Sound and Vision: Stanley Donwood on the Making of Radiohead's "The Bends" Cover Art

July 16, 2018

 Juxtapoz Sound and Vision is a new segment on our platform dedicated to exploring one piece of substantial album artwork every Sunday. Album artwork is one of the primary ways that musicians and visual artists are able to collaborate, and many iconic album covers are simultaneously iconic pieces of pop art. It’s also an excuse for us to share some of our favorite albums and the visual component behind what makes an album groundbreaking and fun.

Radiohead, The Bends
Cover art by Stanley Donwood

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With the 1995 album, “The Bends,” Radiohead showcased emotional and angsty lyricism, coupled with increasingly complex orchestration that set the band apart from both their American grunge, and UK britpop contemporaries. The album built upon the ideas laid down, but not fully fleshed out in their debut album, “Pablo Honey.” It clearly defined the talent and style that would bring them to the forefront of music for more than two decades.

The cover art aimed in the same direction of the album, using analog technology to explore a progressively digitized world. The answers here are often in plain sight for the right viewer, and Stanley Donwood had a trained eye. He would go on to work with the band on every album from “The Bends,” onward. Regarding the album’s cover, he provided Juxtapoz with this fascinating quote: 

“We hired a video camera, a large boxy thing that had to be put on a shoulder. It took VHS cassettes, and we went out and filmed things that we thought would be somehow interesting; road signs, symbols on discarded cardboard packaging, street lights. We played these video cassettes on a machine hooked up to a TV and took photos of the screen. Then we took the films to photograph developing shops and waited to see if any of the photos were any good. If they were we could scan them. We got into a hospital with the camera and were filming all kinds of things. I’m not sure if it was really allowed or not. Probably not. I wanted to find an iron lung because of one of the song titles on the album but iron lungs are not very interesting to look at. In the room where the staff practice resuscitation were some mannequins, and one of them in particular had a facial expression like that of an android discovering for the first time the sensations of ecstasy and agony, simultaneously. And that was the cover of the record.”

Radiohead is currently on tour around North America!