Made to Love Magic
Nothing irks a photographer more than when their images get wildly cropped or, worse still, reversed when turned in album cover artwork by a sleeve designer. Bob Dylan’s first album is a good example - the original photograph by Don Hunstein has been flipped 180 degrees on its horizontal axis to arrive at the version on the cover. A top-tip to pick up on this is always to look at the position of the buttons and button holes on shirts and jackets. If they are on the wrong side ( different sides for men and women ) then its pretty likely you have a reversal.
In our new book, I saw Nick Drake: photographs by Keith Morris, we wanted to put right a similar act of reversal (and severe cropping) by the designer of the sleeve of the posthumous 2004 Nick Drake compilation album Made to Love Magic. You know it. Here’s the front cover artwork:
The actual, un-doctored photograph was taken by Keith Morris on 35mm film in Battersea, South London, during the 1969 sessions for Five Leaves Left. ( In an earlier blog post, we show how that session can be dated as Wednesday 16 April 1969.) 35mm film has an aspect ratio of 1 ( height) to 1.5 ( width) so given the image is used on a square album sleeve, there’s a chunk of image lost through cropping.
As you’ll see when you look at the original, on the album sleeve, a poster saying ‘Many Years Ago' has been added over the original poster announcing the budget speech. More importantly, Keith Morris's original image has been flipped 180 degrees on its horizontal axis. Check out the original image below, with Nick Drake looking to the left edge of the frame, adn you'll see how Keith saw it.
When we were putting the book together, we thought that this image was so important that it deserved to have an entire 24 x 36 inch double page spread all to itself, so that viewers could appreciate it in all its un-cropped, un-flipped, un-postered natural glory.
Check it out below. Beautiful, isn’t it?
GINGER BEER TOAST
Jean Weston and her part in dating Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left photo-session.
Chances are they never even knew of each other’s existence. And why would they? The year was 1969. Nick Drake was a six-feet-three-inch product of the British public school system and Cambridge University, and would release his first album, Five Leaves Left, later that year. Jean Weston was a tiny, five-feet-one-inch brunette who worked in the alterations section of Gamage’s department store in Holborn, central London. Jean had just been voted Miss Gamage and as a result had made it through to the final of the ‘Miss London Stores’ contest.
Incredibly, over 40 years later, their stories are linked, in an important way, as the shapely Jean, with her 34-23-34 figure, is a vital clue in helping us to date accurately, for the very first time, the precise day of Keith Morris’s Five Leaves Left cover shoot with Nick Drake.
But first, does anyone really care about this kind of stuff? Hell, yes - historical accuracy is important. For me one of the big exercises behind Ormond Yard Press’s upcoming book I saw Nick Drake: photographs by Keith Morris, has been to validate as many dates and facts as possible as far as they relate to Keith Morris’s photo-sessions with Nick Drake.
When you read the existing published biographies of Nick Drake, you learn the accepted wisdom that the Five Leaves Left session took place on budget day 1969, as evidenced by the fact that some of Keith Morris’s photographs taken that day show a budget poster on display. Budget Day in 1969 was Tuesday 15 April. Here’s one such photograph.
The problem is that the appearance of that poster doesn’t necessarily mean the Five Leaves Left photo-session must have taken place on Tuesday 15 April 1969. That budget poster could quite possibly have stayed up for a few days after the budget. So as part of the research for our I saw Nick Drake book, could we get some certainty on that date?
Our fact finding challenge generally with I saw Nick Drake was that we were researching a photo-shoot that took place in 1969 where only two people were present, and both Nick Drake and Keith Morris are sadly no longer with us. Nick Drake has never gone on record discussing the Five Leaves Left photo-shoot. Keith Morris has talked about the session, but only many years after the event, and memories can play tricks after the passing of so much time. So on the face of it, our inability to probe directly the principal protagonists might appear to be a very restricting factor. In practice, it actually makes us work harder with the resources that are at our disposal. The trump card we have, the ace in the hole, is that we can subject Keith’s archive of photographs from that session to a much greater degree of scrutiny than has been possible before.
Here’s where it gets interesting. You know that moment in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when Mikael Blomkvist is going through the newspaper photo-archives and discovers a sequence of images from the Childrens Day Parade in 1966 which helps him unlock the secret of Harriett Vanger’s disappearance? I love that kind of stuff, and as luck would have it, we had one of those goose-bump moments on this project.
One of the photographs taken by Keith Morris that afternoon shows Nick Drake standing next to a group of three men, and one of those men is holding a newspaper. His attention, and that of his colleague peering over his right shoulder, is firmly rooted to the sports section on the back pages. That is very helpful to us because it means that the front of the newspaper is pointing towards the camera.
As soon as I saw that photograph, the challenge became crystal clear. If we could track down a physical copy of that newspaper held by the man in the photograph taken by Keith, then we could date the shoot with a high degree of certainty.
Luckily Keith’s original negative of this photograph survived, and we were able to make a high resolution scan of that image, blowing up the headlines and images. That certainly helped. As you can see from the close up extract, the detail is not sufficiently clear for us to read the date of the newspaper directly, but we do get a tantalising view of a section of the front of the newspaper, and part of a left hand and a right hand interior page.
These are details that have never been put under the microscope before. If you look at this close up section, you can make out a headline featuring Tesco on the left hand page - the words ‘All the joys of…’ and then ‘at Tesco’ are legible. You can also just make out an article on the right hand page, featuring what looks like a picture of a lady with a sash around her torso and a headline which seems to refer to ‘ginger beer toast’.
Further research confirmed that the newspaper in the photograph was too large to be the Evening Standard, and was in fact the Evening News. We were getting closer. We just needed to find the physical example of that newspaper so that we could match it up.
Jean Weston - and her ginger beer toast
A session at the British Library’s newspaper archives struck gold. On microfiche in their archives we discovered what we were looking for. That is where Jean Weston comes in, and gives us the evidence that the photograph was not actually taken on Tuesday 15 April 1969 after all. Let me introduce you to the lovely Jean. It’s the same picture that appears in the article held by the man in the Keith Morris photograph - but you can’t see all of it because of the way the paper is folded.
The article in the paper is titled “IT’S A GINGER BEER TOAST FOR STORES GIRL JEAN’.
I had been really intrigued by the reference to ‘ginger beer toast’ - it reminded me of ‘Lucy in the sky with Diamonds’, with its tangerine trees and marmalade skies. So here’s what it is all about, straight from the April 1969 article:
Pretty 22-year-old Jean Weston drank a toast to herself in ginger beer when she heard she had been voted Miss Gamage. “I needed it - I never thought I would be the one,” said Jean, a tiny 5ft 1in brunette with a 34-23-34 figure. Jean, who was picked from several other girls at the Holborn store, is a fashion alteration hand with the fashion department. She chose a carefully tailored dress in white French lace for the contest.
A bride of five months, she said, “My husband will be delighted when he hears the news-though I can’t imagine his reaction if I was lucky enough to go to Tokyo!” She joins the other stores’ beauties in the finals of the Miss London Stores contest to be televised in May. The contest-with a trip to Tokyo and £600 of gift vouchers as first prize-is part of the second Festival of London Stores, jointly sponsored by the Evening News and Evening Standard. Fulham born Jean has already travelled abroad, but she said: “I really think London stores are the best.” Jean and her husband live in West Hampstead but they have an ambition to open a music shop somewhere and live on the premises.
The same newspaper also has the Tesco piece that appeared on the left hand page in Keith Morris’s photograph, with the title ‘ALL THE JOYS OF SPRING ARE AT TESCO’
So we had it. And so to the all important question, the date of the Five Leaves Left photo-shoot, printed in top corner of the newspaper?
So let me say a big thank you to the lovely Jean. I don’t know if she won the competition, or opened her music shop, but it is down to her that we were inspired to follow this research through to its conclusion and add some certainty to one small but important aspect of the Keith Morris / Nick Drake story.
I saw Nick Drake: photographs by Keith Morris is published by Ormond Yard Press, and is available to order from www.snapgalleries.com
I Saw Nick Drake - the cover design process
I thought it might be interesting to pull back the curtain and go behind the scenes on the thought process behind the layout for the front and back cover for our second book, I Saw Nick Drake: Photographs by Keith Morris.
It’s also interesting to see how we could have opted to tweak it slightly, and why we chose not to….
1. The image to use on the cover of the book
The choice of an image for the front and back cover of a book is, of course, really important! Of all the hundreds of photographs of Nick Drake that Keith Morris made during the three year period they worked together, how to pick the one to use on the book cover?
Well, it has to be an important image. One that resonates and means something to Nick Drake’s many fans. Something that captures him at an important part of his career. It also needs to ‘work’ in the context of the book design - when viewed from the front, the back, and when the book is open and both front and back are visible.
We tried a number of things but kept coming back to one image that had it in spades. You know it… it’s the ‘running man’ image that appeared on the back cover of Five Leaves Left, and on the front cover of his first US release, the album titled Nick Drake. It is, in my humble view, the definitive Nick Drake portrait.
Here’s the full image, with the film reference numbers, from the original contact sheet of 35 images:
On the back of the sleeve of Five Leaves Left the image appeared cropped slightly: some of the wall on the right hand side of the image had been removed by the sleeve designer. Keith Morris wasn’t best pleased with this. That is typical of most photographers: they hate having their images cropped.
Here’s how it appeared in the UK on Five Leaves Left:
On the US Nick Drake album, it appeared full frame, on the front cover, like this:
When you compare them, you can see how it was cropped on the UK sleeve.
2. Presenting the image on the book cover
Here’s a photograph of the book standing up, open to reveal the full extent of the image as it wraps around the front and back cover.
We have deliberately set the dimensions of all Ormond Yard Press books at a massive 24 x 36 inches / 60 x 90cm - spread size. The proportions of 1.5 to 1 (width to height) have been specifically chosen to mirror the aspect ratio of 35mm film, where the width of a landscape orientation image is 1.5 times the height.
These dimensions enable us to select a single 35mm image to wrap around the front and back cover of one of our books, as an alternative to choosing a single image for the front cover and a different image for the back cover.
If you choose a wrap-around image, it has to make sense both when the book is closed and when it is open. When the book is open, the whole image comes into view, as shown in the photograph above, but when it is closed, only the front and the back can be viewed at any one time. So the image has to work in two halves as well. The right had portion of the image has to work in isolation on the front cover, and the same holds for the left hand side of the image, which appears on the back of the book.
Here’s the front:
Looks great doesn’t it?
Here’s the back, with the running man, who so far as I can tell, has never been identified:
3. To Photoshop or not to Photoshop, that is the question…
While we were laying out the image onto the book template at the design stage, it became clear that the position of the running man in relation to the back cover and spine of the book was, at first sight, slightly too far to the right. As you can see from the design layout below, the right foot extends into the spine, and actually slightly onto the front cover.
It would have been possible, with a little bit of cleverness in Photoshop, to create some additional wall in the middle of the photograph, thereby moving the running man back to the left slightly. The result of this jiggery pokery would be to contain the running man completely on the back cover of the book, like this:
Tempting as that was, you know what? We didn’t want to do that.
It would have meant altering Keith Morris’ original image. For one, Keith would not have liked that. For two, we think it actually works best with the foot wrapping round. The foot is just visible when the book is viewed head on from the front. It provides an important visual link, a hint if you like, that there is something going on on the back of the book, and invites you to explore.
And we like that.