Photographer Joel Brodsky; Shot Album Cover Pictures

Among Joel Brodsky's best-known photographs is one of Jim Morrison for the 1985
Among Joel Brodsky's best-known photographs is one of Jim Morrison for the 1985 "The Best of the Doors" album. (Photos By Joel Brodsky -- Govinda Gallery)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Joel Brodsky, a photographer whose memorable album cover pictures of Jim Morrison, Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin and dozens of other performers helped define the visual image of popular music in the 1960s and '70s, died of a heart attack March 1 at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 67.

Mr. Brodsky was an artist of a now-obsolete format, using the 12 3/8 -inch square of the album cover as his canvas for pictures that varied from moody portraits to surreal atmospheric scenes to stylized illustrations of ideas. He photographed about 400 album covers for a diverse cast of musicians that included B.B. King, Carly Simon, Barry Manilow, Kiss, Iggy Pop and Gladys Knight and the Pips.

His best-known picture, made at his New York studio in late 1966, shows a bare-chested Morrison of the Doors, with his arms outstretched. Featured on the cover of the 1985 "The Best of the Doors" album, the black-and-white image depicts the messianic, sensitive and dangerous qualities that made Morrison such an important musical figure of his time.

Mr. Brodsky described the session in a 1981 interview. The 23-year-old Morrison, he said, was "totally plastered . . . so drunk he was stumbling into the lights."

Still, he projected an edgy charisma that Mr. Brodsky was able to capture on film.

"You know, Morrison never really looked that way again, and those pictures have become a big part of the Doors' legend," Mr. Brodsky said. "I think I got him at his peak."

Five of Mr. Brodsky's photographs of the Doors appeared as album covers, and he received a Grammy nomination for the group's 1967 debut, "The Doors." His cover shot for "Strange Days" (1967) showed carnival acrobats, a strongman and a midget in a conceptual street scene.

In 1971, Mr. Brodsky photographed soul musician Hayes in sunglasses and a striped robe for his "Black Moses" album. The cover unfolded in the shape of a cross to a size of 3 feet by 4 feet, which is believed to be the largest album cover ever made.

Later in the 1970s, Mr. Brodsky designed and photographed a series of seven groundbreaking covers for albums by the Ohio Players. Without showing the band itself, he illustrated such titles as "Ecstasy," "Pleasure" and "Pain" with frankly erotic images, sometimes with sadomasochistic elements.

Mr. Brodsky was a meticulous craftsman, spending hours setting up lights, scenery and cameras. Even when his photographs looked like casual snapshots, such as the squalid backstage dressing room depicted on Tom Waits's "Small Change" (1976), they were always carefully composed.

"What Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle ended up doing, Joel was doing 30 years ago," said gallery owner Chris Murray, who gave Mr. Brodsky his first exhibition at Washington's Govinda Gallery in 2001. "Joel's work was a precursor to the illustrated concept album, and he's definitely a precursor to hip-hop."

For several years, Mr. Brodsky was house photographer for Stax Records, a Memphis label specializing in soul music and rhythm and blues. Many of his Stax covers were simple black-and-white portraits, but others were atmospheric images shot on location.

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