Meet the ‘Other’ Magician Behind Pink Floyd’s Album Covers
With the recent release of 'The Endless River,' Pink Floyd has brought to a close a career marked by amazing albums -- and amazing album covers. Few bands are as closely linked to their iconic visuals as Floyd, and most of that is due to work by Hipgnosis.
Storm Thorgerson, that legendary design group's late founder, became widely associated with these projects -- though Hipgnosis boasted a large creative team including co-founder Aubrey Powell and design assistants like Richard Manning, who touched up sleeves for 'Wish You Were Here' and 'Animals' by hand in the pre-digital age.
In all, Hipgnosis created some 190 album covers for a broad spectrum of artists. An accomplished painter, Manning would work on albums for Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Wings, Styx, Bad Company, and the Rolling Stones during nearly a quarter-century with Hipgnosis.
Still, the Pink Floyd collaborations -- Hipgnosis did nine covers, beginning with their sophomore effort 'A Saucerful of Secrets' and continuing through six other studio efforts and two compilations -- remain perhaps the most celebrated. The firm also did the art for solo albums for every member of the band except Roger Waters.
Manning's expansive website offers telling insights into those times, like this nugget regarding the flaming man on the 'Wish You Were Here' sleeve:
He was covered in petrol that glistened dramatically in the blazing sun. I had to remove all the evidence of the petrol. By using photo dyes, a mixture of dark grey with touches of magenta and cyan applied delicately to the shiny areas, I was able to gradually build up to match the darkness of the unaffected suit. He was wearing a flame proof wig and neck protector which I had to remove....
Manning expanded on those thoughts from his time at Hipgnosis, and talked about more recent projects, during a recent chat with Ultimate Classic Rock. We're pleased to note that no one was set aflame in the course of this interview:
How did you first meet Storm Thorgerson?
I first met Storm when I was working in Oxford Street at a studio called Meyer Arton. An American, [studio founder] Phil Meyer was instrumental in introducing chemical retouching to the commercial art world. I started working there in 1969. Storm came to the studio from time to time to see another artist, Maurice Tate. Storm used Maurice on a number of sleeves, and I was briefly introduced to him.
Did you jump right from Meyer Arton to Hipgnosis?
No, I worked at a studio in Bond Street three years later called Ronchetti and Day -- a top London studio. I had worked with Terry Day previously, when I first started work in 1964. He was a quite brilliant retoucher and illustrator.
Storm was using Terry as his principal retoucher, and it was while I was there that I became well acquainted with him. I worked on [the 1973 Electric Light Orchestra album] 'ELO 2,' a black-and-white pic looking up between a young girl's legs. I drew a light bulb on the front as though it was a spaceship, and a galaxy on the back, in color and tinted the black and white.
From that studio, I went freelance in June 1973, and within a month I had a call from Storm. Although he loved the work Terry was producing for him, he didn't like his prices. I, on the other hand, was renting desk space in a large freelance studio and was ultimately less expensive. From his first call and our first meeting we got on well, and the working relationship became a very good friendship for the ensuing years.
What exactly does a photo retoucher do?
The essence of retouching is to improve the photograph. You enhanced the detail in the print by softly bleaching dark areas and opening up what is already there, and then subtly improving that detail with a sable brush and photo dyes. The face and arms and leg of the man in the desert on 'Wish You Were Here' were altered significantly. The Tree of Half Life in the Pink Floyd book 'Mind over Matter' was a massive retouching job that took many days.
It's hard to pick a prettiest child, but just between us do you have a favorite?
I particularly like the Pretty Things sleeve 'Silk Torpedo,' two black-and-white shots montaged together with the water drawn in underneath the torpedo and hand tinted. It was just a pleasing image and a lot of input from me. The shots, as you can see, needed most of the background bleaching to white, positioning and an overall copy print produced. I drew in the water and bow wave on the image prior to copying and then retouched the join on the copy and hand tinted overall.
What are you doing these days?
I am painting in oils now, and making mirrors and cupboards from reclaimed materials. Also retouching my own images, as shown on my website.
Fifty years in business, that's quite a run. Your work has meant a lot to us over those five decades, but why does art matter to you?
Art matters to me because I have always drawn and painted, from as long ago as I can remember. It was the only thing I was reasonably proficient at at school, and I have had a wonderful life working in commercial art studios in the West End of London with some very talented people, and also extremely funny colleagues and friends.
But in a broader sense, art in all its forms -- including music and dance, film and literature -- has enriched my life and continues to enrich mine and many others lives. Life without art is empty, life without music is an awful contemplation and life without a good book where your imagination is stretched would be very dull.
So, art matters to me immensely. I am a lucky chap. I went into an art studio straight from school, because nothing else beckoned. How fortunate have I been? And now painting in oils is sometimes horrible, frustrating and difficult, but always very rewarding.