This Is Hardcore Artwork

'Living Dolls' by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Extract taken from New Statesman Magazine, 8 May 1998

If Humphrey Bogart ever called some broad a real doll, you could be pretty sure it was a compliment. But times change. It's a real doll that has got the band Pulp in trouble over their latest album. The cover of This Is Hardcore shows a naked woman draped, or possibly flung, across a puce leather sofa. Is she alive or dead? Is she in fact real, or is she perhaps a blow up doll? Protesters didn't hesitate to wonder. Posters on the London Underground were defaced. Usually liberal newspapers were stirred to editorials of condemnation. And it might have been worse. "Our first proposals for posters on the Tube and on the backs of buses were rejected, which is a triumph really," gloats Peter Saville, the designer of the album. "For the whole thing just to have passed without a murmur would have been a great disappointment. To have to redo things is slightly rewarding." Perhaps the Independent On Sunday was in on it. "Whoever designed the controversial poster must be feeling pretty pleased with themselves: it has gained the pop group plenty of extra publicity," the paper fumed, adding that "the woman looks as if she had been raped." Well maybe. But she looks a lot of things, as a letter writer duly pointed out.

Pornography is simply the most familiar visual language through which we appreciate the disparity between the intensity of imagined experienced and the disappointment or disgust of its realisation. "It's what men in stained raincoats pay for but in here it is pure," as Jarvis Cocker sings. The key to the project was John Currin, a young American painter who's work typically portrays seedy ageing playboys and improbably fulsome women in a hyper-realistic style. Rather than paint Cocker and his confreres, Currin art-directed scenarios in which the members of the band appeared alongside anonymous models, models chosen for their super-real characteristics - the too-amazing body, the too-perfect skin. They look perfect, yet there's something that tells you they are not. The fashion photographer Horst Diekgerdes took the pictures and Saville massaged them with a computer.

The result is a layer cake of reality and artifice: real model, looks unreal; camera never lies, but the computer embellishes the truth. This is why, even on close examination - especially on close examination - it is impossible to decide about the woman on the album cover. The last stage is the work of a feature of Photoshop software called "smart blur". Like so many so-called graphics filters, its effect is hard to gauge in advance. "We don't quite know digitally what it does," says Saville. "But fascinating things happen between A and B that are not aesthetics-based." At full strength it alters an image so that it looks as if it was painted by numbers. But used gently, it nudges it from photographic reality into painterly photorealism. A couple of less controversial images in the Pulp CD sleeve have this eye-popping quality: Cocker and a matinee idol companion sit at a bar staring directly out of the picture like the girl at the Folies Bergeres; in another, the best of the set, a beautiful girl is sitting on the end of a bed, a luminous angel come to visit the morose band member in the background. Shot at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, the banal cameos look like recent work by Richard Hamilton.

Soon the only refuge for fantasy figures and those who seek them will be in virtual reality. For every inch that Barbie has moved from bust to waist, Lara Croft, the gun-totting heroine of the best selling computer game Tomb Raider, has moved from waist to bust. It's a progress of a kind. But what was always true is still true: reality is the disappointment.

The Out-takes
Unused photos from the LP photo shoot (Click on the images to enlarge)

This Is Hardcore
Taken from '100 Best Album Covers', ISBN 0751307068

Click on the thumbnails (right) to see a supersize artwork image.

Sexy girls on covers rarely have any serious rationale for being there. Pulp's This Is Hardcore is different, even if the intention is not obvious. Hardcore is an expression often used to indicate blatant pornography. It can be used to describe a rock band's desire to be taken seriously about their work. Jarvis Cocker, Pulp's lead singer, intended this cover to illustrate his own internal confusion about being a pop star in isolation - a familiar neurosis of the rich and famous. The title and cover are supposed to be a paradox. Does it work? pulp fact or pulp fiction?

She is an 18 year-old Russian girl called Ksenia. She has a 32DD chest, is 5ft 4in tall and an up-and-coming glamour model. Her hobbies are swimming and tennis. Ksenia told FHM magazine: "The shoot was fun. Jarvis is very nice, very shy." More recently, she was involved in a TV advert for Pretty Polly bras.

Peter Saville: "One day the phone rang and it was Jarvis Cocker. He said 'I would like to talk to you about a cover for our new album'. He came round with Steve from the band, and they outlined their problem to me. They needed to reposition Pulp. They'd had a certain pop success in the mid-90s and were rather the heavier side of lightweight. They wanted to present Pulp more as a rock band. The music was a lot deeper, darker, and moodier and they called it This Is Hardcore."

Horst Diekgerdes shot the photographs with a Pentax camera with a 6/7 medium format negative. He used a mixture of daylight and flashlight.

The location is Peter Saville's apartment, which had been featured in Elle Decoration magazine. Jarvis had seen the feature and thought it might be a good backdrop for the cover shot. The apartment used to be an Indian millionaires bachelor pad in the 70s.

John Currin flew over from the States and had long sessions with Peter Saville discussing what the album was all about. John held a casting for a photographer, and chose Horst Diekgerdes, a fashion photographer; then held another to find people who looked "larger than life". They shot Pulp with the extras within this tableau to create a weird world at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London. When the band saw the photographs, it turned out they were looking for a stronger, more "hardcore" image. Having run out of funds a last day's photoshoot took place in Saville's apartment, which resulted in the actual front cover photo.

Howard Wakefield: "We used an effect on all the photographs on the album using an Adobe Photoshop filter called Smart Blur. It gave the photographs a very painterly quality."

Peter Saville: "The title was more about the 1997 spirit of Pulp - it was not about pornography. It was the new, hard, resolute spirit in Pulp. The band wanted to be taken seriously. Jarvis talked to us about fame and how it changes the world around you - yet you are still supposed to be the same person. He would go to a dinner party and was supposed to be the star guest, but to him everyone else seemed more glamorous."

Peter Saville used a censorship-type approach to the typography, as if it had been stamped on by the Board of Censors. The title was carefully positioned between the eyebrow, chin, and arm. The typeface was Helvetica Bold.

The artwork was branded as sexist by graffiti artists around London. Posters advertising the album were defaced with slogans such as "This Offends Women". In response, a band spokesperson said: "Anyone who listened to the album and thought that Pulp are in any way sexist is a fool." Jarvis Cocker explained that one of the themes of the album was the deadening and dehumanising nature of pornography.

Art Direction: Peter Saville & John Currin
Photography: Horst Diekgerdes
Design: Howard Wakefield & Paul Hetherington
Models: Ksenia, Beverly, Philene, Angelique and John Huntley
Casting: Sascha Behrendt
Styling: Camille Bidault-Waddington

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