Review of ‘Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis’ by Mark Blake

An entertaining, fascinating history of the design group Hipgnosis, who were behind many iconic music album covers from the 1960s – 80s, most notably the Pink Floyd artwork (hence the prism design on this book cover).

Book cover of Us and Them by Mark Blake

I hadn’t previously heard of Hipgnosis but I knew some of their work and knew the name Storm Thorgerson, who along with Aubrey Powell and later Peter Christopherson, formed the nucleus of the group. This book includes new interview material from surviving people in addition to some from the archive. It felt quite special, as the author had access to contributors including Aubrey Powell, Peter Gabriel, David Gilmour, Roger Waters and many others. It reads very smoothly because it has a lot of quotations and anecdotes which are linked together by the narrative. There is never a dull moment. It was really amazing to learn about how far Storm would go to get the shot he wanted, sometimes putting lives at risk. He was a very interesting character, that’s for sure. The highlight of the book is, inevitably, the story of the pig flying over Battersea Power Station for the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals. Not only does the book focus on the shots that became famous; it examines those that failed or were even discarded and the reasons why. Another element of interest is how photographs were edited before the use of computer software made it easy! Sometimes the book is quite a funny read. There are some very sobering moments, however, such as the sad decline of Syd Barrett (who features heavily in the narrative), the ubiquity of cocaine and the events which caused Storm and Aubrey to go twelve years without speaking to each other.

Definitely recommended if you’re interested in music and art. There is a section of plates, which although not many considering this is a book about design, demonstrate Hipgnosis at work.

Published in 2023 by Nine Eight.

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