When asked to produce samples of storytelling in visual imagery – I always fall back on great album cover artwork. As above, two of my favorite album covers from two of my favorite bands (left to right: In the Aeroplane over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel, 1998; and Holiday, The Magnetic Fields, 1994). Both covers stylistically similar in theme and tone, convey a sense of old-timeliness, and turn of the century regalement – something that was done with intention by the artist. Both bands, at the time, were signed with Merge Records, and the straws for inspiration were both drawn from the same hand. The covers intentionally mimic imagery found in old French postcards. The richly romanticized visuals are highly interpretive, but ultimately serve to compose as an argumentative narrative for the albums concepts.
The image left (In the Aeroplane over the Sea) creates internal contrast by offsetting the hyper-realistic scene with the transposition of a woman’s face. The album itself is highly experimental and deals with subject matter such as spirituality, Anne Frank, and existential departure. The album is about juxtapositions, and so is the artwork. The second image (Holiday) carries with it a less abstracted visual, wholly composed and contemporaneously consistent. The album is less conceptual but lies lyrically in the same vein as the first. Ultimately, the storytelling comes from the viewer’s interpretation of each piece, but there is a definite feel of romanticism, journey-hood, departure, and disconnected (fantasized) reality. I don’t necessarily know if I have made a good case for the the artwork, or the idea of albums as storytelling machines. But I hold belief that if every CD and album cover was blank, transparent, or empty, that simply the stories wouldn’t be the same. What do you think?