Born in 1947, Brian Cooke was educated at the Scarborough High School for Boys, with formal photographic training at Hull College of Art from 1963 to 1966. His interest in photography developed while photographing the last days of steam on the railways, predominately in his native North East. This led to weekend work at Crofts Photo Services in North Street, Scarborough during his last years at school and while at college. His first job as a photographer was at Walkers Studios, a local studio in his home town, which was followed by a post as photographic technician and part-time lecturer in photography at Teesside College of Art, in Middlesbrough. It was here that he met one of the graphic design students, who he went on to marry in 1969. However, it was his night time activities that were to set the scene for his career.
On returning to Scarborough in late 1966, following a short spell of work in Skegness after leaving art college in Hull, he started to ‘roadie’ for a local group called The Mandrakes, for which his brother played bass. It was not long before he took over the role of manager. The singer with the band was Alan Palmer, who later changed to his second first name Robert, when he joined The Alan Bown Set. During this period Brian regularly photographed The Mandrakes and other local bands and it was these activities that led to him moving to London in 1971, with his wife Marylin, to set up Visualeyes Ltd.
Following an introduction to Chris Blackwell of Island Records, through Robert Palmer, Visualeyes was established off the Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Here they serviced Island and other independent record companies with photographic and design services in the production of record sleeves and associated advertising, press and promotional material. During this period Brian & Marylin worked regularly with Mott The Hoople (Ian Hunter), Traffic (Steve Winwood), Vinegar Joe (Elkie Brooks & Robert Palmer), Fairport Convention and Roxy Music (Bryan Ferry).
Brian took the first ever Roxy Music press pictures at his studio/home off the Portobello Road and Marylin still tells of the time Brian Ferry and Brian Eno put their make-up on in her bathroom. Brian’s favourite album cover from this period is John Martyn ‘Inside Out’ which was one of his first experimental covers using multiple images, silver masks and some very complicated instructions to the printer!
In 1975 Visualeyes purchased a small photographic laboratory in London’s Covent Garden and relocated to these premises. Here they expanded their services to the entertainment industry to include the volume reproduction of photographs for press and public relations. For many years Visualeyes held the position of London’s premier laboratory servicing the entertainment industry, although it expanded into other markets.
With Visualeyes established as a production operation Brian channelled his creative talents into a partnership with fellow photographer/designer Trevor Key. The company, Cooke Key Associates, became the design agency to Virgin Records, designing the famous Virgin logo, which is still used today by the Virgin Group and is carried on such diverse items as Jumbo Jets to cans of cola. Cooke Key were credited with over 150 album covers and the related advertising and below the line material, for both Virgin and other record companies, for artists such as Mike Oldfield, Peter Tosh, Tangerine Dream, Sparks, Ten Years After, Rory Gallagher and Jethro Tull.
Cooke Key specialised in creative and experimental photographic solutions to their briefs, pioneering the use of Cibachrome direct reversal colour paper and black silver masks in the creation of composite images. The cover for the Jethro Tull ‘Bursting Out’ live album contained thirteen images, all requiring separate exposures and silver masks to print onto a single piece of paper. This image, which would now take no more than1 hour in PhotoShop, took about 5 days in the darkroom to complete.
During this time Cooke Key were introduced to Jamie Ried, who was an unknown designer working with a new Punk band called The Sex Pistols. Cooke Key were involved in some way or other with just about every piece of printed material used by Virgin to promote the Pistols, an archive of which Brian still retains. On the 7th of June 1977 Brian and Trevor were present on the Sex Pistols Jubilee boat trip having made a day-glo banner which they hung over the side of the boat.
In 1981 the Cooke Key partnership was disbanded, with the two main partners deciding to concentrate on photography, rather than the management of designers that had become their daily chore. Brian joined the film union and concentrated on the taking of ‘stills’ during the shooting of film and video productions. These included the new medium of Pop Videos, working regularly with established artists such as Ultravox (Midge Ure), Spandau Ballet (Tony Hadley and the Kemp brothers), Blondie (Debbie Harry) and Elton John. In 1982, while working as stills photographer on the set of the Joe Jackson video for the song Real Men, Brian had a cameo part right at the end acting as a 50’s press photographer. He also worked on films, including the original Max Headroom and TV advertising, including the famous Levis 501 launderette commercial.
Soon dissatisfied with the treatment of stills photographers Brian resolved to take a more influential role in the production process and in 1985 he set up a film and video production company called Hotshot Productions with another long term friend, film and video director Doug Smith. Doug had collaborated with Brian on some music promotional films in the early days of Visualeyes, which included the very first Roxy Music, Leo Sayer and Fairport Convention films for the BBC’s ‘Old Grey Whistle Test. With Brian producing and Doug directing and editing, Hotshots concentrated on the production of promotional and training programs for business clients such as Asher Systems Furniture and The Post Office.
While concentrating on film and video work, Brian still undertook photography for commercial clients, preferring to undertake commissions that allowed for a high degree of creative initiative. During this time he frequently travelled abroad for clients such as The Saudi Ports Authority (annual reports), Tailor Made Holidays (brochures) and Stakis Hotels (library shoots).
Brian was asked to join the Royal Rota to take photographs at the music business events staged for The Prince’s Trust. During one of these assignments he was seen on News At Ten photographing Prince Charles and Princess Diana with a large group of music celebrities including The Rolling Stones, Status Quo, Dire Straits, The Who, and Eric Clapton.
In the mid-eighties a growing interest in computing took Brian into the field of electronic imaging. At first he established a slide bureau at Visualeyes, producing computer generated slides for business presentations and then a move into desktop publishing brought the origination of the company’s advertising and promotional material in-house.
All his accumulated experience in photography, design, film & video and computing was brought together in 1990 in a project for ICI ImageData. He was called in to act as image consultant during the development of new materials for a revolutionary digital printing medium called D2T2 (Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer), now called Dye Sublimation Printing. This project was so successful that it convinced Brian that digital imaging was the future for photography.
Over the next decade Brian introduced at Visualeyes many ‘firsts’ in digitally based services, including short run ‘Giclee’ inkjet printing for artists and photographers. For an exhibition, in 1995 called ‘Down the Line, all the images were submitted electronically down the phone line from all over the world and printed using the Giclee process. In March 1998 Visualeyes printed the first ever Giclee prints used for a print edition for Richard Hamilton. The development of digital services culminated in 1999 with all photographic printing at Visualeyes moving over to digital, which was certainly a first in the UK, if not Europe.
In 1996 Brian developed an on-line photo ordering system for Virgin Records, called The Digital Press Office, which allowed Virgin and all their licensees worldwide, the opportunity to order reproductions of pictures from Visualeyes, using the Internet. This replaced the existing drawn-out process of each department in turn sending the same originals by courier to Visualeyes, to have them copied. This became the catalyst for other Internet systems, including Photo Order which was designed and built by Brian’s new company, Digital Asset Solutions. Photo Order is rented out to photographic laboratories, which use it to offer Internet sales to the public by their customers, who are mainly photographers.
The latest version of the Photo Order Internet software family is Photo Order Press, which is used by Brian’s latest company NewsPrints Ltd, to offer Photo Sales Marketing Systems to newspaper publishers. This allows newspapers to sell their news and archive pictures to a worldwide market 24/7. This ‘upload and forget’ service provides a one-stop shop for newspapers, which upload their pictures to a dedicated server and leave the rest to NewsPrints.
Photo Order Press is now used by The Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, the Newsquest Media Group, Archant, CN Group, Clyde & Forth Press, Trinity Mirror Regionals, Johnston Press, Tindle and more. Sales through the system have passed £10M from over 2.3 M unique visits per year.