The cover for Chris Clark‘s latest album Death Peak features an unusual image of the musician. A picture of his face has been printed out on paper, scrunched up and photographed again to create an odd portrait that begs a second glance. Only one side of his face is visible and his features are distorted by creases.
The image was created by Alma Haser, the German-born, London-based photographer known for her unusual approach to portraiture. Her Cosmic Surgery series combined traditional portraits and paper folding to startling effect and was shortlisted for a Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. She has since created some striking and beautiful magazine covers and illustrations by cutting, folding and scrunching pictures on paper and recently worked with Nick Ballon to create 3D portraits of young Syrian refugees for Save the Children.
Clark came across Haser’s work in a magazine at Frankfurt train station back in 2013. He asked her if she’d like to work on the cover for his upcoming album Feast Beast and the pair met at a studio in Hackney. “[Chris] came to the shoot quite jet lagged. You’d just come off a plane and you didn’t have any change of clothing, just a grey sweater. That’s all I had to play with,” says Haser.
“You were quite awkward at the beginning [Clark admits he felt a little uncomfortable about being photographed for the album’s cover] and I thought ‘oh God, what are we going to do here?” She then noticed his hands – which are much larger than her own – and decided to make them the focus of the image.
“I started getting ideas for multiplying them in my head but not really knowing how … then I just played around with it and cut loads of his hands out, laid them on top and fanned them out and it worked really well.”
The resulting cover is an ordinary portrait with a peculiar twist. Clark is pictured staring straight-faced into the camera, standing against a grey background in his slightly creased sweatshirt. It is fairly unremarkable – save for the six hands sprouting from his wrist.
Haser also created two portraits of Clark in a similar style to her Cosmic Surgery series for the album’s gatefold and reverse. Both images show Clark with his face obscured by origami sculptures and one of them was animated to promote the album online.
For follow-up album Clark (released in 2014), Haser decided to photograph Clark then cut his face out and put another image in its place. Designer Dominic Flannigan took the concept one step further and created an outer sleeve with a hole where Clark’s face should be. An inner sleeve featuring a monochrome image of a forest was inserted underneath. Fans could remove the sleeve and replace it with an image of their choice to create their own version of the cover.
“I just took his face and came up with the concept I guess, but I loved the whole idea of taking it further by cutting out his face so you can slot different pictures in,” explains Haser.
With Death Peak, Haser had planned to take a portrait of Clark’s face and multiply it whilst zooming inwards to create a kind of ‘tunnel’ effect. She put together a storyboard and did the shoot but when it came to creating the image, the idea just wasn’t working. “It looked quite comedy but not in a good way – like something from The League of Gentleman,” adds Clark.
After working on multiple versions of the image, Haser decided to scrap the initial concept and try something different. She printed out an image of Clark’s face, crumpled it up and photographed it.
“I sent a really quick test to Chris and he was like, ‘yep, that’s the cover!”… but it was only on a tiny piece of paper and I hadn’t photographed it properly.” She then had to carefully recreate the picture crease by crease at a larger size to create the final cover. “Trying to recreate that one picture that you fell in love with was almost impossible,” she says.
“It’s the same as in music – when you do an improvisation and you think, ‘it’s not that good’ and then it becomes the single,” adds Clark. “You’ve just got one mix of it and you try and recreate it and everyone says, ‘ah, but I really like the original’.”
“I think we were fixated on that initial idea for a while,” he continues. “We focused on this one tunnel image that we didn’t use at all – but it’s all part of [the process]. It’s that thing of loosening up your ideas and going, ‘let’s just forget about that and be a bit irreverent about it, rather than painstakingly trying to make one idea’.”
Clark was initially reluctant to use his face on album art but inviting Haser to manipulate his image has resulted in a trio of striking covers. Each has a distinct look and feel: the cover for Clark, with its grey and black colour scheme and images of bare trees has a darker, more sombre feel. Artwork for Death Peak is more playful but still a little unsettling.
Covers often loosely reflect the tone of the music – though this tends to happen more by accident than design. Haser will often work on covers before albums are complete and before a title has been confirmed. “It’s not like you can pinpoint that when they’re still being created. It’s more like a retrospective thing where you look at them and think ‘that works’,” Clark explains.
Haser says she is given much more room to experiment when working with Clark than she is when doing editorial commissions. “I like it because I can just say, ‘this is roughly my idea, what do you think?’ and 90% of the time you’ll come back and say ‘yes, that’s great, let’s do that’. I feel like I have a lot more freedom in what we can create together.”
Editorial briefs tend to be much more prescriptive – though Haser says the success of her personal projects had led to more creative commissions. She is often asked to take an existing photograph of a subject and manipulate it with paper. “I like that … but it can be quite lonely because you’re not meeting that person or getting to understand them when you’re working on [their image].”
Her covers for Clark stand out not just because of the oddness of the imagery – a man with multiple hands or kaleidoscopic sculptures in place of his face – but because of their almost painterly effect. The crumpled portrait on the cover of Death Peak features scratches and scuff marks from Haser’s nails as well as fainter lines showing where creases have been smoothed out.
Haser has been experimenting with paper since university and is drawn to the playfulness of the medium as well as the ability to create some quite dark and strange images.
“[Using paper] made me realise how I could change the look of my photography and add a style to it,” she says. “Just printing it off gives texture to the picture which you can’t really recreate in Photoshop – or I can’t anyway. I don’t really like Photoshop.” She also prefers to work by hand, cutting out scraps of paper and rearranging them rather than moving around digital images on a screen.
This is also what drew Clark to Haser’s work: “I quite like that thing of using quite an obvious inexpensive medium – scrunching up a bit of paper and making it look amazing,” he says.
“Musically I try and do that quite a lot. It’s like the opposite of using like an orchestra and doing something banal with it – using something cheap and trying to make it more expansive. It’s much more challenging and rewarding. [Working with Haser] has made me realise that, actually – you learn more about what you’re doing through someone else’s craft,” he adds.