and musicians that sometimes proved a bigger hit than the music itself, from Grace Jones captured by by Jean-Paul Goude for her records in the 1980s, to Patti Smith shot by her friend Robert Mapplethorpe for Horses, released in 1975, to the naked women who posed for David Montgomery and subsequently fronted The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968. Flipping through the images, which jump between decades and genres, a few things become clear: Iconic songs are made by personalities, not musicians, and back when photographs were finite, you only had one shot.

[Photo: Jean-Paul Goude/Courtesy Aperture, 2016 (Grace Jones, “Island Life,” Islands Records 1985).]

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