Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Lo-Fi Photography as Album Art

Is lo-fi photography the next trend in metal album art?

With today's technology, any idiot can create a pristine, technically flawless recording. But it ends up feeling sterile. That's not the way we experience things in real life, so why would we want to experience a recording that way? Analog equipment forces the artist to slow down and carefully consider everything. It also allows the rawness of real life to come through.

The same goes for photography. The ease of creating a "perfect" image with a digital camera and Photoshop has led to a counter-movement of people embracing the quirkiness of film and cameras through techniques like redscale and double exposure. It's not only this, but also bad film, expired film, weird lenses, and really crappy cameras. The most iconic of these is the Holga, a Chinese-manufactured camera which is notorious for its cheap lenses and light leaks.

Cover art for Decapitated's Carnival Is Forever. It appears the photo was taken with a Holga or a similar camera. If even a tech-death band is using lo-fi photography, you know you'll see it a lot more in the near future.

Photography has not exactly had a storied history as metal album art. You're far more likely to find painted, drawn, or even computer-generated art on the cover of your favorite albums. But with the similarities of the lo-fi recording and lo-fi photography movements, I predict you'll see a lot more of it in coming days.

If any genre of metal does accept photography, it's black metal. Darkthrone's seminal A Blaze in the Northern Sky, after all, has a lo-fi photo on the cover, and so does Ritual by Master's Hammer. For a more recent example, see Castevet's Mounds of Ash.

Darkthrone and Master's Hammer are two seminal black metal bands who used lo-fi photos on their album covers.

The cover to Castevet's Mounds of Ash.
Jesu has been using lo-fi photography on album covers since the early days. It sort of makes sense for that band, since they have such a dreamy feel aren't really concerned with being "trve".

Top row: Ascension and Heart Ache/Dethroned. Bottom row: Silver and Conqueror.
There are plenty more examples out there:

Top row: Corrupted's El Mundo Frio and Altar of Plagues' White Tomb. Middle row: Omega Massif's Geiserstadt and Om's Variations on a Theme. Bottom row: Opeth's Damnation and Portal's The Sweyy.

It even goes almost all the way to the beginning of metal, with Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

I've done my fair share of lo-fi photography as well. I used to have a photoblog, after all, which you can still see. Some of it was faked lo-fi, but some of it was quite genuine.

By the way, if you are looking for album art and you like something of mine, I'd be willing to offer up an image for free--provided I like the music well enough. (I also have some bizarre digitally double-exposed pictures that can be very disturbing).


  1. Hmm . . . very interesting. You do see trends these days going back to the old-school way of life.

    Coincidently, my parents have been cleaning out some of their old stuff and they came across an old camera they bought back in the 70's . . . apparently, it was quite expensive for its time. I might have to try and snag it, see what I can I do with it. Maybe I can convince my band that 'dirtier' really is better.

  2. Other things you might want to try:

    1. redscale photography (examples and instructions here on my old photography instructions/tips blog)

    2. my own little scheme: take a Fuji brand disposable camera, pull it apart, and turn the lens backwards, then put it back together. You'll expose a couple frames of it, but that can add even more interest to the frames next-door. Examples: one, two, three, four.

  3. Also, you can try leaving film in a car for a year, or under other extreme conditions, or use expired film.

  4. I found an old film from a holiday about 7 years before (I think it was my first wedding anniversary) and got it developed. All these innocent beach shots suddenly became very eerie, bathed in grainy, green light while plants looked like Triffids! It's not exactly a practical method (given the timeframe involved) but it looked cool!

  5. The good news is you can usually buy expired film, from eBay and other places.