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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.

10Cc Deceptive

Anton Corbijn dives into the world of album art

The renowned image-maker tells the story of the design studio behind some of the world's seminal vinyl covers

Cover for the 1977 10cc album Deceptive Bends by Hipgnosis

If you’ve ever owned a vinyl record collection, the chances are you’ve owned work by the legendary photographic design studio Hipgnosis.  

Founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell at the end of the 1960s and eventually dissolved in 1983, Hipgnosis created some of the most iconic rock album covers of all time.  

The best known is, of course, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon – a relatively rare Hipgnosis sleeve without a photographic element. But Thorgerson and Powell, along with third member Peter Christopherson, art directed equally memorable images for discs by Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Genesis, Olivia Newton-John, Wings, Black Sabbath, Hot Chocolate, Peter Gabriel and hundreds more. Basically, you weren’t a member of the 1970s rock/pop aristocracy until you’d had your very own Hipgnosis photo shoot. 

Aubrey Powell And Anton Corbijn Banbury 2020 Copyright Anton Corbijn 02

Still of Aubrey Powell and Anton Corbijn from the 2023 documentary Squaring the Circle by Anton Corbijn

“Hipgnosis was famous for being out of the ordinary, and we were very deliberate about our efforts to disrupt the norm,” explains Powell. “We called our album covers ‘non-covers’, because they were designed to be art pieces. Record labels hated us. We rarely put band photos on the front, and in many cases we didn’t even put the name of the band or the album title. But the artists appreciated that we were creating change hand in hand with their music, so they empowered us to do whatever we wanted.”  

Now, film director and legendary music photographer Anton Corbijn has made Squaring the Circle, a starry and thoroughly entertaining documentary about the life and times of Hipgnosis, complete with some juicy anecdotes from Powell (Thorgerson died in 2013, Christopherson in 2010). 

Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother (1)

Cover for the 1970 Pink Floyd album Atom Heart Mother by Hipgnosis

So why did the Netherlands-born image-maker who first made his name as the star photographer for the music newspaper NME choose Hipgnosis as the subject of his first full-length documentary? 

“Because they asked me, because Po was a great storyteller, because there were so many great sleeves,” he replies. “And because I felt that record sleeves were an important part in my life.”

Led Zeppelin Presence

Cover for the 1976 Led Zeppelin album Presence by Hipgnosis

Corbijn is an interesting choice for director. Just as Hipgnosis helped to define the photographic look of rock music in the 1970s, so Corbjin’s stark, black and white portraits of acts such as Joy Division, Captain Beefheart, Depeche Mode and U2 created an utterly distinctive rock photography and video aesthetic for the 1980s. Where Hipgnosis’ work was playful, colourful and frequently surreal, Corbjin’s music images were shadowy, grainier, more mysterious – a darker side of the moon. 

Squaring the Circle features an array of music superstars, including Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Noel Gallagher and Roger Waters – explore the documentary’s playlist here. How were such heavyweights persuaded to be involved?

Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

Cover for the 1975 Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here by Hipgnosis

“It was relatively easy as they all loved what Hipgnosis had done for them and were very generous with their time,” says Corbijn. Asked whether he sees the film as a celebration of a bygone era in terms of lavish album sleeves and big promotional budgets, he replies, “I see it as a celebration of record sleeve art, and that is a bygone era indeed, but I am not focused on the outlandish costs or any of that, though it makes for a few good stories.” 

Since his first feature film, Control, about the life and death of Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s lead singer, Corbijn has directed The American starring George Clooney (2010); A Most Wanted Man based on the novel by John Le Carré and featuring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (2014); and Life about James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock, starring Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan (2015). Spirits in the Forest, a concert film about Depeche Mode and their fans, was released in 2019.  

It’s in the world of music, though, that his influence has been most strongly felt. Surely, then, Corbijn must have a favourite Hipgnosis album design. “The most simple sleeve I like best,” he retorts. “Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd.”

HAPO3171 1979 10Cc Look Hear Sheep #1 PO GT Copy

Peter Christopherson, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson work on the 1980 10cc album Look Here? Image: Hipgnosis Ltd

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) is in cinemas and on demand.  

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