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 bookcoverarchive.com 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.