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January 8, 2024

Outtakes From the Photo Session for the Cover of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”

Just off Regent’s Street is the location where David Bowie shot one of the most iconic album covers of all time, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (often shortened to Ziggy Stardust). It looks pretty different these days but you can even see the famous telephone box.

The cover art for the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie.

David Bowie used to hang around Soho a lot in the 1960s and early 1970s, especially Wardour Street, where the Marquee Club used to be and Denmark Street a.k.a. Tin Pan Alley which was very popular with musicians.

The album cover photograph was taken by photographer Brian Ward in monochrome, and recolored by illustrator Terry Pastor, a partner at the Main Artery design studio in Covent Garden with Bowie’s longtime friend George Underwood; both had previously done the artwork and sleeve for Hunky Dory. The typography, initially pressed onto the original image using Letraset, was airbrushed by Pastor red and yellow and inset with white stars. Pegg notes that unlike many of Bowie’s album sleeves, which feature close-ups of Bowie in a studio, the Ziggy image has Bowie almost in the foreground. Pegg describes the shot as: “Bowie (or Ziggy) [stands] as a diminutive figure dwarfed by the shabby urban landscape, picked out in the light of a street lamp, framed by cardboard boxes and parked cars.”

Bowie is also holding a Gibson Les Paul guitar, which was owned by Arnold Corns guitarist Mark Pritchett and was the same guitar Pritchett used on the Corns’ recordings of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang On to Yourself.” Similar to Hunky Dory’s cover, Bowie’s jumpsuit and hair, which was still his natural brown at the time, were artificially retinted, which Pegg believes gives the impression that the “guitar-clutching visitor” is from another dimension or world.

The photograph originated during a photoshoot on January13,  1972 at Ward’s Heddon Street studio in London, just off Regent Street. Suggesting they take photos outside before natural light was lost, the Spiders chose to stay inside while Bowie, who was ill with flu, went outside just as it started to rain. Not willing to go very far, he stood outside the home of furriers “K. West” at 23 Heddon Street. According to Cann, the “K” stands for Konn, the surname of the company’s founder Henry Konn, and the “West” indicated it was on the west end of London.

Soon after Ziggy Stardust became a massive success, the directors of K. West were displeased with their company’s name appearing on a pop album. A solicitor for K. West wrote a letter to RCA saying: “Our clients are Furriers of high repute who deal with a clientele generally far removed from the pop music world. Our clients certainly have no wish to be associated with Mr. Bowie or this record as it might be assumed that there was some connection between our client's firm and Mr. Bowie, which is certainly not the case.”

However, tensions eased and the company soon became accustomed to tourists photographing themselves on the doorstep. K. West moved out of the Heddon Street location in 1991 and the sign was taken down; according to Pegg, the site remains a popular “place of pilgrimage” for Bowie fans. Bowie said of the sign, “It’s such a shame that sign [was removed]. People read so much into it. They thought ‘K. West’ must be some sort of code for ‘quest.’ It took on all these sort of mystical overtones.”

The rear cover of the original vinyl LP contained the instruction “To be played at maximum volume” (stylized in all caps). The cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of “Classic Album Cover” postage stamps issued in January 2010. In March 2012, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street and Heddon Street, installed a commemorative brown plaque at No. 23 in the same place as the “K. West” sign on the cover photo. The unveiling was attended by Woodmansey and Bolder, and was unveiled by Gary Kemp. The plaque was the first to be installed by The Crown Estate and is one of few plaques in the country devoted to fictional characters.

Quilted jumpsuit, 1972. Designed by David Bowie and Freddie Burretti for the Ziggy Stardust album cover and subsequent tour.


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