I seemed to end up with three sleeves featuring cover portraits by Richard Avedon recently, which made me wonder how many albums used his portrait work. It certainly looks as if record companies were commissioning him from the late fifties onwards, while as late as the end of the nineties groups were still seeking him out.
Avedon (1923-2004) is by far one of the best-known and admired American photographers, and made his name with both fashion work for the likes of Vogue as well as his celebrity portraits (and a number of searching documentary style forays into the less glamorous aspects of American life).
The first sleeve here (above) is just a stunning cover which adorns the soundtrack album for the movie Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn. Interestingly the story was based in part on Avedon’s own career, and he designed the film credits and supplied many of the photographs seen on set including the one used for the soundtrack. The shot of Audrey is very clever, burning out much of the negative detail to produce an abstract image which is just given a solid block background colour, the title picked out in white.
The second cover is from 1964 and uses a straightforward studio portrait of the two performers Mike and Elaine (the album is a series of improvised observational pieces).
From two years later comes a more recognisably Avedon style portrait of Barbra Streisand on the cover of her eighth album (in five years!), Je m’appelle Barbra. Streisand always had classy portraits on her sixties albums, often using the same typeface so they match. The albums turn up quite readily these days (most of them went platinum), so you can own an Avedon original for less than a pound! It takes a lot to turn celebrity portraits into something more than the surface image the person being photographed wants to project, but Avedon invariably managed to find just the right balance as here.
I dug about to see what other artists he photographed for LPs and have done a small gallery of vinyl sleeves. I’ve left off some of the ones where his images were not very well used, as well as what must have been one of his last sleeves for The Eurythmics as it may only be on CD, which for a photographer who loved to produce very large prints of his work seems to rather defeat the object of using him! Also the black and white portraits seem to be his best, but there are some covers with colour shots on. I assume most if not all of these photos were specially done for the albums.The Julie Andrews and Cher shots in particular are superb; though you can’t help feeling the Cher image would have been better running across the whole sleeve. Either way I’ll be keeping my eye open for these two to turn up.