Squaring the Circle: The Lost Art of the Album

Directed by Anton Corbin, the new documentary Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) follows the relationship of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, the two men who formed Hipgnosis, one of the most influential album art companies in history. Working together during the Rock n’ Roll Revolution of the 60s and 70s, Powell and Storm worked with some of the biggest bands in the world to create images that have stood the test of time, ranging from Wings to Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin. 

In his first feature film, Corbin’s passion for these two men is clearly evident. Shot entirely in black and white, Corbin ensures that the film maintains a classical look. More importantly though, Corbin allows them to share their stories in their own words. In candid interviews, Powell shares his story freely and honestly. At the same time, despite Storm’s passing in 2013, Corbin includes enough interviews and footage to make him feel as though he’s contributing to the conversation posthumously.

In doing so, Corbin ensures that the anchor to the film is the relationship between Storm and Powell. By exploring the tensions within the relationship, the film shows that the push and pull between the two men turned creative coal into artistic diamonds. As the more gifted photographer of the two, Powell understood how to shape an image. However, Storm’s creative force leaned towards the concepts that they were trying to generate. That imaginative friction caused them to work even more intentionally, drawing the best out of both men.

What’s amazing about their work is its tactile nature. This was a time before the digital image. When shooting in the Sahara, they had to fly to the Sahara and inflate beachballs by hand. In order to create shoot Band on the Run’s iconic prison escape, they had to bring everyone together as opposed to photoshops. Their images are not just powerful; there’s a certain level of difficulty to them that makes them striking.

With this in mind, Circle reveals the ways that our relationship to pop-culture has changed over the decades. During the 60s and 70s, album covers contained a certain level of interest. However, over time, public perception of these images has shifted. 

Now, they’re considered to be art. 

In fact, many of the images created in the midst of Hipgnosis’s creative space are considered some of the most iconic in pop culture history. Rooted in the magic that existed between Powell and Storm, their innovative fire spawned images that continue to stand out. At the time, these images were used to add meeting to the music itself. But now, though the concept of album covers has dissolved, the pictures still resonate. (For example, the simplicity of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon continues to strike a chord with viewers, resulting in its usage on everything from t-shirts to tattoos.) In this way, Circle speaks to the fact that, even after all this time, the work of Hipgnosis still speaks. 

Squaring the Circle is available in Toronto on Friday, June 9th, 2023 with a rollout across Canada following.

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