Interview with Rupert Truman from StormStudios
Storm Thorgerson founded StormStudios in the early 1990s where he worked as part of a creative team that included photographer Rupert Truman, who worked with him shooting 99% of the studio’s output. Storm Thorgeson sadly passed away in 2013 but the Studio remains busy today creating ‘normal but’ designs and Rupert Truman has given us access to many works from the studio, including iconic props such as the heads used in the 10cc album, Tenology, that will be included in our exhibition ‘The Eye Of The Storm‘ (Thursday 6th – Sunday 30th July 2017).
Rupert Truman is one of the leading photographers in the country and has shot images of bands from Pink Floyd to Muse. We’re delighted to announce that Rupert will be at For Arts Sake gallery Sunday 23rd July from 12-3pm talking about his art and signing copies of his book. In our interview with Rupert Truman he talks to us about his work, his time with Storm Thorgerson and the future for StormStudios.
What was your introduction to photography?
My father was a keen amateur photographer and bought himself an old Kodak rangefinder camera in Chile in the 50’s while he was working there. This beautiful object played a part in all of my childhood holidays and its inscriptions in Spanish made it feel more mysterious and special. There are thousands of transparencies still around that he took on this camera, and in fact my current Facebook profile picture is of me aged about 4 leading our shaggy dog up a hill in Cornwall, taken on this camera. I still have the camera on my desk – sadly no longer working.
When was the first time that you thought that you wanted to be an artist?
As a teenager I had a darkroom setup (originally using my father’s old Chilean enlarger). I thought that I’d love to pursue photography as a career. A couple of friends encouraged me however I felt I’d never make a living from it and ended up doing a degree in Geology. Working in oil exploration, I quickly decided that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Penny, my wife, was working on the Architects Journal at the time, with Dan Cruickshank and a wonderfully enthusiastic campaigning team, and I developed an interest in architecture. I decided that I should try shooting architecture for a living. I quit BP and bought a large format wooden Wista camera and started shooting architecture. I began working regularly for the AJ, including shooting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a project that culminated in a book for Phaidon Press. Around the same time, the National Trust began employing me as an architectural exteriors photographer, a job that took me all round the country photographing some stunning buildings and landscapes.
How did your association with Storm Thorgerson begin?
A good friend of mine, Tony May, had been working with Storm for a few years after meeting him on the Pink Floyd Moment Lapse of Reason shoot, where Tony had effectively organised the 800 beds that had to be set up on a beach in North Devon for the shoot. It was in fact Tony who persuaded me that I could make a living from photography. He had been doing a biochemistry degree when he got the offer of a job working for Robert Dowling, a successful advertising photographer (“if he can do it so can I!” I thought). Tony had left Robert by this time and gone out on his own. He was working a lot with Storm and I began assisting Tony on his shoots. I did a lot of the location finding in the early days and helped set up and light much of the earlier work. Tony made a move sideways into film where he works successfully as a DOP shooting graphic title sequences and adverts. I learnt an awful lot from Tony – a master of lighting and organisation… It must’ve been some time in the early 90s that I took over Storm’s work from Tony.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you worked on with Storm Thorgerson?
We did an interesting series of four images for Steve Miller a few years before Storm’s death. The main image was of a bald chap with a rabbit on his head. Steve had been looking for an image for his new album and explained to Storm that it was about having a good time. Storm showed him the rough drawing of our idea for the album. Storm explained that it was about letting your hair down; Steve thought this was hilarious! We also did an image for Bingo of a rhyming showdown. Two cowboys facing each other down in the wild-west town (Almeria in southern Spain where Sergio Leone shot many of his spaghetti westerns). The image was originally designed for Bob Dylan, the two protagonists duelling with rhyming objects. One has a bear and a pear and a chair, while the other has only circular objects (visual rhymes). The third image in the series was of giant vinyl discs stuck into the ground at 45° – a nightmare to shoot, with enormous vinyl discs lugged out onto the sand at Holcombe in North Norfolk. Our set builders almost mutinied, but Storm’s force of will ensured that it all came together. The fourth image was of a Water Guitar, a guitar-shaped body of water in a field somewhere near Swindon. This was of course, as with nearly all our images, shot for real. I had to find a friendly farmer, mark out a guitar shape and have it dug out with a mechanical digger. We filled it with water, and had a whole cast of characters pouring their souls into the guitar. This was shot as an extra image for Steve Miller. He was so taken by it that he said he was going to do a new body of work especially for that image. He doesn’t seem to have got round to it yet…
Was music influential in your life – how many Storm Thorgerson album covers did you have in your record collection?
Yes, I was very much into rock music as a teenager. Storm and Hipnosis were unconsciously a huge influence on my life. I didn’t realise it until later, but nearly every album that I bought had a Hipgnosis cover. Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Wings, Brand X, etc etc.
Several times when I’ve been speaking with Aubrey (Po) Powell, he very kindly tells people how much he loves everything I’ve shot with Storm. I can honestly say that I love everything he shot with Storm and it has had a huge influence on my career… I probably had 15 to 20 of their covers in my collection…
You must have some amazing stories from Storm – we love the tale of infamous escape of the giant inflatable pig escaping from its moorings, floating to 18,000 ft and nearly giving the jet pilot who radioed in the sighting a heart attack! What was it like working with someone who appeared not to have any concept of boundaries between what could and couldn’t be achieved?
Actually rather interesting (though at times driving one to tears of anger or frustration). There really wasn’t much that he thought would be impossible and he wasn’t bound by the rules of most people. I remember in the early days and I knew him he had a rather old and battered BMW 635 CSI with very dodgy brakes. He would regularly drive this the wrong way down one-way streets in central London if it meant getting somewhere quicker (and tried encouraging me to do the same).
The most important thing for him was the image and little would get in the way of that. Famous people would be made to stand in the wet and cold for half night if that was necessary. His images really were central to his life. They came before absolutely everything. At the same time he was fiercely loyal and caring to those in his close circle of friends. His birthdays were wonderful events, often in the private room in Lemonia, one of his favourite restaurants in Primrose Hill. He would take great pleasure organising where everybody would sit and who was next who. At halftime we all had to move and meet someone new. Wonderful!
Creatively, a lack of boundaries is rather liberating. Anything is possible. This is how the image starts out anyway. My job is to make that a possibility, whether it’s a gunfight in a western town, a guitar shaped lake, or a landscape covered with the shadows of flying humans as in Muse’s Absolution.
Never a dull moment!
One of Storm’s principles in his design work was to “Do it for real”. Covers included a man on fire, a giant inflatable pig, hundreds of wrought iron beds and a massive ball of yarn on a beach; the logistics for these shoots are mind boggling. What can you tell us about how these props got made and transported and did anything ever go wrong?
Yes, the mantra was always “do it for real”. In the old days, when supergroups had private planes, they would jump at the chance of spending a small fortune on a crazy idea. Nowadays, it’s harder, though we still like to do it for real if we possibly can. We find images work better and feel more real than if you’ve made it in Photoshop. The making of props is pretty simple really; if a giant ball of wool was needed, then we would have one made. I do remember that the ball of wool was actually only half of one as that dramatically reduced the cost (you only see the front half). This was also the case with Stomp 442, an image of a ball of heavy metal. You only actually ever see half of the ball, so we made a quarter of that. The fun was in rotating the hunk of heavy metal into four different positions for the light. It was very big and very heavy and involved a crane and a lot of people pulling on ropes…
I can’t really remember a time when we couldn’t make it happen. Even when things got difficult Storm had a way of making things happen by sheer force of will. On the Momentary Lapse of Reason shoot (before my time), they had to give up after a few days and put all 800 beds back on the lorries and take them back to London. The weather was so appalling and they couldn’t see the beds. They went back a couple of weeks later and got the shot.
How do you think music and art intersects in the age of digital downloads? How important are videos and do you think contemporary musicians are as interested in trying to present an emotion or an idea rather than a personality compared to the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin?
It has all changed in recent years. The listeners’ relationship with the art is not what it was. When people bought a vinyl album, it was a big event. People would live with the album, poring over the images, in some cases even taking the album to bed with them (Omar of the Mars Volta describes this). In my mind, the act of listening to music whilst poring over the artwork is a powerful thing. You are taking in more than just an auditory sensation or visual stimulus. It lights up more of the brain, often with the input of powerful emotion. The result is that the album has more of an impact. The overall package is greater than the sum of the parts. As a result, the imagery sticks in your brain far more. Would that prism be so famous if it hadn’t been for the music? Would the music be the same without that iconic image? Who knows…
Nowadays, the cover imagery is far less important (how many people actually buy a physical product). The image still has an importance in representing the album in advertising and in iTunes etc. It is the visual representation of the album, but because of the way we interact with the images, our relationship with them has changed. Video seems to be far more important. Bands and management pour their resources into this area for a reason. It’s eye-catching and sucks people in easily on their iPhone etc. An easy and current way to reach the audience. But, vinyl is enjoying a resurgence!
Working with people like Pink Floyd was very rewarding. Partly because of Storm’s relationship with them, we could do pretty much what we wanted. Would there be a Pink Floyd show at the V&A without this relationship with Storm? They trusted Storm and the results were a long way from what was normal. There is a great story around Atom Heart Mother, which was a groundbreaking cover. Up until that time album covers mostly had pictures of the band on the front, so when Storm presented a picture of the back end of a cow as the cover of Pink Floyd’s new album (with no text on it), EMI were apoplectic. They could not imagine that this would sell records. Of course, it went straight to number one. A few years before Storm died, we did a new image for Atom Heart Mother of a wire cow. This, in typical Storm’s fashion, was a play on the words of the head of EMI “Why a cow??”
There are still musicians who want to work with us and create a piece of art that is thought provoking, and represents their music in a very personal way. One of the secrets of our imagery is that there is more to it than just a picture. There is a story. Things are there for a reason, and if you stop to think about it, you can be drawn into the story. Only Revolutions by Biffy Clyro, for example, is about the relationship between the couple depicted on the cover. They can’t talk any more (the table around which they used to speak is ablaze). They speak without words, and this is represented by the flags of revolution that are, at the same time, gagging them.
You created some amazing footage of Storm underwater for the film ‘Taken By Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis. How did the shoot for this take place?
There was a diving pool in Shepherd’s Bush that had porthole in the side of it (sadly now demolished). We simply put the camera up against the glass of the porthole and shot through it. We were shooting for Yumi Matsutoya (fills stadiums in Japan), and Storm was showing the models what they should be doing… I happened to have a video camera with me, and left it running while we shot. We did a similar shoot for Pendulum, involving quite a lot of people underwater. We are credited as ‘the men of mystery’ on that album as Storm didn’t like the additions that they made to our image.
When Storm Thorgerson sadly passed away he left StormStudio to you, Dan Abbott and Peter Curzon. Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on?
We’ve done a few nice images this year, not all of which I can show you as they aren’t all in the public domain! Very frustrating! I’ve just come back from a trip to Death Valley for Steve Miller and earlier in the year we went to Dubai for Kim Churchill to shoot someone launching from the sea like a polaris missile – this is on his home page (Dubai being the warmest and cheapest place to get to at the time), along with a lovely image for Moto Sano (not yet released).
We did a lovely series for a new American band called Leisure Cruise around the idea of leaving Earth for a new life somewhere else… Earthquake, and my recent favourite from this series Double Digit Love. We spent a week in a rented house on the edge of Joshua Tree national Park for this – just stunning, though not nearly long enough…
We also did a rather lovely peace for Archideep and the Monkeyshakers a wonderful and talented young Frenchman – very rocky… they had very little cash, so flew us down to where they live near LaRochelle, put us up in their family house and shot in his father’s restaurant, with all his friends and family as models. They fed as well and took surfing! The most fun we’ve had on a shoot for some time.
Can you tell us about being the photographer for the book currently being sold at the V&A ‘Their Mortal Remains’ which supports the exhibition of the same name?
They needed somebody to photograph all their odds and ends for the book… Very kindly, Po thought of me. It was a little strange for me. The Pink Floyd has been such big part of my life for 30 or so years. It’s all been so close. The items that a few years ago we would simply handle normally are now being handled by people wearing white gloves. I photographed the masks that make up The Wall Live a number of years ago and lived with the blasted things for the best part of the week, trying to make them look like real faces rather than the deformed rubber things that they are. Storm and I drove around with the stained-glass window, that’s in the exhibition, for weeks, pulling it out whenever we thought we might be able to make a nice image with it – at the printers, up a staircase, on a gate post, etc etc, before putting it in Nick Mason’s garden, where the final shot comes from. What I’m saying is that these are props made for a reason, to make an image and little did we imagine when we were lugging the stained glass window around, that it would end up at the V&A. To me, these objects are just that, so it’s a little surreal that people are now handling them with white gloves. When we photograph the gong for the catalogue, the V&A had Nick’s roadie come along and set it up. He was rather amused by the whole thing. This gong is a rather big and indestructible thing and here they are handling it with reverence in white gloves. He was great. He got us all to give it a good wallop! Bang that gong!
Have you been involved in any other aspects of this exhibition?
Yes, along with other bits and pieces, I recently recorded the whole exhibition, photographing every object along with the views around the show – a mammoth job. Over 1000 images… Peter from StormStudios has been involved in the exhibition since its inception – while Storm was alive. He is a designer and graphics guy, so has been a key part of the design team on those fronts.
We’re very interested in the fine art prints you’re creating. Can you let us share some of your favourites with us?
One of my favourite images is Only Revolutions by Biffy Clyro, which I mentioned earlier. There is so much going on. Shooting the flags on the day was amazing. They were enormous! We really should have filmed them as well – the way they moved in the wind, the infinite variation, the sound and the raw power that we were having to harness was all rather lovely. The finished image has a beautiful stillness that contains so much tension.
Another of my favourites is Televators by the Mars Volta. This was an image that Storm came up with as he was recovering from his stroke in 2002 I believe. The image is a description of life passing in a kind of dream state, reflecting much of how he was feeling. It was envisaged as a Munch type image, but ended up more like a Dali painting thanks to our retoucher.
Another is the Powderfinger Image, Golden Rule, of the bird made in a paint tray. Actually all our paint tray images are rather lovely… all the liquid Dark Side of the Moon images too. There’s something about the fact that you can’t really control it. A big random element that gives them a certain beauty.
The Mars Volta image for Frances the Mute – the hooded drivers, which represent addicts cruising through life in beautiful couture hoods that they have chosen for themselves, blinding them to their situation. There’s a lovely quality of light, colours, textures. All very appealing, though rather a dark subject. This may be my favourite image.
Some of the artwork you’ve created on first appearances seems to be resemble paintings not photographs. Can you explain some of the techniques you use?
In part, I think that this is because all our photographs start out as a drawn image. The positioning of the elements within the image are considered. A little like old master paintings. Another part is my background in architectural photography. I feel I brought a very straight way of seeing to the studio. This is a hare on somebody’s head and it’s simply a straight recording of the scene. I feel much the same about all of them. In many ways, I’m taking myself out of the scene. I think that this straight recording of a strange scene is what gives them such a surreal feel.
My aim in all these images is to make them as believable as possible. To that end, the lighting needs to be as believable as possible. So, if I am lighting a scene, I’m thinking about how it might be lit in a real situation. What lights would there be in this room? Is it sunlight? Is it a window? Simple things like that. We tend to use wide lenses as this brings attention to the foreground subject while minimising what’s going on in the background. The background is always important though, somewhere for the eye to go… I like to find a ‘particular’ background. Something with some interest in it… Sometimes you just have to go to Death Valley – or similar – for such a background.
In recent years you’ve been working a lot on documentary photography. What’s grabbed your attention the most as you’ve travelled around the world and what do you see yourself working on in the future?
My photographic heroes were documentary photographers. Black-and-white, gritty – the world vision of the guy behind the lens. Cartier-Bresson in particular heavily influenced me. I would love to wander the world recording images like that… I have long thought that an extended road trip across the United States would be a great pleasure and yield a lovely collection of images. For some reason I seem to be interested in decay, the dark side of our built environment. There is beauty everywhere and there is something fascinating about this beauty in decay. The texture of peeling paint. A pattern in a broken window. I had the pleasure of going to Cuba with Storm to make a book about cars. All those wonderful old American classics from the 50s are still running, in various states of decay. Poetry in motion.
I recently discovered the work of William Eggleston. He seems to represent much of how I feel about photography. I love the fact that Ansel Adams was horrified by the fact that he was given a show at MOMA and couldn’t seem to see the beauty in what he was doing.
I love textures and find there’s a beauty in abstract textures…
I haven’t shot any architecture for a number of years now, and often think that this might be a lovely thing to go back to, now that I’m older and have more patience… there is a beauty and stillness in good architecture that is a great pleasure to absorb and record. I think a certain stillness is required.
Storm left us a huge collection of ideas that were never realised. One of my ambitions is to turn some of these images into photographs and into fine art. I really can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend my time…
The exhibition of Storm Thorgerson’s prints runs at For Arts Sake Ealing gallery from Thursday 6th July to Sunday 30th July 2017. To find out more about the exhibition click here.
Photographer Rupert Truman, member of StormStudio, will be at For Arts Sake gallery Sunday 23rd July from 12-3pm talking about his art and signing copies of his book.
This event co-incides with Ealing Arts Festival in Bond Street where the street will be closed and many art activities will be taking place. For Arts Sake gallery will be offering Pimms and fruit punch to all our visitors and have arranged for print demonstrations by Paul Catherall, Martin Langford and Martin Grover.