The art of the book cover


Strange Flesh by William Kogan, Penguin 2008

A well-designed book cover is not an accident. It’s an example of team work in the visual arts, a collaboration between specialists. An art director sets the strategy, a designer crafts the visual relationships, and, in the books presented here, an historical photographer who work makes the background image. The website has a large collection of contemporary book covers that you can browse in categories of photographers, illustrators and designers. It’s a great archive of book cover art.

These examples of cover design show how notable photographs from the past can be re-assigned to a new purpose, quite distinct from their original application.

In Strange Flesh, the two photographs are by Edward Weston, of his then lover and muse Charis Wilson. They were taken on the sand at Oceano, California in 1936. Originally the photographs were part of his general photographic explorations, possibly intended for future exhibition. They were not joined together in this way, but in this cover design by designer Mark Melnick the bodies form a looping shape, echoed by the lettering of the title.


 WH Auden, Selected Poems, Vintage 2007

Designer Megan Wilson has used a portrait of the poet W.H.Auden by Cecil Beaton, made in about 1930. The pyramid shape of the photograph is balanced with the centred text above; the script lettering echoing the rounded shapes of the pose.


Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer, Basic Books 1999

Photographer Ernst Haas was well known as a pioneering colour photographer in the 1950s. This cover design by Rick Pracher plays on the negative space of his black & white image The Cross, 1966.


Under the Light by Sam Michel, Knopf 1991

This dramatic cover by celebrity book designer Chip Kidd uses a photograph by Harry Callahan, a portrait of the architect Bob Fine from 1952. He’s that little black dot at the bottom of of the shaft of light.



Winogrand at Rice


In 1977, Garry Winogrand gave a talk to students at Rice University in Texas. The almost two hour Q & A session was an informal chat with students asking their best questions and Winogrand giving some inspired and challenging answers revealing his deepest thoughts about the medium.

Winogrand was a modernist photographer, using the camera as a transparent tool to record the contemporary world and to analyse essential nature of the medium. He was engaged in a quest to understand the phenomenon of the photograph.

From a photograph, what do you know? They don’t have narrative ability. A cow jumping – you don’t know if it’s going up or down from the picture. So why should you know where it was taken, from the picture. 

There’s a paradox. They’re not ambiguous. Yet you don’t know what’s happening. Ambiguous is almost the opposite of being specific. These things (photographs) are very specific.

I can play games. I can say: what if I tell you every photograph, everything, has been cast, directed and posed. From the photograph you cannot prove me a liar.


In a photograph, the symbolic meaning, this is part of the content. What it looks like is happening is part of the content … they question what you think you know. What seems to be the narrative content is part of the content.



They function like puns, in a sense. They question what you think you know. A pun plays with your understanding of a word, that’s why you laugh.

They don’t communicate literary ideas very well. They show you what a piece of space and time looked like – to a camera.


Self-powered camera


Scientists have invented a camera that generates its power using only the light it captures in the sensor. No battery or electric cable powers it. Instead …

the pixel’s photodiode can be used to not only measure the incident light level, but also to convert the incident light into electrical energy. A sensor architecture is proposed where, during each image capture cycle, the pixels are used first to record and read out the image and then used to harvest energy and charge the sensors’ power supply. (Towards Self-Powered Cameras).



///    /sensor-30x40-pixel

Petapixel describes it this way: “After each image capture, the sensor switches modes, harvests light, and stores that energy in order to power the next shot. By alternating between capture and charge modes in this way, the camera sensor can continually shoot images and video without having any kind of additional power source.”





The prototype camera has only 30×40 diodes – pixels – hence the crudeness of the image. As a first experiment in a new technology, it’s reminiscent of the first movie tests made by Thomas Edison’s team in 1889, the very first motion picture.


Edison’s first motion picture film test, 1889


Kate Ballis : Aerial Pink


Kate Ballis, Aerial Pink 17

Kate Ballis is a young Melbourne photographer who likes to shoot from a plane. These stylish abstracts were taken over Docklands and make it look better than it really is on the ground. Like a lot of photographers today, she shoots both commercial and personal projects, always in a clean, crisp style. This project could be for exhibition, publication or commercial illustration, the border is not always clearly defined in photography.

Ballis is the partner of Tom Blachford, creator of the Midnight Modern project. They travel and shoot projects together, then collaborate on weekends to shoot weddings as Rasberry Robot.


Kate Ballis, Aerial Pink 13


Kate Ballis, Aerial Pink 14


Tom Blachford’s Midnight Modern


Tom Blachford, Midnight Modern

Tom Blachford is a young Melbourne photographer whose new project Midnight Modern is about Mid-Century Modern architecture. The images were taken in the town of Palm Springs, east of Los Angeles, a treasury of Mid-Century domestic architecture. It was once home to Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra. The town has recently undergone a revival with wealthy enthusiasts buying and restoring the 1950s houses. These are the subjects of his photographs.

What makes Midnight Modern special is that they were made at night, picturing them in untypical shadow and mystery. With the mood of expensive luxury and danger they appear like scenes from David Lynch. Blachford places gleaming fifties cars like characters in a movie.

“The naked eye is unable to process such dimly lit scenes; but the camera, through long exposure, reveals images unseen. Time is compressed from thirty seconds into one viewable moment. The stars blur into dashes to remind us that even seemingly immovable steel and mountains are slowly spinning on a grand scale as our earth rotates on its axis, and in turn around the sun.’’  Tom Blachford. has a short interview with Blachford about the project.


Tom Blachford, Midnight Modern


Tom Blachford, Midnight Modern