It seems strange to me that so few music albums use noncommissioned photos as cover art. Perhaps they're afraid of being sued like Vampire Weekend. Or maybe they can't afford licensing rights in the first place. Or maybe it's tradition, and musicians put a commissioned portrait on the cover just because it's always been done that way. Whatever the case, albums like Contra or the Eggleston albums are the exception to the general rule. Most photographs used on album covers are commissioned specifically for those albums, and relate somehow to its contents. The most common approach is a simple portrait:
If it's noncommissioned, the cover photograph will usually depict the artist in some way:
Many albums use artwork by band members:
All of these applications seem to ignore one of photography's most powerful potentials, the ability to imply meaning through metaphor without being tied to any original scene or material.
It doesn't have to be this way. In fact the situation with book covers is very different. As Karl Baden has meticulously documented, the use of noncommissioned photography for book jackets is widespread. Unlike albums, it's rare for a book cover to feature an author portrait. You might find a small headshot on the rear inside sleeve, but the front cover is usually reserved for a less direct reference, for example:
So what's going on here? Are musicians more egotistical than authors? Do albums rely more than books on artist's looks to generate sales? Can you really judge anything by its cover?
With these questions in mind I've designed a little quiz. Below are 10 photographs used as noncommissioned artwork on album covers. How many can you name?
Answers score 1 point for identifying the photographer and 1 point for identifying the album for a total of 20 possible points. The person who first emails me the answer with the highest point total before next Thursday, 9/9, at 8 am PDT will win the prize, a copy of In-Public's 10 book. Good luck!