In a deserted film studio lot, two businessmen seal a deal by shaking hands. One of the businessmen is on fire. Neither of them acts as if anything is wrong.
A respectable, middle-aged suburban couple attempt to fake a photo of an alien spaceship flying above their house, but are caught in the act. The wife is not happy about it.
Sometime during The '30s, a wealthy young woman invites her latest boyfriend into her mansion. The suitor looks apprehensive—and he has good reason to be. In the next room, the woman's butler is busy disposing of her previous boyfriend.
Where are these scenes from? Old movies, or some forgotten Genre Anthology series? Actually, they're all from the work of a studio that designed album covers for some of England's best known bands. (In order, they're the covers of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, UFO's Phenomenon and Audience's The House on the Hill.) Welcome to the world of Hipgnosis.
During The '60s, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey "Po" Powell were students at the University of Cambridge, where they befriended future Pink Floyd members Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Thorgerson and Powell had already designed and photographed several paperback covers for Penguin Books as "Consciousness Incorporated"; therefore, when the Floyd needed a cover for their second album A Saucerful of Secrets, they turned to their friends Storm and Po, who renamed their collaboration "Hipgnosis" after the word was scrawled on the door of their flat by a then-unknown "ingenious dope fiend".note This was the beginning of a creative partnership with Pink Floyd that continued for decades.
Saucerful turned out so well that Hipgnosis was offered more work by the Floyd's label and booking agent. Throughout The '70s, the studio's reputation grew as they were commissioned by some of the biggest names in British music (see the list below); along with artist Roger Dean, they helped create the look of Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal. Their work is notable for its use of surrealism; in those pre-Photoshop days, their enigmatic images had to be created in Real Life, or through retouching and other trickery, instead of clicking on a mouse. Hipgnosis is also remembered for the stories their vivid images told, often using Science Fiction tropes. (Speaking of sci-fi, Hipgnosis designed covers for Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy albums and Norman Spinrad's novel Bug Jack Barron).
Storm and Po became so busy that in 1974, they promoted their assistant Peter Christopherson to a full-time third member; Christopherson remained with Hipgnosis even after he joined Throbbing Gristle. However, by the mid-1970s, times were changing. Prog and metal were out, Punk Rock was in, and with a few exceptions such as XTC, the new crop of bands that followed in punk's wake had little use for Hipgnosis' elaborate imagery. Although the studio continued into The '80s, by 1983 they'd transformed themselves into a Music Video company called Greenback Films, which eventually dissolved due to Creative Differences.
After Hipgnosis, Storm Thorgerson formed STd (Storm Thorgerson Design), then StormStudios, and continued doing album covers (and eventually CD booklets); although he mostly designed for younger bands like Muse, Biffy Clyro, Catherine Wheel and The Cranberries, he still worked on most Pink Floyd-related projects. He died in 2013, and he was active until the very end. (In accordance with Thorgerson's wishes, StormStudios has carried on without him.) Aubrey Powell is currently a film director and has co-written two books with Thorgerson. Peter Christopherson continued making music (with Throbbing Gristle, and later with Psychic TV and Coil), as well as directing music videos and TV commercials, until his death in 2010. In 2014 and 2015 Powell, who owns the Hipgnosis name, revived it for Pink Floyd's Grand Finale The Endless River and David Gilmour's solo album Rattle That Lock; these will likely be the studio's final projects.
http://hipgnosiscovers.com/ has an extensive archive of images created by Hipgnosis and their friends. Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell also have official websites. The studio also participated in several books about its work; the 2017 publication Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art. The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue lists all the album covers from the classic period. (It doesn't include the two revivals mentioned above, singles bags, music-related memorabilia like posters and adverts, or any of their non-music related work, but you can't have everything...)
Hipgnosis clients and albums with TV Tropes pages:
- The Alan Parsons Project
- I, Robot (1977)
- Bad Company
- Syd Barrett
- The Madcap Laughs (1970)
- Be-Bop Deluxe
- Black Sabbath
- Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower of Procol Harum
- Deep Purple
- Def Leppard
- Electric Light Orchestra
- Emerson, Lake & Palmer
- Peter Frampton
- Peter Gabriel
- Golden Earring
- The Hollies
- Led Zeppelin
- Paul McCartney and Wings
- John McLaughlin
- The Moody Blues
- Olivia Newton-John
- Pink Floyd
- The Police
- The Pretty Things
- Gerry Rafferty
- Todd Rundgren
- Status Quo
- Al Stewart
- T. Rex
- Electric Warrior (1971)
- Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stonesnote
- Roger Taylor of Queen
- Rick Wakeman
- The Walker Brothers
Storm Thorgerson/STd/StormStudios post-Hipgnosis clients with TV Tropes pages:
- Syd Barrett
- Biffy Clyro
- Catherine Wheel
- The Cranberries
- The Cult
- Dream Theater
- Ian Dury
- The Mars Volta
- Steve Miller Band
- The Offspring
- Mike Oldfield
- Pink Floyd
Tropes present in Hipgnosis' work:
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Storm Thorgerson.
- The Blank: One image from Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here depicts a faceless man in the desert dressed in business attire and hawking Pink Floyd records. To add to the effect, the man's wrists and ankles (the only parts of his body that show besides his "face") are invisible, implying that on some level he doesn't even exist, which ties in to the album's theme of absence.
- Cool Old Guy: What Thorgerson and Powell eventually became. (Christopherson died at 55, which may or may not be too early to qualify.)
- Creator Cameo: They did several of these, usually with their faces obscured.
- Storm and Po appear on the back cover of Pink Floyd's A Nice Pair.
- Storm is one of the surgeons on Rainbow's Difficult to Cure.
- Po is the man whose face is covered by a map on 10cc's Bloody Tourists album.
- Peter Christopherson is the man looking under the hood of a car on Bad Company's Desolation Angels. He also appears on the cover of I, Robot.
- Cue the Flying Pigs: Literally, with the inflatable pig designed for the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals.
- Deadpan Snarker: Storm comes across as one in many of his writings.
- Design Student's Orgasm: Some of their more elaborate covers fall into this trope.
- Droste Image: Played With on Pink Floyd's Ummagumma. The pictures show each of the four band members switching positions and occupying the same place, save for the final one, which is the cover of their previous album A Saucerful of Secrets.
- Drowning Pit: The Strawbs' Deadlines has a phone booth turned into one.
- Eenie, Meenie, Miny Moai: Styx's Pieces of Eight.
- Everything's Better with Cows: Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother sleeve. There's a single cow on the front cover, a herd of cows on the back cover, and a long shot of a pasture in the inner gatefold. As intended, none of it has anything to do with the music.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: The cover of Quatermass' Self-Titled Album features pteranodons flying around horizontal (!) skyscrapers that seem to stretch on forever.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: The innersleeve of Peter Gabriel's first album◊. The effect was achieved with a flash camera and reflective contact lenses.
- Little People Are Surreal: The outer gatefold◊ of Gravy Train's self-titled debut album shows a little person in 1930s clothing alone at a train station. Thorgerson wrote that "the dwarf waits endlessly at the deserted station for the train that never comes. The Gravy Train."
- Man on Fire: Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here◊.
- Me's a Crowd: The inner gatefold of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Trilogy◊ has multiple Emersons, Lakes and Palmers posing in a forest.
- Produce Pelting: Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman was so displeased with Hipgnosis' album art proposal for the upcoming Yes Tor album, that he threw a tomato at the artwork. The effect was incorporated into the artwork and the album was dubbed Tormato.
- Punny Name: "Hipgnosis" = hypnosis, and it's pronounced the same way. It's a Portmanteau of "hip" (trendy) and "gnosis" (pronounced "no-sis"; knowledge, especially religious or mystical).
- Pyramid Power:
- Sixth Ranger: Peter Christopherson, of course. Hipgnosis also had a group of regular collaborators, including graphic artist George Hardie, illustrator Colin Elgie, logo designer Geoff Halpin, designers Richard Evans and John Blake, and photo retouchers Maurice Tate and Richard Manning.
- Spiders Are Scary: The cover of the 1970 Probe Records sampler Handle With Care is a closeup of a tarantula crawling on a leaf.note
- Split-Screen Phone Call: 10cc's How Dare You!
- Surrealism: René Magritte was a major influence on Hipgnosis' work.
- Visual Pun: Several Hipgnosis images are literal interpretations of figures of speech. Some examples:
- Pink Floyd's A Nice Pair feature several: "Frog in the throat", "Laughing all the way to the bank", "Fork in the road", etc. (Not to mention the innuendo-laden "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".) And of course, the title gets one; one of the images is of a topless woman and a pear.
- Another Pink Floyd example: the "fire man" image on Wish You Were Here is a metaphor for "getting burned" in the music business suggested by George Hardie.
- Climax Blues Band's Tightly Knit: "Put a sock in it".
- Capability Brown's Voice: "Zip your lip".
- Prototype's self-titled album◊: "A little birdie told me".
- A press ad◊ for Roy Harper's Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion in which the singer praises himself depicts him with a literal swelled head. There's also an illustration of a bull shitting at the bottom of the ad.
- UFO's Force It has a cover photo of a couple making love in a bathroom containing many faucets. "Force It"... "faucet"... groan.
- Vulgar Humor: The covers for Scorpions' Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism, as well as the picture sleeve for The Cortinas' punk single "Defiant Pose", which is a Vomit Indiscretion Shot.
- Wall of Text: The essay that comprises the cover of XTC's Go 2, excerpted above.
- We Used to Be Friends: Thorgerson and Powell's relationship devolved into this for a while. Fortunately, they reconciled and even worked on a couple of books together before Storm died.
- Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: Rael is shown like this on the back cover of Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, as well as this British press advert◊. Hipgnosis had originally suggested the idea for Mott the Hoople, but an executive at their label Columbia Records rejected it.