Creating Album Art for “A City is a Sound”

When I created the album art for A City is a Sound, I wanted to do the same thing visually that I was trying to do musically in the tracks: evoke the spirit of the great American cities of the 1970s, but with an updated aesthetic. That meant using images from the era, but giving them a slightly more modern look.

125Street

Original image by Erik Calonius on the left, my version on the right with adjustments to color and corrections of perspective.

There was another reason I wasn’t going to use pristine images from the 1970s.

My source for images was the Documerica project, a program sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency. About seventy photographers, some of whom went on to great fame, were instructed to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” from about 1972 to 1977. They interpreted that mandate very broadly, taking pictures of a wide range of things, from small towns, to natural beauty, to my particular favorite: big cities.

Detail from the image above.

Detail from the image above.

Many of the Documerica images are more than mere documents–they’re great art. But the color in a lot of the photographs isn’t up to par, possibly because the images have degraded over time. The ones I picked were gorgeous, but I wasn’t going to use them as they were.

Original image by Danny Lyon, left, and my altered version, right.

Original image by Danny Lyon, left, and my altered version, right. I’ve altered the color, made the horizon horizontal, and dispensed with that goddamn pole.

So I tried to restore their original vitality–or at least, what I imagined their original vitality might have been like.

A detail from the image above.

A detail from the image above.

In some cases, after trying to make the image more vivid, I went further, adding new elements to help integrate it into my own project. I did this, for instance, with the image of a young girl standing in front of an abandoned building, below.

Landscape

Another original image by Danny Lyon on the left, and my altered version on the right.

Landscape

Finally, my version with artifcat added (the yellow band) and the words ” A City is a Sound” superimposed.

Here’s an image by Wil Blanche where, again, I went beyond mere restoration.

Image by Wil Blanche of construction on the Battery Park development across From the World Trade Buildings on the Hudson River, 1973.

Image by Wil Blanche of construction on the Battery Park development across From the World Trade Buildings on the Hudson River, 1973.

The same image by Blanche with text added.

The same image by Blanche with text added.

Note: All of the Documerica images I used are in the public domain.

A City is a Sound, and my other albums, are available on my Bandcamp page.

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