Co-Founder | HIPGNOSIS
In 1967 Pink Floyd: Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Syd Barrett (shortly to be replaced by David Gilmour), needed an album cover. Storm Thorgerson – an old school friend from Cambridge – offered to help out and design an idea for their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. This was the birth of Hipgnosis – the photographic design studio that dared to dream.
Hipgnosis became the studio for album cover design as Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson pushed the boundaries of creative possibility; moving away from the traditional group portrait into a world of Surrealism and Dada. They often referred to their photo designs to as ‘non-covers’.
In the early days they were able to use the darkroom at the Royal College of Art where Storm was a film student. Commissions came pouring in, and together they formed Hipgnosis, adopting the name from graffiti scribbled by Syd Barrett on the door of their apartment. They liked the word, not only for its pun on ‘hypnosis’ but for possessing “a sense of contradiction, of an impossible co-existence, from the word Hip meaning cool, and Gnostic, related to the art of ancient learning”. By 1970, they had rented space in Soho, and an art house was born.
As a photo design studio Hipgnosis ran for the next fifteen years, during which time the company created covers for many prestigious artists, including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Peter Frampton, Yes, Robert Plant, David Gilmour, the Who and the Rolling Stones. They gained international prominence in 1973 with their Grammy nominated cover design for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. That marked a turning point for Hipgnosis. Their success was sealed, and they garnered recognition for their unique approach in what they then termed Photodesigns; surreal images, being photography based, pioneering the use of many innovative and unusual packaging techniques. Their elaborately manipulated photos were created many years before the advent of computerised photo shop editing. Everything was done by hand: collage, montage, darkroom tricks, multiple exposures, airbrush retouching, hand tinting and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques.
Hipgnosis primarily used Hasselblad cameras for their work, the square film format being particularly well suited to the 12″ x 12″ canvas of album cover imagery. Their pictures were noted for their quirky humour, puns, double-entendres, and narratives; sometimes with reference to a band’s music and lyrics, but often totally unrelated. Powell and Thorgerson were both film graduates, and used movie style sets to stage their photographs in a highly theatrical and stylised manner – to dramatic effect. Their designs rarely featured pictures of the musicians, much to the chagrin of record companies. Often, Hipgnosis refused to put the title or name over their front cover image, believing that “a good image will sell the product on its own”. Hence the term ‘non-cover’, as Hipgnosis didn’t compromise and bow to the demands of commerce.
In 1985, they went their separate ways. Storm Thorgerson continued to design album covers and began StormStudios. His inseparable relationship with Pink Floyd lasted right through to his untimely death in 2013.
Aubrey Powell started a film company and directed many music videos, television commercials, documentaries and feature films. He has also maintained his creative relationship with Pink Floyd, most significantly as curator and creative director of Their Mortal Remains, the major Pink Floyd retrospective exhibition. Hipgnosis continues under his creative guidance to this day.