Atomisation. Strip the musical content from a digital download and we’re left with only metadata. Bits on a hard-drive – intangible and pointless. Open a CD’s jewel case and throw the shiny silver disc (and the case) into the fire – now we’re left with a 5″ square booklet. Nice enough but not conducive to wall hanging.
Vinyl’s a different proposition. The jacket that wraps the playback medium is large. Large enough to be savoured, which in turn enhances our relationship with the music itself. Isn’t this not reason number one why vinyl endures? Shorn of its big (mostly black) disc, we’re often left with some seriously impressive cover art.
“Four men on a zebra tire, an Asian monk in flames, one behind a one dollar bill, A floating skinny baby, a skinny jeans with a zipper, a yellow banana in silkscreen, a burning person at the touch of a hand – these photographs have profoundly shaped generations of music fans. What would be the music album without cover? Only a black, interchangeable vinyl disc. Only the appearance on the protective cover visualizes congenially music and artists. It also conveys identity and style, gives space for identification and acts as a banal instrument of advertising. The value of a record is often at least as much attached to the cover picture as to the musical recording.”
…so reads the introduction – filtered through Google translate – to C/O Berlin’s exhibition Total Records. Their intent is to showcase the intersection of vinyl and photography.
“The medium of photography has always been an important element in the design of albums. In this creative interplay, vinyl records and analogue photography have become media images of the 20th century.”
Obsessive crate-diggers will have seen many of these albums a number of times. That’s not the point. This exhibition aims to reveal an album cover photo’s broader context. Some are grouped by photographer: Lee Friedlander, Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol and David Bailey. Most potent are the works of single photographers applied to single artists: Jean-Paul Goode to Grace Jones’ and Anton Corbijn to U2.
I was also delighted to see a wall for Bowie’s Parlophone-issued, 7″ anniversary edition picture discs and a fully deconstructed Robert Rauschenberg edition of Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. The “Censored” sections features the usual suspects – Jimi Hendrix and Roxy Music but also the lesser known debut from The Beautiful South whose original cover image featured a woman with a gun in her mouth and was subsequently changed to a teddy bear so that the then powerful UK high street chain Woolworths would agree to stock it.
A really nice touch was the occasional ceiling-mounted speaker playing an album’s corresponding music quietly above one’s head. We not only see Tom Waits’ iconic Rain Dogs cover but we hear “Clap Hands”. Moody.
And it wouldn’t be a German exhibition without a section dedicated to electronic music and and another to a single Kraftwerk album.
Total Records runs 11am to 8pm daily until 23rd April 2017 at C/O Berlin, America house, Hardenbergstraße 22-24, Berlin. That’s two steps twice from Zoologischer Garten U- and S-Bahn.
For the benefit of non-Berliners, a selection of photos, predominantly of the exhibition space itself, can be found below.
Got a favourite photography-based album cover? Let us know in the comments section.
Further information: C/O Berlin