HARDHOUND

Peter Gabriel – 1

Author: Colin | Published: 8/12/10

Peter Gabriel - 1

Peter Gabriel - 1

Peter Gabriel - 1

Peter Gabriel - 1

Artist Peter Gabriel
Title Untitled (Peter Gabriel)
Label Charisma
Year 1977
Design Update: Likely to be Storm Thorgerson rather than the previously stated Peter Christopherson, Hipgnosis
Music Popular
Desktop Download image
Notes This is Peter Gabriel’s first solo album after his departure from Genesis. The image on the front cover, which is inevitably most widely known, communicates an almost overpowering sense of isolation, alienation and unhappiness. The reason for this may be technology, fame or something as yet undisclosed. What’s certain is that this impression is achieved with remarkable economy.

A skeletal narrative unfolds over the four images that each span the outer and inner sleeves from edge to edge. Read chronologically, the viewer begins by approaching the scene, draws alongside the vehicle, waits for the window to open and finally meets the gaze of the figure inside the car. The subject remains remote, his gaze downcast until the final frame in which he engages the viewer with a direct stare that reveals his otherness. Are those cogs or flowers that illuminate his eyes? His expression is blank, unapologetic. He leans toward the viewer a little.

The car is almost unidentifiable, it’s an any car, a stand-in for all cars. Similarly, although the subject is Gabriel himself, there’s little to distinguish him, he’s an everyman, removed, unreadable. Even his posture is unclear: has he slumped forward, is he asleep or catatonic? He’s a passenger, seated in the passenger seat, another clue to his lack of agency. The desaturated grey of the windows and the barely-spied interior suggests the colourlessness of despair. The car is a prison that has drained all life from its inhabitant. It’s the antithesis of Gary Numan’s “Here in my car, I feel safest of all”. Nothing of nature is visible except the stormy sky reflected in the windscreen. Rain has gathered in tiny puddles on the vehicle’s metal body. The rain’s lack of absorption conveys a sense of the inorganic, unyielding nature of the scene. The framing of each image is close and claustrophobic.

I’ve only seen the inner sleeve for the first time recently and much as I like its development, I find myself a little disappointed by the final image. It seems superfluous: the trope of the pop star as alien was most famously explored by David Bowie on Space Oddity and then in Nic Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell To Earth released a year before this album. There’s something chilling and fascinatingly static about the other three images that is (self-) sufficient, more powerful without the narrative. They’re frames of an unmade film scripted by J.G. Ballard. As with the vast majority of Hipgnosis covers, there’s a strong sense of art direction over design, the textual elements ultimately incidental to the strength of the images.

The design and visual imagery for Peter Gabriel’s first three solo albums has been attributed to Peter Christopherson during his tenure with Hipgnosis, although no reference is made to this on Storm Thorgerson’s website. This post is dedicated to Christopherson, the designer, artist and musician who died last week.

See also:

Hipgnosis

Listen Peter Gabriel – Here Comes The Flood


Comments

  1. I’ve not seen this cover attributed to Peter Christopherson in print anywhere. The first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René, says “Photos & design by Storm” while a later Hipgnosis volume, For the Love of Vinyl, dedicates two pages to the design with Storm T going into some detail about its creation. The idea of rain on a car came before Peter Gabriel appeared with a commission; the car was Thorgerson’s own Lancia Flavia and he took the photos. These were b&w shots hand-tinted by retoucher Richard Manning. Oh, and the effect on the eyes was done with contact lenses.

    Comment by John Coulthart — December 8, 2010 @ 9:26 pm
  2. Hello John, I read this online, but can’t now recall the source. Sounds like the attribution may well be in error. You refer to the “idea of rain on a car”, but that’s only a part of the power of these images. The make of car is referred to on Thorgerson’s website, but I think that distracts from the strength of the images.

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