The design for this picture has various Pink Floyd album covers painted on the backs of a row of young women. It came about when we were commissioned to advertise the back catalogue of Pink Floyd in 1996. There’s an incredible sense of humour in the Floyd camp, and they decided that the back catalogue should be literally “the catalogue on the backs”.
It actually stems from one of five ideas in a pitch by my studio, Hipgnosis, to Pink Floyd’s record company, EMI, to do a TV commercial. The actual TV ad they made was called Art Gallery, and featured people in an art gallery speaking in completely incomprehensible languages – Icelandic, Hindi, Japanese – about Floyd covers hung on the wall. The “backs” idea was intended to be a TV commercial, too, but EMI decided they liked this in addition to Art Gallery. So they commissioned me to photograph it, for a promotional poster.
It was difficult to know how to use the album cover images again. You can’t distort them too much, or they become unrecognisable. The “backs” idea seemed to be a nice way to re-present the images in a slightly different context, but still relatively clearly.
It took us forever to paint the girls: they had to be still for five or six hours while their backs were painted by the very expert Phyllis Cohen. From left to right, the albums are: ‘Atom Heart Mother’, ‘Relics’, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘The Wall’ and ‘Animals’. The co-designer was Finlay Cowan, and the photographer was Tony May.
The covers were originally going to be painted on the backs of boys and girls, but that presented us with a problem, because each back is representing an album cover, and album covers are all the same size and shape. We needed uniformity, and girls and boys’ backs are obviously quite different. We had to choose one or the other, and we chose girls – probably because we’re boys. It is a questionable thing on a PC level, and the photo has received some critical observations – most particularly by my partner. But most women I’ve shown it to don’t mind it. I just think that girls backs are more elegant than men’s backs, and I was going for elegance and shape here.
I think it’s also very nice in that it’s a photo of a group of people chatting. It’s as if they’re having a poolside chat, as they prepare to swim. Scott Hughes