Marcus Keef: That ’70s Guy

Who was the photographer, Marcus Keef? I’d like to know, but the Internet is rather quiet. What I do know is that his album cover art for the Vertigo, Neon, and Nepentha labels of the early ’70s is very distinctive. Often gatefold, widescreen works, Keef’s photos usually manipulate color, obsess about old British households, creepy interiors, dusty attics, and occasional shots of the band members sitting around looking lost and/or freaked out. I’m sure a lot of kids were weirded out by their older sibling’s/family member’s copy of the first Black Sabbath album, with that witch/old hag/meth head/Ozzy in drag on the cover, waiting outside her dilapidated old country barnhouse, waiting for you to come in for tea.

To me, it’s like the dark flipside of the late ’60s interest in nostalgia, all 1920s funfairs and post-WWI memorabilia. No, those people didn’t come back from the war, and we shuttered up the attic with a dead man’s things. Going to look for the past, these people found that it’s, well, past. And dead. And eldritch, which is a perfect word for this.

Of course, not all of Keef’s works were like this, like the awful bloody clown cover for Jimmy Campbell’s “Half Baked” or the studio shot for Raw Material’s “Time Is…”. But for the most part, these two galleries show a definite style that evoke a certain period in British rock. You can almost feel the album covers with their matte finish, their musty, unplayed smell, and tiny detritus of hand rolled tobacco/weed that’s fallen in the inner sleeve.

No album dates past 1976, and the best work is 1970-1973, so I wonder what became of him. Is he still alive?

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