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Are photos on record sleeves part of the history of art? How do they relate to the lyrics? How does a photo of a pop group actually create the image of a band? These are the questions that led to the writing of this book.

Cover art photography. Graphic design has become so important that it is already present in the photographer’s work. There are only certain kinds of photographs that can be used on book covers or cds, and they are systematically retouched. These features are identified in the first essay, which serves as a general introduction to the present volume by setting out the visual approach to photography in the context of art history.

Post-punk photography. Whilst photographically illustrated sleeves started to become commonplace in the 1960s, the greatest period of innovation was arguably the late 1970s/early 1980s, hence the focus here on Post-Punk. The essays on photography and music open with a general overview of Post-Punk culture (from its beginnings to its resurgence today as Goth), and how it draws its inspiration from Romanticism and Modernism, art history and photojournalism. In all three essays, the emphasis is not on portraits of band members but on original artefacts. Rock photography appears not only on covers, but also in cd booklets and limited-edition box sets.

The first essay proposes readings of some of the more luxurious and elaborate photo-texts published to accompany musical recordings by artists such as: The Beatles; Virgin Prunes; Steve Peters and Margot Geist; Anna-Varney Cantodea (Sopor Aeternus) and Joachim Luetke; The Pixies and Simon Larbalestier; Philippe Fichot (Die Form); John Foxx (Ultravox).

In the second essay, David Cocksey shows how the music, lyrics and photography cohere when Alice Cooper adapts his image—not without a mordant sense of humour—to the Post-Punk aesthetic.

The appropriation of press photos is standard practice on record sleeves, but Jello Biafra’s mis-titling of violent scenes derives from the mix ’n’ match aesthetics of political photomontage—massively present in the freebies that came with the original vinyl LPs (a poster with Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, a 12-inch book with Plastic Surgery Disasters, a whole newspaper with Bedtime for Democracy). In the third essay, David Nowell-Smith places subversive icons such as the 12-inch single “Holiday in Cambodia” (Dead Kennedys) within their political context, raising issues about the effectiveness of political commitment within the framework of consumerist exchange.

The Beatles and photography. The final section is a return to the origins of sleeve illustration: the band photograph. Sarah Pickard provides an overview of the British albums and discusses the relationship of the Beatles’ identity with the birth and evolution of British youth culture. Miles Alglave and Robin Benzrihem probe the cover art and lyrics of the Beatles’ psychedelic period, likewise in relation to questions of image and identity.

Catherine Marcangeli and Steve Shepherd home in even closer, concentrating on the different drafts of John Lennon’s “In My Life”, and highlighting the personal associations of iconic Liverpool locations to show that the song’s apparent nostalgia is ultimately a way of eschewing autobiography.

The volume concludes with the transcripts of two talks: the first given by Barry Miles, official biographer of Paul McCartney, and the second by Dominique Petitfaux, the first person to have written about the Beatles in an academic context. The questions and answers sessions which followed these contributions are transcribed here.

Rock music, Rock lyrics and Rock photography are gaining more attention both in books on the history of art, and in the teaching of (comparative) literature. A second volume is underway.

The essays gathered here were selected from the papers presented at three international conferences and study days on photography held over a two-year period at the Institut Charles V (University of Paris VII) and NYUF (New York University in France). The first study day, “Graphic Day”, dealt with cover art photography and the graphic treatment of images on book covers and record sleeves. The second, “Post-Punk Photography”, concentrated on the years 1978-1984, as Punk Rock gave way to wider experimentation. The third, “Beatles Day”, was entirely devoted to the photographic representation of the Beatles in the context of the sixties and its counterculture.

ISBN 978-2-9540241-1-0