January 2006 Issue
For the Record
There's more to miss about records than the inimitable crackle and pop sound when needle meets vinyl. For more than 50 years, their covers served as canvases where artists, illustrators and photographers applied their talents to complement the work within.
Through January 29, the Cincinnati Art Museum explores the link between photography and music by presenting "Borrowed Time: The Photograph as Music Album Cover," a collection of 42 original photographs selected by musicians ranging from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Ohio's own Over the Rhine, along with reproductions of the record sleeves that made the images famous.
"Who hasn't been enticed to buy an album because the cover is so terrific?" muses the museum's associate curator of photography, Dennis Kiel, who spent four years compiling content for the show. "A fascinating aspect of this exhibit is that it showcases photos that were not shot specifically for covers. Instead, a recording artist or designer saw the image and decided it was the one that would work for a particular album - whether the photo had something to do with the title or whether the photo had something to do with the music."
Visitors are invited to decide for themselves if the concepts work - or not - by listening to music at iPod stations located throughout the exhibit.
Five of the photos showcased are from the art museum's permanent collection, including Sam Shere's 1937 print of the "Burning of the Hindenburg." This riveting image was an obvious choice for Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut album. Why rock group Soul Asylum chose Bruce Davidson's 1965 photo entitled "Wales," part of a series the photographer did on Welsh miners, for the cover of its 1995 release, "Let Your Dim Light Shine," leaves Kiel in the dark. So much so that he tracked down the cover's designer, Tracy Boychuk. She didn't have a clue as to why frontman Dave Pirner chose the image. All she knew was that he liked it.
"We tend to immediately think that there's a plan. That the photo on an album will definitely lead to a connection with the music," Kiel says. "Many times, that's not the case."
But like the music it envelops, each album cover tells a story.
New York-based photographer Don Hunstein remembers every detail about that blustery cold day in February 1963, when he arrived in Greenwich Village to shoot Bob Dylan. Hunstein, who presided over the photo department at Columbia Records, visited the singer in his Fourth Street walk-up "filled with 15th-hand furniture" simply to take black-and-white publicity pictures for the company's files. What resulted from that session, however, was the color image of the troubadour and his girlfriend, artist Suze Rotolo, strolling down Cornelia Street, which became the cover for his second album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," spotlighted in the show.
"I didn't do the shoot with a record cover in mind," Hunstein recalls. "I brought only one roll of color film with me, and most [of the pictures on it] were not good.
"It was after this album came out that his career took off like a rocket."