Pop goes the news.

I recently gave a talk on photography and as part of the presentation I used some images from album covers.

I was intrigued by the idea that a photograph can start out with a specific intended purpose and then cross over into other arenas.

A vast amount of photography has been taken for the purpose of news reportage and used specifically for that purpose….until those nasty rock and rollers got their paws on them. Here’s an image that most will recognise.

File:Thích Qu?ng ??c self-immolation.jpg

This image was circulated around the world and brought about the eventual downfall of the then Vietnamese government. Plenty of info on that on the net so I’ll stick with the photo theme. The image was of course a news image and the photographer, Malcolm Browne was working for Associated Press at the time. The image has been used again and again for many purposes but for millions of rock fans it is synonymous with the the first album by Rage Against The Machine. The bands name and this shot were all that the album cover consisted of and together made a pretty firm statement. This was when the image moved in to popular culture. It was now part of the music scene, albeit promoting a band with a firm political agenda, and as such I would hazard a guess that it alerted  whole new audience to how that image came about.

Another Image that alerted the world to news that needed no words was Hands by Michael Wells.

Hands by Michael Wells

The Dead Kennedys put this image on the cover of their second album Plastic Surgery Disasters. Another political band who used this image, and the obvious satire of the title, to make their own point about American society. Again a news image moves into the world of popular culture and as such opens new minds as to it’s original purpose. Interestingly for me as a monochrome photographer and a huge fan of this band they changed the image to B&W for their album cover.

File:DK Plastic Surgery Disasters.jpg

I have no doubt that some noisy little upstarts, or even jingly jangly folk musicians (see the Michelle Shocked cover shot for Short Sharp Shocked below) will pull that now famous shot of the woman being beaten by Police in Egypt on an album over. A news image that many artists (surely the hardcore rappers will love this one) will make part of popular culture.


Of course what works one way works the other too. Images shot for popular culture, usually music or music journalism, have become known to millions when they move into the national/international news. The Freewheelin Bob Dylan cover showing him huddled against the cold in NYC has been reproduced almost every time his name appears in any newspaper as has Marvin Gaye’s picture from the cover of What’s Going On. and these images have pretty much become news themselves because of this.

As an aside if there was one portrait I could have taken then that shot of Marvin in the rain on the cover of What’s Going On is it.


The cover shots for London Calling by the clash and Born To Run by Springsteen were taken purely to promote those acts. They both went on to become award winners and as a consequence appeared in the mainstream press and magazines with a readership who may never have seen them. I wonder how many bought music by these artists after seeing these images away from the album cover. In particular the recent death of Clarence Clemons a long time member of Springsteens band and the only other person to appear on the cover of Born To Run saw that image reproduced world wide in the news press. I can’t believe that a few copies of Born To Run didn’t shift on the back of that.


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