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Hipgnosis was an English art design group based in London that specialised in creating cover art for the albums of rock musicians and bands. Notable commissions included work for Pink Floyd, T. Rex, the Pretty Things, Black Sabbath, UFO, 10cc, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Scorpions, The Nice, Paul McCartney & Wings, the Alan Parsons Project, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Electric Light Orchestra, Rainbow, Styx, and Al Stewart.
Hipgnosis consisted primarily of Cambridge natives Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, and later Peter Christopherson. The group dissolved in 1983, though Thorgerson worked on album designs until his death in 2013. Powell works in film and video, most notably with Paul McCartney and The Who, and is the creative director for both Pink Floyd and its member David Gilmour.
In 1968, Thorgerson and Powell approached their friends in Pink Floyd to design the cover for the group's second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. This led to additional work for EMI, including photos and album covers for the Pretty Things, Free, Toe Fat and the Gods. Being film and art school students, they were able to use the darkroom at the Royal College of Art, but when they completed school, they had to set up their own facilities. They built a small darkroom in Powell's bathroom, but shortly thereafter, in early 1970, rented space and built a studio located at 6 Denmark Street.
When first starting out, Powell and Thorgerson adopted their name from graffiti they found on the door to their apartment. Thorgerson said they liked the word, not only for punning on "hypnosis," but for possessing "a nice sense of contradiction, of an impossible co-existence, from Hip = new, cool, and groovy, and Gnostic, relating to ancient learning."
Hipgnosis gained major international prominence in 1973 with their famed cover design for Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. The final design was one of several versions prepared for the band to choose from, but according to drummer Nick Mason, the 'prism/pyramid' design was the immediate and unanimous choice. The record itself was wildly successful—it became one of the biggest-selling and longest-charting albums of all time, putting it in the hands of millions of fans, and it has since been hailed as one of the best album covers of all time (VH1 rated the cover as No. 4, in 2003). After that, the firm became in-demand, and did many covers for high-profile bands and artists such as Led Zeppelin, Genesis, UFO, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, the Alan Parsons Project, and Yes. They also designed the cover for the original UK paperback edition of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Adams would describe Thorgerson as "The best album designer in the world"), as well as the original UK hardcover edition of Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron.
Peter Christopherson joined Hipgnosis as an assistant in 1974, and later became a full partner. The firm employed many assistants and other staff members over the years. Of particular note were freelance designers and illustrators Richard Evans, George Hardie, and Richard Manning.
One notable fact was that Hipgnosis did not have a set fee for designing an album cover but instead asked the artists to "pay what they thought it was worth", a policy that only occasionally backfired according to Thorgerson in his book on album cover design.
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Hipgnosis' approach to album design was strongly photography-oriented, and they pioneered the use of many innovative visual and packaging techniques. In particular, Thorgerson & Powell's surreal, elaborately manipulated photos (utilizing darkroom tricks, multiple exposures, airbrush retouching, and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques) were a film-based forerunner of what would, much later, be called photoshopping. Hipgnosis used primarily Hasselblad medium format cameras for their work, the square film format being especially suited to album cover imagery.
Hipgnosis covers were noted for their quirky humour, such as the cover for the Pink Floyd double-LP compilation A Nice Pair, which featured an array of visual puns. Such humour once angered Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, when Hipgnosis created a visual pun based on "(tennis) racquet"/"(noise) racket" for the album Houses of the Holy. Hipgnosis almost lost Led Zeppelin as a client as a result.
Another trademark was that many of their cover photos told "stories" directly related to the album's lyrics, often based on puns or double meanings of words in the album title. Since both Powell and Thorgerson were film students, they often used models as "actors" and staged the photos in a highly theatrical manner. Hipgnosis covers rarely featured artists' photos on the outside, and most were in a gatefold cover format to provide ample space for their slickly photographed tableaux.
Many of Hipgnosis' covers also featured distinctively "high tech" pen and ink logos and illustrations (often by graphic designer George Hardie), stickers, fancy inner sleeves, and other packaging bonuses. One of the unique extras created by Hipgnosis was the specially printed inner sleeve for Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door LP, a "black and white" affair that magically turned to colour when dampened with water (tying in with the main cover's photographic theme).
- "Helen Donlon interviews Hipgnosis". londongrip.co.uk. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- The photodesigns of Hipgnosis The Goodbye look. Vermillion Hutchinson Publishing Group. 1982 ISBN 0 091506417
- Gioia, Ted (8 December 2014). "The Golden Age of Rock Album Covers". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
- Thorgerson, S: Hipgnosis • Walk Away René, page 87. Paper Tiger, 1978.
- Sweeting, Adam (18 April 2013). "Storm Thorgerson dies aged 69: 'the best album designer in the world' – Art and design – guardian.co.uk". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- "Bug Jack Barron – book 1970". Hipgnosiscovers.com.
- "Biography". rdevans.com. 2011. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
- "George Hardie | Alumni and associates | Arts and Humanities". Arts.brighton.ac.uk. 22 January 2016. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- discogs, list of albums artists retouched
- Perrin, Jean-Éric; Rey, Jerôme; Verlant, Gilles (2009). Les Miscellanées du rock (in French). Paris: Éditions Fetjaine / La Martinière. p. 154. ISBN 9782354251307.
[L]es deux de Hipgnosis avaient la particularité de ne pas réclamer de cachet fixe, mais de demander aux groupes de leur payer ce qu'ils estimaient être la valeur de leur travail!(The italics are present in the original.)
- "The Eye Of The Storm | Storm Thorgerson Exhibition". For Arts Sake. 28 June 2017. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
- "LED ZEPPELIN 50th Anniversary | Create your playlist". lz50.ledzeppelin.com. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
- Version 1 of the album shows an image of all four members. This first cover was designed by Cooke Key Associates. After Ricky Slaughter and Bram Tchaikovsky left The Motors the album was reissued with a new cover. That new cover is designed by Hipgnosis.