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"The Album Covers of Pink Floyd"

By Storm Thorgerson, Hipgnosis Design, London.

The cover of UMMAGUMMA is a visual play on the impossible where the
receding perspective is theoretically infinite yet practically finite. The
photos of the whole scene plus an empty picture frame are printed
progressively smaller and montaged into place. The positions of the band
members have been rotated for fun. We were also interested in the
comparison of mental perspective (the picture on the wall) with physical
perspective (the picture on the wall) with physical perspective (the people
in the garden). One source for this picture was a line drawing in a
psychological text book which showed a similar infinite regression -- we
just wanted to try it photographically since it would then be more real and
more incongruous. It was designed in conjunction with Libby January.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is one of seven or eight suggestions we submitted
to Pink Floyd. It relates to the Floyd's concerts and their use of light
shows. Specifically it was sparked off by Rick Wright who wanted something
very simple, clinical and precise. It's not a particularly original design
but I do feel that it is very appropriate and highly effective. The artwork
was mainly mechanical -- the spectrum was drawn up in black line and the
colours indicated. The prism was airbrushed, black on white, and the
separator reversed it out of a mechanical (printer's) black background. We
purposely omitted one colour, purple, since we thought it would not "read"
clearly. The continuation of the light onto the back of the sleeve involves
an impossible diminishing of the spectrum when it enters the second
(inverted) prism so as to form a thin white beam again which then enters
the first prism on the front sleeve. The inside spread has been designed to
join up with either end of the outer spread. Thus when the sleeves are
opened out and placed next to each other they form a continuous pattern.
This is, of course, unlikely to happen to the individual person in private,
but it may happen in shops, concerts or other places where the group or
their records are being promoted. The continuous pattern is quite striking
when viewed from a distance, however one of the nice things about it is
that it doesn't alter the effectiveness of the single sleeve nor the
integrity of the design. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd helped us design this
inner spread.

Pink Floyd first talked about the sleeve for WISH YOU WERE HERE on their
West Coast Tour in April 1975. At that point there was no specific brief
because they didn't have a clear idea of what they were going to record.
"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" was a definite starter but the rest of the
material was undecided. "Shine On" began as an introspective piece -- a few
haunting bars from Dave and a lyric from Roger. The words were initially
about Syd Barrett, but as the work progressed they became more universal.
When I read them they seemed to be about unfulfilled presence in general
rather than about Syd's particular vision of it -- and he certainly had his
own unique brand. The idea of a presence withheld, of the ways that people
pretend to be present whilst their minds are really elsewhere, and the
devices and motivations employed psychologically by people to suppress the
full force of their presence eventually boiled down to a single theme --
absence; the absence of a person, the absence of a feeling.

Two whole months passed and it was still not cracked. We'd been searching
for a powerful metaphor or symbol of absence. We were especially interested
in the absence which involved pretence, something supposedly genuine but
that was in reality as phoney as a Nixon denial. Roger was particularly
critical of the music business at this time ("Have A Cigar") and we finally
came up with a handshake. Simple, clear and very familiar. An ordinary
handshake can be a physical, touching presence, warm and definite, but it
can as easily be a meaningless ritual. It is often an empty gesture,
present but absent.

It was decided that the record and sleeve would be covered in a removable
black (or blue) shrink wrap which would hide the sleeve design from the
public eye, with a sticker for labelling of identification. Our idea for
the sticker was a mechanical pair of hands shaking ("Machine Song") which
traverse a circle divided into quadrants (the four elements, which have
mystical and alchemical references that would, in part, reflect aspects of
the Floyd's music). The title appears round the outside and the
illustration is very colourful, to stand out against the opaque cellophane

In further group discussion we arrived at the diving man. This idea is a
reverse of the imprint left on a bed by someone who has just vacated, where
there is trace but no presence. In our picture there is a diver
(presence) but no splash (trace). Lake Mono in California was located only
after extensive aerial reconnaissance of the area in a private plane, but it
was well worth it. The diver is performing a yoga headstand in the bucket
shaped frame embedded on the bottom of a shallow part and remaining
submerged for as long as humanly possible so that the ripples died away.

The fire man was shot in Los Angeles at the Burbank Studios lot. It was
meant to symbolize a particular notion of mine about people people who
retreated and withdrew their presence from others. If they were to expose
their full nakedness (their full sensitivity) to any experience their sense
receptors might become overloaded and thus impaired, perhaps forever. I
reckoned that people were frightened of getting scorched at the nerve ends,
of getting burnt, especially if they had been burn once before. Like
falling heavily in love, and then suddenly being jilted. I knew this would
be a startling image, especially if we were to do it for real. And the
person on fire could be a businessman shaking hands with a colleague,
standing in some slightly bizarre yet empty setting. It struck me also that
"getting burned" is a phrase used in and about the music business for not
getting paid, or for not making a profit from some risky but colourful

Hipgnosis staffer John Blake suggested using a veil -- a symbol of
absence (departure) in funerals and also a way of absenting (hiding) the
face. The last study in absence was a salesman selling his soul. His
physical presence is not there -- no wrists, no ankles and no face. He is
pushing forward a blank record (clear plastic) for he is, in fact, a Floyd
salesman, his briefcase bedecked with appropriate stickers. All the
pictures were to be atmospheric like the record and the whole package was
intended to have several meanings and to evoke, hopefully, several
different moods commensurate with the breadth of the music. The rationale
behind the pictures is only relevant for us and for those who want to know
-- the pictures have to be evocative on their own.

The black shrink wrap covering the sleeve was not such good news for it
turned out to be very difficult to produce and to cost an awful lot of
potatoes. Added to which, the American record company couldn't for the life
of them understand why we were covering up "such great" graphics. In
England the shops hated it because they wanted to show the sleeve
(especially without a record in it, for fear of pilferage) but when they
took the shrink wrap off they couldn't put it back again -- this was very
frustrating because the cardboard sleeve had no name on it but the shrink
wrap did. EMI neglected to send the dealers a whole load of empty sleeves
for display.

The title was ours, as was the logical suggestion of a postcard, as an
insert. The American version had a different photo of the fire man from the
English one but there was no reason for this other than whim. If we had our
time over we might have made the photo of the diver larger on the actual
cover, and either the veil or desert man small to accompany the lyrics, and
would probably have omitted the frame breaks. A satisfying but flawed piece
of work and one of the better examples of the entire Hipgnosis staff
working together -- sharing the designing, shooting, graphics and artwork.
One of the nicest things was that we showed the Floyd only this idea,
mocked up as if shrink-wrapped, and they accepted it very graciously and
with a warm round of applause.

Perhaps our most publicised fiasco at Hipgnosis Design was the Great Pig
Escape, early 1977. Pink Floyd had rejected our suggestion for their
ANIMALS cover in favour of Roger Waters' idea of a pig hovering over
Battersea Power Station. Despite serious misgivings about such a notion
(shades of Monty Python and the Goodies -- was it not intrinsically silly?)
we offered to shoot the pictures and put the cover together. Contrary to
our advice the band didn't want the pig "stripped in" which would allow us
to photograph the pig anywhere, but wanted it shot for real, the pig
actually floating above the power station. Thus the forty foot zeppelin was
crated to London and assembled on location. Timetable as follows:

Day 1. Still camera crew of eleven positioned at all good vantage points,
plus eight man film crew, helicopter, roadies, group and manager, and one
marksman with telescopic rifle to gun down the Pig in case it should escape
and fall on someone's noggin (an insurance problem). Much puffing and
blowing, many gas cylinders etc. but the pig was not launched. A
beautifully moody sky, perfect photographic conditions, apart from being a
bit chilly.

Day 2. Eleven still cameramen, eight man film crew, helicopter, one or two
of the group, manager but no marksman (?). Pig launched successfully on
bright clear morning. Hauled slowly up side of building, everyone snapping
away. Near the top, betwixt the towers, a fateful gust of wind. The pig
turned suddenly, broke mooring cable and lurched rapidly towards the
heavens. No one had told the marksman to return. The pig sailed away and
was lost from sight in five minutes. Absolute horrors. All that time and
money and it had simply disappeared in front of our eyes. The police
trailed it to thirty thousand feet and then gave up, the cowards. That
evening, the dirigible came down on a Kent farm. The farmer was reported to
have said he thought it "a bit unusual"! Actually the Press made a bundle
out of the whole thing: "flying pig interrupts international flight
patterns," "weird UFO spotted," "flying pig heads for home" (it was made in
Holland). But the Floyd don't give up that easily and the roadies rescued
it from Kent, repaired the puncture and we started again.

Day 3. Only four or five still photographers this time, plus depleted film
crew but everything went really well. Pig stayed in position perfectly and
everyone clicked away, the helicopter zoomed about, and we were all

The band were equally delighted. The material, movie and still, was fine
(as it should've been after three whole days), but there was a snag. As if
the whole event hadn't been enough of a fiasco, and very funny at that, it
transpired that the band liked the sky and power station from Day 1 (but
there was no pig) and the pig from Day 3, but the sky was boring. Well,
well. What could we do but strip it in after all? Pig from Day 3 dropped
into sky of Day 1 and retouched. It is true that we were seen to smile
somewhat when they decided to do that.

-- excerpted from The Work of Hipgnosis: Walk Away Rene by Storm
Thorgerson, (New York: A & W Visual Library, 1978), ISBN 0-89104-105-2.


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