During his studies at the Royal College of Art, Thorgerson shared a flat with fellow student Aubrey Powell, who at this time worked as a scenic designer at the BBC, rubbing shoulders with artists, musicians and other creatives of the time, including Pink Floyd's familiar faces Waters and Barrett. In 1965, Thorgerson and Powell started Hipgnosis, a design company specialising in creating artwork and packaging for rock bands and musicians. Thorgerson’s big break arrived when he persuaded old friends from Pink Floyd to allow him to design the band's second LP, A Saucerful of Secrets in 1968. It was a masterstroke and the beginning of a collaboration of outstanding creative genius spanning over forty decades for Thorgerson and ‘The Floyd’. A Saucerful of Secrets is a visual psychedelic whirlwind of colours, patterns and blurring boundaries of objects which Q magazine described as the designers attempting “to mirror three altered states of consciousness: religion, drugs, and Pink Floyd music”.
Thorgerson’s inquisitive, often tongue-in-cheek approach towards design (influenced by surrealist artists René Magritte and Man Ray), was predominantly photographic or film orientated (admittedly due to a lack of drawing skills). Preferring to capture an unusual moment in time with props by creating the unexpected on an elaborate photographic shoot rather than depending on any special effects wizardry or computer manipulation, he revealed that “I prefer the computer in my head to the one on my desk”.
Thorgerson mainly used a Hasselblad medium format camera for his work, which gave a square film format more suited to album cover imagery. He went on to develop unique photographic techniques using Infra-Red technology via a makeshift darkroom in Powell’s bathroom, manipulating photos through multiple exposures, airbrush re-touching and cut and paste techniques to create his desired vision.
He was fascinated with oppositions and confrontations such as digital vs analog, photography vs painting, music vs art, art vs product, and normal vs strange. Thorgerson strived to create mystery with reality by combining illusions and trickery, stating that to be a great in his field was to capture the imagination of ‘the punter’ (Thorgerson’s term for viewer) with the effect of realism, capturing the imagination. He once remarked, “The camera never lies, or does it?”
Thorgerson described in an interview his approach to a new project: “I listen to the music, read the lyrics, speak to the musicians as much as possible. I see myself as a kind of translator, translating an audio event the music – into a visual event – the cover. I like to explore ambiguity and contradiction, to be upsetting but gently so. I use real elements in unreal ways.”