I’ve been photographing musicians forever. Recently, I was asked to design and produce artwork and the cover for a CD for a very talented emerging artist and soundscape designer. I always spend time listening to the music before I meet an artist, to make the cover fit the artistic style of the music and to discuss how to approach it visually.
In this case, musically, the work turned out to be an extraordinary spiritual album from a powerful artist named Emmanuel. The music was so unique and different that I had to ask him what genre HE thought it belonged in. “The closest I can come is that it is Christian ‘soul’ music. It’s so different with flavors of soul, gospel, rock and rap that I can only let people tell me what to call it.” When asked where he thought he wanted to go with his music, he said that his goal is to become a pastor and minister to kids and others in need on the streets where he grew up. So, the cover had to be attractive to young people.
Planning the design:
We spent time discussing the visual concept for the cover. Emmanuel is very artistic, and not just musically. We decided on something that identified him as contemplative and spiritual and even a bit mysterious, moody and beyond worldly.
CD covers are barely 4.75” in size. That means that the image elements are VERY small. So to provide impact, something about the image has to stand out and call out to a shopper or radio DJ looking for what they want to play in a crowded often chaotic store and radio studio.
Since the songs on the CD are about the real life situations that he and his friends survived growing up, we chose NOT to go with a typical “face shot” approach, but show a more serious moment and person. We also chose to deal with the theme of ‘Pain & Release’ on an additional more symbolic level, evolving from ‘pain’ to ‘release’ by bridging the physical and spiritual world by warping the worldscape.
To do that, we first posed Emmanuel by a large window in a contemplative, serious pose. The pose alone is very important in this case because it uses much of the available space on the cover to set a mood. Here, the dark almost obscure pose is naturally designed to be ambiguous: Is he in pain? Is he praying? Is he thinking? Is he just exhausted?
We also had to consciously plan for space for the typography, leaving some very dark areas in the upper right and lower left to contrast with the type.
Now that we had the image basis for the cover, we had to meet the additional goals of the project and produce the typography and create the extra-worldly visual impact. That took several steps. As a product, CD covers also have to have a certain visual uniqueness to be easily seen on store shelves.
First, I solarized the raw file in Bibble Labs Bibble Pro software. Doing this in the raw file state added far more color tones and exciting transitions to the final solarized image. It could not have been achieved in jpeg file format where a lot of data is discarded.
Solarization changed the window light from a conventional sensation to a fiery yellow/green light, and created the step gray shadows, the blue shadow flares on his shirt and the color swatches on the window sill and his fingers. While it also altered his skin tones to appear somewhat more green looking, I was able to minimize that shift and considering the apparent light source, it was an appropriate shift.
Then, I embedded the title and some additional typography (the “Create” logo on his shirt, and the window decal) the ‘create’ as a personal statement for Emmanuel and the window decal for commercial reasons. Finally, I did some localized retouching and dynamic range adjustments to raise the whites, give more tones and ‘pop’ to the image and the result is as shown.
Emmanuel’s CD should arrive in stores about July 20TH and I thank him for permission to use these images for the blog. Look for it online at iTunes, CD Baby, etc.. You can also look him up at www.icreateent.com and on youutube.com. Also, special thanks to Jeff and Jamie Brown of the superb “Incognito Portrait Design” studio for the use of their spectacular studio facilities