“Total Records,” an exhibition on view until May 16 at the Fotomuseum Winterhur in Switzerland that tells the history of 20th century photography through album cover design, is as appealing to lovers of vintage records as it is to aficionados of commercial photography. First shown at the Rencontres d’Arles, where it was wildly popular, “Total Records— Vinyl & Photography” features work by renowned photographers, such as David Bailey, Irving Penn, Lee Friedlander, Annie Leibovitz, Guy Bourdin and Robert Frank, who applied their skills to creating visually arresting images within the confines of a 12-inch square. Curators Sam Stourdzé, Antoine de Beaupré and Serge Vincendet selected roughly 500 album designs made over a 60-year period.
They included several covers for Blue Note Records, whose sophisticated combination of imagery and typography defined “cool.” Other jazz portraits, taken by Lee Friedlander for Atlantic Records, are also in the show. Iconic images such as Ian Macmillan’s photo for The Beatles’ Abbey Road demonstrate how our memories of beloved albums and their sleeve design became intertwined. More recent examples in the exhibition include Anton Corbijn’s work with U2 and Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s nude portrait of Prince for the artist’s 1987 album, Lovesexy.
Many of the covers in the exhibition were the result of collaborations between art directors, photographers and musicians, but the curators also included covers that used existing images chosen for their consonance with the music or the band’s style. The Bernd and Hilla Becher image of a factory selected for a Kraftwerk album, for example, was a match of rigorous sensibilities. The exhibition at the Fotomuseum Winterthur displays actual covers, allowing visitors to appreciate them as both icons and physical objects. —HOLLY STUART HUGHES
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