R D Laing record cover. ‘Life before Death’

LIFE BEFORE DEATH.tif1978 (2 negatives)

Commissioned by Charisma Records

From Hags book ‘How Things Are’

Death stares us in the face every morning. What we leave behind is for others to pick over, evaluate and use. R. D. Laing died of a heart attack while playing tennis in St Tropez in 1989.

The cover image for the album ‘Life Before Death’, a recording of R D Laing reciting his sonnets set to music by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley for Charisma Records. Link to CD web site.

The back photograph of R D Laing for the sleeve has been animated for Track 5, ‘We Lost ourselves in love’ which can be watched here.

Also Track 6  ‘You once were lean and now your fat’  has been animated here. Full (warm)  sleeve shown at 1’06”

Link to Hags original Portrait

Link to Hags Working Prints

Link to Hags Contact Sheets

Hag wrote in 1997  for the book ‘Memories of R D Laing Creative Destroyer’.  Edited by Bob Mullan Published by Cassell 1997……..

“I first met R. D. Laing on 15 June 1978 in a sound recording studio in St John’s Wood, London. I was presenting my work for the cover of his record Life Before Death, a collection of his sonnets, spoken by Laing and set to music by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikly.

My diary for that day reads:

‘Up and Mad and around and off to see Ronnie Laing – Successful meeting – they were looking for me and they found me. What a fine meeting.’

I remember feeling very nervous as Ronnie frowned and occasionally laughed his way through my folio. To my relief he, Howard and Blaikly all liked my work. He suggested the idea of photographically integrating his head with the crystal skull in the Museum of Mankind, London.

After a few more meetings and phone calls the idea had developed enough to shoot the portrait. It had been agreed to blend his naked flesh with his smart suit as well as the skull, hence the shots of him shirtless.

The sitting took place in his house in Belsize Park on 7 July. My diary reads:

‘Everything went wrong, shutter on 10 x 8, sync on Hasselblad, cut myself badly and Jutta Laing got very upset with me and Ronnie and all our things. Still I did it with my new tent which works very well. Laing was like a naughty boy playing in mud. Very cool.’

The tent, mentioned above, was a very large lighting tent which was only a small part of the mass of equipment with which I invaded their beautiful house, creating a full studio in their front room. Perhaps it was this temporary invasion that had so upset Mrs Laing and had led to the family altercation.

Ronnie was an obliging and persevering subject in what was technically a demanding session. He was quite sombre, but with a wry sense of humour and clearly eager to create a good portrait.
On the following Monday, there was a production meeting, at which I presented some straight prints. My diary again “Laing, or should I say Ronnie, thought my picture was good, but his vanity stopped him thinking it suitable for the cover – everyone else thought it was, so he conceded, and is leaving it up to me”.
The record company was supposed to get permission to photograph the crystal skull, which they hadn’t and as the deadline was fast approaching it was agreed to go with a real skull, I wrote: “Work then, the skull. Faust lives, don’t expect Ronnie to like the finished picture. It’s going to be horrifically heavy, slightly worried of course about it being too heavy, but I mustn’t”.
I had a week to put it together. The use of a real skull had dramatically changed the quality of the image, and I was having a real struggle trying to make it ‘nice’. By the following Friday I had nothing. I had tried adding landscapes, his flesh and two different skulls, but to no avail. I was panicking. I took the night off and tried to relax. On the Saturday, one day before the deadline, I bit the bullet and decided to go for the eyes, the only logical solution. Much to my relief, it worked, and on the Sunday I took it to show Ronnie, who just lived around the corner. When he first saw it, he was amused and laughed, but had to sit down. He then worried about how gruesome it was, but I managed to persuade him that it fitted the record, which is somewhat gloomy and despondent.
The image was rather controversial for the record company. People either liked it or hated it, but throughout, Laing supported it. A pleasant straight portrait was used on the back cover to lessen the blow.
Ironically, what survives, as the strongest image is a straight print of the whole negative; Ronnie with his cuffs undone and the background running out, the parts that were not originally meant to be included in the frame”.  (an edited version of this text is available in Hags book ‘How Things Are’)

Combination print created by Hag by Combination printing.  Surreal photography. 





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