I was asked to do the cover and liner shots for an upcoming folk album entitled "Sunshine In My Suitcase." Having never done an album cover I jumped at the chance.
I have this rather large collection of folk albums dating primarily from the sixties and most of the album covers are quite literal. The most common type of cover by far is a straight portrait of the performer or band. Well, that seemed easy enough. Is that what I want though? What about stretching a bit and playing with concepts taken from the title, for instance? Surely, given this particular music genre, I'm not at all limited to the literal - Folk has a deep history of working in metaphors, sometimes very taxed and/or tricky metaphors at that!
My options going in were to do a straight portrait and attempt to capture the artist's personality as best I could with a single image. (That was going to be no small feat considering this dude is a renowned character and personality indeed.) Or, keeping with the literal, I could create a picture OF the title - Perhaps drop a CTO onto a speedlight, put it in a road-weary suitcase, and get a shot of the light pouring out through the zippers and holes. Although that would probably make a great cover shot, I really wanted to get an image of the artist - He's just too interesting a person, both visually and personality-wise, not to put on the cover.
I decided to do a fusion of sorts and get a good portrait, hopefully highlighting some visually striking feature of his get-up, and flood the scene with sunlight. As luck would have it, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
I sat John Henry in a chair in front of bay windows that overlooked the Austin Hill Country and worked an angle that put the sun up in the corner. Two articles of clothing most typify his look, the bow tie and the two-tone leather shoes. Given that I was working in a smallish room, I was going to have to get close to the subject. I needed a wide focal length to get everything in the shot, so whatever was closest to the camera was going to be exaggerated. Fine, I'll exaggerate the shoes! This album isn't about shoes, though, so I needed to be careful not to overdo the effect.
I asked him to strike a cool-confident pose, minding the placement of his feet, and we were off to the races. I settled on a shot of John Henry leaning back, looking off camera, with his chin resting on his hand opposite the camera in pensive thought.
After editing out power outlets and similarly distracting things, I processed the image to evoke old classic Kodak Tri-X film. The tell-tales are in the grain structure, especially in the shadows. Tri-X was introduced in the mid-Fifties but had a heyday in the Sixties. Since folk music has a similar history it only seemed apropos.
The original image had nowhere near this amount of sunlight flaring so I gave it a gentle nudge in Photoshop. Okay, I pushed it over a cliff. But I wanted sun DRENCHED!
For the liner shot I initially wanted a straight portrait. I settled on a shot, also taken in this room, of John Henry holding his most unique guitar, a 12-string short-necked acoustic.
I wasn't too happy with the result, but I liked the idea. If I'm ever in a situation where I like the idea of an image but the image itself isn't working for me, I sometimes simplify the image as a possible fix. By simplifying I take those elements that stand out or otherwise "worked" and reduce the image to those elements. Here those elements are the guitar, the shoes, and the bow tie. (The hands worked too, in fact they worked very well, but they were going to have to go. Such is life.)
What I'm left with is a caricature of sorts. It's the perfect kind of quirky and it should do very nicely as a liner image on a folk album.
I packaged the images and sent them off to the designer. Here's the early rough I got back:
It'll be neat seeing my work on an album cover. It's also going onto a poster announcing the CD release. I'll need to snag one of those.
Well lookie there!