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The Pitchfork Review: Bjork interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

Work / Art + Music

The Pitchfork Review’s Björk shoot was made of molasses, Theraflu and dry ice

Have you seen the latest issue of The Pitchfork Review? The front cover is a candy-coloured landscape of frosted mountains and pink sunlight, in the middle of which is a black lake of goo with something emerging from it before your eyes. This scene, which continues along the gatefold and accompanies the interview within is Pitchfork’s creative director Michael Renaud and photographer David C Sampson’s interpretation of Jessica Hopper’s life-affirming interview with Björk within the issue.

In a world where magazines are often indistinguishable, exquisitely designed white blocks with a well-shot portrait on the cover, finding out these two guys holed themselves up in a studio with a bunch of weird shit and made something like this is really comforting. Proof of their talent is that they have actually managed to portray the infinitely curious and unique creature that is Björk, just by using household objects, elbow grease and Kahlua. Clever men. Here’s David on how they made this truly astonishing piece of editorial.

“Mike Renaud came to me to shoot the cover and the interview feature at the same time. The rough idea was to build a landscape described or hinted at in Vulnicura. We had the amazing Jessica Hopper/Björk interview to plant some evocative ideas, like the paths around Bjork’s cabin that she walked as she wrote the Vulnicura songs.

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

“I kept Björk’s older term ‘emotional landscape’ in mind, and how it relates to these two Vulnicura lines: ‘show me emotional respect’ and ‘moments of clarity are so rare / I’d better document this.’ We talked about staying away from a crafty vibe – I didn’t want it to feel like a cutesy construction paper diorama, but also specifically didn’t need it to pass as a real landscape photograph.

“We spent some time at a science supply surplus store looking for materials like crystals and while we were there we met a dude nicknamed ‘The Time Vampire’ who gave us some hot tips about a model train store and how model train guys build their landscapes (heavy plaster impregnated foil and thin foam accordion stuff for mountain ranges), so then we spent a couple hours there.

“I built a homemade fog chiller at 3AM that I filled up with Chicago sidewalk ice to keep some of the fog in heavy cumulo-clumps once I realised how much we needed cloud banks.”

David C Sampson

“I worked a lot on colour, going for otherworldly but not too fantasy fiction. I spent a lot of time looking at the way landscape casts shadows on snow. We dyed sand, used flour, salt and made sugar glass for details. Mike sawed a human heart model in half to put in the ‘Black Lake,’ which was filled with a molasses, Kahlua and Theraflu mixture that drained out of the model at a rate of a gallon a second, so we had to collect the fluid in a bucket and re-pour it constantly to get the shot.

“The mountain range was built in an aquarium, because at first we planned to have a wall of ice in the world, dividing the black lake zone from the snow kingdom. I built a homemade fog chiller at 3AM that I filled up with Chicago sidewalk ice to keep some of the fog in heavy cumulo-clumps once I realised how much we needed cloud banks.”

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud

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The Pitchfork Review: Björk interviewed by Jessica Hopper. Photographed by David C. Sampson and Michael Renaud