We’re used to books using stock images for their covers but until this week, I’d never seen a book cover become a stock image. Such is the case for an edition of Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire, published in translation by Peter Pauper Press of Mount Vernon, New York, circa 1958. I plucked the edition in question from the stack’s of Mo’s Books in Berkeley one shitty day (you know, the kind of day one buys the fevered, but genius, ravings of a syphilitic French drug addict – we all have those days, right?). Anyway, I bought the book, gave it a skim and nary another glance until moving this week, when I unearthed it while packing. This was also the same week I happened to be shopping stock images for a publishing project. Synchronicity kicked as I was perusing the kitsch iconography of CSA Images and recognized a familiar, if very stylized, face beaming back from the screen. It was a bold, chunky redux of Baudelaire’s glowering mug as originally rendered by illustrator Jeffrey Hill, who not only created the cover art but produced an additional eight images for Flowers of Evil as well.
At first I was rankled, not least of which because the derivative image was dubbed “Blocky Man” (or technically “stock-illustration-22470448-blocky-man.jpg”), which I’ll just pretend is crappy transliteration of “Baudelaire.” But after a moment, I had to concede that the added hue of green, suggesting the color absinthe during its so-called “louche effect” (I call dibs on the band name), was an improvement on Hill’s original. And also, who the F cares? Godspeed to CSA Images for keeping the DNA of Hill's vision alive, mixing and remixing it ad infinitum into projects hither and yon. They didn't steal it, they saved its essence and now it has life beyond, say, the must shelves of Mo's Books.
Compare and contrast the two images above. Right: Jeffrey Hill's Baudelaire; Left: CSA Images, via iStock/Getty Images. “Blocky Man” can be had from $45 to $429 depending on the resolution whereas a used copy of the Peter Pauper Flowers of Evil can be had for $2.99 on Amazon. And it comes with a full complement of poetry by the 19th century’s greatest chronicler of sex, death and booze – at least in French. I surmise either image would’ve been acceptable to Baudelaire, for as the poet himself wrote to the "hypocrites” reading the opening of Flowers of Evil, the image too may be “my likeness — my brother!”
Dig this video about CSA Images and their creative process: