Neil Krug's photography combines mysticism with elements of Americana to make dreamy, sun-bathed images that easily seduce any viewer. Despite their hypnotizing saturation, there's inherent mystery and an eerie quality throughout, whether he's shooting a musician, his former muse Joni, a landscape, or, most recently, Lana Del Rey for her new album, Ultraviolence, and also our August/September 2014 cover.
Krug's images for the album's cover and packaging don't literally depict what one would expect to be "ultraviolent." However, they do explore the "West Coast" theme that Lana sings about on the album, placing her by the beach, in a vintage car, and amongst lush florals.
The union of Krug and Del Rey's aesthetics is too good to be true, and in fact, her fans were literally begging for it. We interviewed Krug about how this collaboration started, and what inspired Ultraviolence's imagery. Win the full box set for free from us at Complex (or if you can't wait a week for the results, buy it here).
How did you and Lana get in touch to do the artwork for Ultraviolence?
It's something that has been in the air for a long time. Since 2012, Lana's fans have sent messages to me asking the two of us to collaborate. I generally don't get mail from other musicians' fans, but her audience is dedicated and had me on blast even before we met. Strangely, Lana had picked up a copy of Pulp Art Book years ago but was told that I was dead from a friend of hers, so it came as a surprise when someone at her label suggested that we work together on Ultraviolence. This was the right one for us to do together, as well. It has all of the right elements, and I'm in a good phase to jump on her moving train.
The album cover is a striking, almost haunting image. How did you decide on this shot in the end?
The cover photograph of her getting out of the car was always one of our top selects. The image was taken in her driveway on our first day of shooting and stood out from the beginning. When we met, we discussed the idea of the cover being the reverse of what you would expect from such a bold album name. When you hear the title Ultraviolence, you almost expect some sort of explosion happening or for her shirt to be covered in blood.
We both agreed that the artwork should have all the undertones present without having to blast it in your face. Stylistically, I was going for something that felt like a lobby card from a bygone midnight movie. In my mind, the cover needed to feel like the last frame of a '60s Polanski film, where the audience has been properly traumatized, and this is the last thing they see before the credits roll.
How does the cover represent the album concept or the title, Ultraviolence?
For me, it says it all without saying anything. It's an easy read when you look at it from a marketing perspective, because it perfectly communicates Lana's vision and is a clear image of her to absorb. For the fans who sit and listen, I think the image will reveal itself like a magic eye pattern. The image is like a window into the narrative.
What do the other photos in the box set represent? The ripped jeans, Lana in the car, the flowers, the city, etc. Where did you shoot them?
All the images she chose are pieces of a bigger picture that work as devices to put you in the right mood or frame of mind—the same way an author can lead you down the rabbit hole with the situation in which he or she places you. We called the selections "in-between moments" when we did the edits in my studio. Everything you see is the moment or action before and after, but not "the moment," if that makes sense. The ripped jeans Polaroid was taken in my living room, and the car shots were taken in her driveway. The allegorical smoking in the hydrangea image is a favorite of mine and was taken at Frank Sinatra's house outside of Los Angeles.
You also shot Lana for our Complex August/September 2014 cover. What was that experience like, and what were you going for having done her album photography?
For me, the magazine shoot and the album packaging are two completely separate ideas, so the creative shift is how she is styled and the location choice. The overall vibe is similar, probably because it's the same guy behind the camera. All of my shoots with her were done so quickly that's it difficult for me to be objective right now, simply because there are so many photographs over such a short period of time.
How did your style as a photographer develop? Have you always been into colorful images, warm hues, Americana, psychedelia, and graininess?
Since the early days I've always tried to keep the work in this space between illustration and photography. Whether the unnatural vividness of the colors is the narrative device or whatever else might be going on, the style is a hodgepodge of many ingredients.
Window Water Baby Moving versus Gantz Graf if you like. I love making images but never thought I would make photography a career in any capacity. In fact, photography is the only class I ever completely failed in high school. I remember my teacher passing along advice in the vein of "find another outlet for creative ideas."
Do you have any plans to make a third Pulp Art Book?
Right now I don't have any plans to make another Pulp Book. It's a slightly complicated story, but Joni and I parted ways in 2013, so I don't see any new work from that project happening anytime soon. That being said, we have a giant archive of unreleased work that may come out in some form, but it's hard to say. I could see us releasing a collection of unseen prints, but sitting down to make a new book together again would be difficult. I will forever be proud of that imagery, but it does feel like the old me in a lot of ways. I want the next monograph I do to be completely different.
Is the present ever as intriguing as the past?
The present is far more intriguing and unknown.
If you had unlimited money or resources, what types of projects would you do?
I don't think I would change much to be honest. I love what I do and feel blessed to be in a position to shoot the type of projects that interest me. With unlimited resources I would probably spend a little more time getting the look and narrative just right, or going to more exotic locations, but at the end of the day, you can make magic anywhere. For me, limiting yourself forces the creative side to find a solution which keeps the work more focused.