Darren: Your first collaboration with Radiohead was for their second album, The Bends. Can you recall the band getting in touch, and what your gut reaction to producing music artwork was? I believe the screaming figure on this cover is in fact a resuscitation dummy found in a Somerset hospital? Can you recount how this artwork came about?
Stanley: This is now so long ago that my memory has probably reconfigured certain aspects of what happened. I’ll do my best to answer. So – at that time I lived in a house with a telephone attached to a wall in the hallway – it was a payphone, but I and my housemates had a key to the cashbox, so in effect it was a primitive savings account, a sort of piggy bank with a telephone attached. Anyway, it rang one time and it was Thom on the other end of the line, asking if I fancied having a go at doing a record sleeve. He had been in a band since I’d first met him, some time previously, but a year or so before they’d got a record contract. Apparently the band didn’t much care for the cover artwork that the record company had come up with, hence the phone call. I didn’t know the band’s music and I hadn’t done a record sleeve before, but I thought I’d have a go.
Around the time this happened I was making different sorts of artwork, from painting on derelict buildings, using a sports pitch-marking machine to draw huge pictures on the grass of the local park as well as attempting to write romantic fiction. It took a long time to learn how to use computers and all that came with them. One of the problems was the huge range of possibilities that came with making digital art. Compared to what I was used to – pots of paint, pencils, scissors, glue, pitch-marking machines – a computer offered a vast range of visual tools; the thing I discovered quite quickly was that you can easily create something very, very bad. And that is what I did for at least a month. I still have a folder of printouts of the ghastly horrors I created.
Another thing I was doing was making pictures by taking photographs of images on TV screens, because I liked the distance between the intention and the result. I wanted to remove myself, my humanity, from the artwork. Also I liked the lines that appeared when TV screens were photographed – because of course, this was the ancient era of analogue televisions and cameras that took rolls of film. So the technique me and Thom eventually devised to make the artwork for The Bends was to use a VHS video camera to make video recordings, play the resulting videotape on his TV, photograph the images on the screen, take the film to the photographic developer’s shop in Oxford, wait until the photos were done, then scan the results and manipulate the digital results on the computer. Everything took a long time back in the last decade of the previous century, but we thought we were cutting-edge. So it goes.
I intended to find an iron lung, which is a kind of metal box that’s pressurised, used (in the past) for patients who couldn’t breathe properly unaided. Prosaically, this was because Radiohead had a song called My Iron Lung. I don’t remember how, but we were wandering around in a big hospital on the outskirts of Oxford with our video camera, looking in various forgotten rooms for this archaic therapeutic machine. Eventually we found one, but it was – how can I put it? – really boring to look at. It was a big grey rectangular metal box on a sort of bed frame. It looked kind of eerie, left to gather dust while more modern and efficient equipment carried out the task it had been designed for. And it was quite horrible to imagine the poor soul who had needed to lie within it. But as an image – it was boring. So we left that room and carried on exploring the hospital with our video camera, which I’m sure must have been at least unadvisable and at worst probably illegal. Anyway, these were more innocent times, I guess. In another room was the equipment for resuscitation, and the dummies or mannequins that were used to practise this. One of them had an expression that looked to me to be somewhere between ecstasy and agony, like the face of a suffering martyr. I filmed it, we played the videotape on the TV back at Thom’s, photographed it, took the film into town, dropped it at the developer’s, waited, went home, scanned the photos and made the cover. Just before the deadline.