Legendary album covers on display in 'For the Record' at The Photographers' Gallery

For the Record: Photography & the Art of the Album Cover will be on display at The Photographers' Gallery featuring famous works by photographers and music icons
The Beatles, Abbey Road, Apple Records - PCS 7088. England, 1969 (Image credit: Ian Macmillan / The Photographers' Gallery)

The Photographers' Gallery is set to host a collection of the most legendary album covers shot by photographers. The display, titled For the Record: Photography & the Art of the album Cover will be on display at The Photographers' Gallery, London from 8 April until 12 June 2022. The exhibition had originally been scheduled to open on 25 March, but had to be delayed

Celebrating the unique artistry that is the album cover, this display reflects on the most iconic album covers of our time and their role in defining music and shaping creators, those both in front of and behind the camera. 

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We all recognise the legendary shot of The Beatles walking across Abbey Road captured by Iain Macmillan, or even Nirvana's Nevermind album cover featuring the controversial swimming  naked baby famously shot by Kirk Weddle, or perhaps you're more of a pop-art loving stones fan?

The Rolling Stones, Love You Live, Rolling Stones Records COC 2-9001, USA, 1977. (Image credit: Andy Warhol / The Photographers' Gallery)

The way that we visualise music from legendary artists is often influenced through its album artwork, as well as the associated images that featured on intricate vinyl record sleeves. Over 200 album covers have been brought together in the creation of For the Record, highlighting the important collaborations and bond between both visual and recording artists, that have helped to formulate our greater understanding of music and photographic history. 

My personal favorite ever album cover would be The Clash's London Calling, shot by NME photographer Pennie Smith, featuring Paul Simonon smashing up his bass guitar live on stage at the New York Palladium on 21 September, 1979. The shot was unplanned, unexpected and a little out of focus due to Smith taking a few steps back to avoid collision with guitar fragments. Live music shots are far less frequently chosen to be used as album covers, although this shot by Smith is everything a punk rock album cover should be in my opinion.

Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffitti, Swang Song - SSK 89400. England, 1975. (Image credit: Elliott Erwitt/AGI/Mike Doud/Peter Corriston / The Photographers' Gallery)

 The exhibition will supposedly be arranged around a series of thematic-led ‘chapters’, displaying the physical covers themselves, and exemplifying both singular and longer-term creative collaborations that continued with the artists and labels. For example, Lee Friedlander’s symbiotic relationship with Atlantic Records next to his covers of the great Ray Charles. 

The central role that photography has played in the formulation of instantly recognisable artworks is defined by this exhibition, with an additional aim to illuminate the often overlooked and multifaceted contributions of photographers and visual artists to the identity of the ‘stars’, celebrities and famous labels themselves. For the Record also acknowledges the contributions of equally visionary yet lesser-known artists, photographers, graphic designers and creatives.

Diana Ross, Silk Electric, RCA - AFL1-4384, New York, USA, 1982. (Image credit: Andy Warhol / The Photographers' Gallery)

Collector and exhibition originator, Antoine de Beaupré, curated For the Record with the basis of the display formed of his personal collection of 15,000+ albums. We can expect to see works from artistic luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, David Bailey, David LaChapelle, Ed Ruscha, Elliott Erwitt, Guy Bourdin, Helen Levitt, Irving Penn, Jeff Wall, Joseph Beuys, Juergen Teller, Lee Friedlander, Nan Goldin, Richard Avedon, William Eggleston and many others whom had their careers launched through the creation of their album cover images.

For the Record also considers the significance of visual iconography that was adopted by a range of other musical genres, such as the stylised technicolor graphics and utopian imagery created for Pink Floyd having been repurposed from many of the century's anonymous press and social documentary images that have acquired symbolic status beyond their original meaning.

Prince, Lovesexy, Paisley Park - 9 25720-1, United States,1988. (Image credit: Jean-Baptiste Mondino / The Photographers' Gallery)

For the Record: Photography & the Art of the Album Cover promises to be an extensive presentation that offers a love letter to the much-prized 30cm x 30cm square format that is the album cover, while detailing a fascinating journey through significant moments in musical, artistic and cultural history. Be sure to check out this exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery in London when it opens next month, more information can be found on the gallery website

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.