Hipgnosis co-founder, Aubrey Powell, next to his most famous album cover design, Dark Side of the MoonRupert Truman with permission for Varsity/ Hipgnosis with permission for Varsity

In today’s world of streaming music, where an album cover is no more than a few tiny pixels on your screen, it’s hard to imagine going to the effort to set a man on fire or let a giant inflatable pig loose over Battersea Power Station (and grounding all planes on their way to Heathrow Airport in the process), just for the perfect image. However, as the late 60s and 70s ushered in a new wave of rock music that broke with convention, the art of album cover design was also completely reformed. Iconic album covers for artists such as Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, and Pink Floyd (including Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here) were all created in this cultural climate and by the same people – a creative duo from Cambridge known as Hipgnosis, credited with reinventing the album cover.

Hipgnosis co-founder, Aubrey Powell, recounts moving to Cambridge at the age of sixteen in 1963, after being expelled from the King’s School in Ely: “during a school trip I slipped out and went to the pub.” His first job was at King’s College, where he got his first job as a waiter: “in those days, the toffs at the University would look down on plebs like me and treat us like shit […] Clicking their fingers at me and demanding bottles of wine didn’t go down too well and I didn’t last long.”

“There was an atmosphere of revolution in the air”

In the 1960s in Cambridge, “there was an atmosphere of revolution in the air”. He first noticed his future Hipgnosis partner, Storm Thorgerson, and some of the future members of Pink Floyd, as they were “dressed very coolly, they all had long hair, they were always carrying guitars and always laughing, and I thought I need to meet these people.”

As a new member of their group, Powell explains how “everybody wanted to be free,” which translated into “lots of girlfriends” and “everybody experimenting with drugs.” Powell recalls the experience of “swimming in the River Cam on acid and experiencing the wildest feelings as you put your foot in a deep piece of mud somewhere in Grantchester and thinking you were going to slip into the centre of the Earth.”

The friends then moved to London, where Powell took up photography, Storm studied film and Pink Floyd officially formed. Powell explains that in the 1960s “all bands had to work through the record company’s art departments if they wanted an album cover.” Not much thought was given to album covers, all following the same format: “a picture of the band on the front with a white piece of lettering with the title of the album, and the name of the group.” However, Pink Floyd “were looking to break away from the confines of EMI Music [...] The only other band who had that freedom were The Beatles […] Pink Floyd was the second band to say ‘we’re not doing that.’” Reflecting on the start of Hipgnosis’ and Pink Floyd’s creative partnership, Powell remarks “we changed it all.”

Album covers designed by Hipgnosis. Top left to bottom right: Elegy, The Nice; Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd; Peter Gabriel II, Peter Gabriel; Presence, Led Zeppelin; Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd; Look Hear?, 10ccHipgnosis with permission for Varsity

I ask Powell whether he thinks it was a coincidence that this new art form of album covers coincided with one of the most important periods in rock history. He instantly responds, “it was serendipity.” Drawing on the influence of surrealist art, especially that of Salvador Dali and René Magritte, Hipgnosis’ album covers ranged from a photo of a cow for Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, to an image of an alien black object on a family dining table for Led Zeppelin’s Presence, and a photo of a sheep sitting on a chaise lounge in the ocean for 10cc’s Look Hear?.

For Pink Floyd, Hipgnosis made some of the most iconic pieces of album art in the world. This includes the drawing of a glass prism for Dark Side of the Moon, to setting a man on fire for Wish You Were Here – the latter of which is Powell’s favourite Pink Floyd work. I ask what his favourite non-Pink Floyd work is, “that’s very easy to answer”, he replies, “in the early days, we did an album cover for a band called The Nice, and the album was called Elegy”. Elegy’s cover is a photo of red footballs lined across the swathes of the Sahara Desert. Powell describes why it’s his favourite (and it’s not just because he got a free holiday to Morocco): “it was the first time somebody said to us, ‘I like that, go away and do it’, and it’s a piece of land art. It’s not related in any way to the name of the band, the members of the band, the lyrics, but somehow it actually fitted to that music.”

“It’s hard to walk down the street...and within two minutes not see somebody wearing a t-shirt with Dark Side of the Moon on it”

Despite the rising popularity of the vinyl in recent years, Powell is doubtful that it will last: “the budgets aren’t big enough […] Sadly, the music has become more important.” He continues: “between 1969 and 1982 were the 15 years which were the halcyon days of album covers and we were privileged to be involved with that. But that doesn’t exist now, and I don’t think that’s ever going to come back.”

After Hipgnosis was dissolved in 1983, Powell has worked in film, directing commercials, music videos and documentaries, “I had a desperation to get out of still photography”, he admits. His relationship with many of Hipgnosis’ clients also continued – he was creative director of Paul McCartney’s World Tour and he is the current creative director of Pink Floyd.


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As Pink Floyd’s creative director Powell curated the 2017 exhibition, Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, at the V&A – it is one of the most popular exhibitions the museum has ever had. In 2023, he also curated an exhibition solely focused on Hipgnosis’ work at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands. Powell tells me that of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to these exhibitions “a lot of them are young people […] and that’s fantastic for me, that it still has relevance in today’s society.”

He partly credits social media as enabling “Hipgnosis’ work over the last 50 years to become recognisable globally.” He says, “it’s hard to walk down the street, in any city in the world, and within two minutes not see somebody wearing a t-shirt with Dark Side of the Moon on it, and it’s often young people [...] I feel incredibly flattered.”

Powell reflects: “I think that Hipgnosis’ legacy will continue to go forward for many, many years. It will be recognised for being part of a cultural time for 15 years where album covers were important. And you can’t take that away.”