Abbey Road. The words in any context trigger an iconic image, one of the most ubiquitous album covers since the dawn of the LP. No pressure.
How exactly were we going to visually summarize recording a full album in one day at Abbey Road?
Seemingly the path of least resistance was to play on the obvious…something British. As the title was yet to be determined, we weren’t sure whether the chicken or the egg would come first. Team UM plowed through countless searches of English slang looking for “the dog’s bollocks” (“extremely good”, “awesome”) but we came up empty. Sifting through Churchill classics and endless piles of witty quips looking for inspiration, nothing quite fit. After eliminating every cliche, lyric based, or joke title (We’d Knight Us), simple and direct seemed most apropos; The London Session it was.
Agreeing on that title however didn’t do much to help determine the direction for cover art. Visual searches around similar ideas came up equally short. But it dawned on me that I may have already had the idea years earlier, we just hadn’t found the right project yet. Pulling up the old idea file, we began perusing old high speed photographs saved from years ago.
There’s something particularly striking about a moment perfectly captured in time, a fraction of a second standing still before you. The more we looked at it, the more apparent it became that the concept was a perfect visual metaphor for recording an album in just twelve hours. The record is a snapshot in time, a yearbook photo. Just as the flash bursts to freeze the shattering glass, The London Session captures a day in the life of UM.
Concept in hand, what exactly where we going to capture (read: explode) and how were we going to do it (without losing a finger)? Resident UM designer Kyle Baker and I narrowed down the list of objects that would yield the most visually stunning results. A concept is great but if an image can’t stand on its own, what do you really have? A classic photograph needs to be classic even if you know nothing about what you’re looking at.
After endless Google image browsing, we determined that glass and liquid provided the most interesting visuals. And as tempting as it was to try blowing up a bunch of stuff ourselves, this one seemed better suited to a photographer with experience. A thorough search keep leading back to one particular photographer, Jon Smith at Wide Eyed Illuminations. This being a small world, turns out he knew the band and was keen to help. (Make sure to check out his other work as it’s phenomenal.)
Baker, Smith and I talked through logistics, timetables and the creative before determining that a light bulb was our strongest move to the hoop. We could incorporate the ‘um’ logo, try various fillers and perhaps most importantly, we could experiment with tons of them (not so easy to blow up dozens of ships or guitar amps or any of our other harebrained ideas).
We tried filling up bulbs with paint to get an explosive splattering effect but decided
the opacity didn’t allow for the intense lighting impact we wanted.
We tried a few bulbs painted white with crushed pastels on the inside.
We filled some with water to try the liquid route. Presumably there
is a ‘um’ in there somewhere.
Of course, we had to try at least a few ships.
We determined a backlit image with the light shining through the ‘um’ logo was the play. The photo setup had the flash directly behind the bulb with a makeshift snoot to focus the light down to the bulb’s size. Jon used a sound trigger that set off the flash and fired a pellet gun triggering the break. The biggest challenge was getting a bulb that was breaking enough to be interesting, but not so much that the logo was obscured. (For you photographers out there, the details: flash fired at 1/10,000 sec. to freeze the action, ISO 250, f/22, 1/5sec).
The reverse stencil wasn’t as compelling.
Not quite enough paint.
Closing in on it.
A few dozen bulbs and a whole lot of broken glass later, we had our winner. Not too hot, not too cold, just right….the goldilocks shot. Baker proceeded to add some handwritten text to make it “official” and we had an album cover. Next.