Matthias Clamer re-creates classic album covers—from Beyoncé to Devo—with 14 pro athletes for ESPN The Magazine

ESPN The Magazine recently commissioned Matthias Clamer to collaborate on a portfolio for their Music Issue, on newsstands now, comprising a series of portraits re-creating classic album covers—by artists ranging from Beyoncé to Devo—using pro athletes. Talk about a fun assignment!

To prepare, Matthias purchased a suitcase’s worth of books on iconic album art and brought to the editors at ESPN’s Connecticut headquarters, where they could keep them on hand as reference. “I also purchased the actual vinyl albums for the covers on eBay, and I brought them to the set so we could refer to them,” he says.

“Matthias Clamer did an amazing job matching lighting and all details from the original covers, traveling to Tampa, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs and New York City for this project,” Karen Frank, ESPN The Magazine’s senior director of photography, told SPD’s Grids blog.

Senior deputy photo editor Nancy Weisman produced the shoots, and Stacey Pressman, a writer, producer, and all-around contributor to ESPN The Magazine—she is also the person who pitched the album-cover idea to the magazine in the first place—wrangled the athletes and was on all of Matthias’ shoots. Below, Stacey shares her insights on what it took to make each cover happen. (Thanks so much for your time, Stacey!)

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Trent Richardson, LaMarr Woodley, and Marshawn Lynch as Run-DMC on “Ultimate Run-DMC.” Photo by Matthias Clamer for ESPN The Magazine.

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Trent Richardson, LaMarr Woodley, and Marshawn Lynch as Run-DMC on Ultimate Run-DMC
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“Deciding who would play whom was tricky, but then Marshawn showed up with his own DMC glasses,” says Stacey. “Lamar begrudgingly allowed us to put facial hair on him (while Trent and Marshawn teased him). Trent made a perfect Rev Run. The guys were very dedicated to striking the right pose and assuming their characters’ spirit.”

Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8915270/

Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915711

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Allyson Felix as Beyoncé on “Dangerously in Love.” Photo by Matthias Clamer for ESPN The Magazine.

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Allyson Felix as Beyoncé on Dangerously in Love

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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.31.42 AM-thumb-275x275-17849Allyson is a huge fan of Beyoncé and listens to her song ‘Diva’ before a big race,” says Stacey. “The top was custom-made by premier costume designer In-House Atelier, which creates costumes for Beyoncé (Super Bowl), Lady Gaga, Shakira, and many others. It took 35 hours to make the top, which was constructed of chains and Swarovski elements. It was stunning but posed a challenge, requiring lots of attention and hands on set to hold it in place.”

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Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8914927/

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Ryan Lochte as the baby on Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” Photo by Matthias Clamer for ESPN The Magazine.

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Ryan Lochte as the baby on Nirvana’s Nevermind

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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.32.16 AM-thumb-1072x1071-17853-thumb-275x274-17871“Admittedly, Nirvana is not #1 on Lochte’s playlist (his favorite song is “The Sky’s the Limit” by Lil Wayne), but he knew the album cover and was excited to re-create it,” Stacey says. “It was difficult finding a pool to close down for us on a Saturday, even for Ryan Lochte! Gold’s Gym in Colorado Springs came to our rescue. Ryan had amazing body awareness and control under water, and was great at taking direction from Matthias, adjusting in the tiniest ways to get as close to the baby’s pose as possible.”

Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8914979/

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Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915692

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Josh Freeman as Michael Jackson on “Thriller.”

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Josh Freeman as Michael Jackson on “Off the Wall.” Photo by

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Josh Freeman as Michael Jackson on Thriller and Off the Wall

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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 6.15.00 PM“Before he cut his afro,” Stacey explains, “Josh had been called ‘Tito’ (Jackson) by his coach, Raheem Morris. When his transformation with wig and styling took place on set, Josh admitted that the resemblance was striking. Josh loves animals and fell in love with the 6-week-old tiger cub from Big Cat Habitat in Sarastoa, FL. Josh was so happy with the shoot that he just changed his Twitter avatar to the Off the Wall image Matthias shot.”

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Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8915428/

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Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915721

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Jimmie Johnson as Bob Dylan on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.”

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Jimmie Johnson as Bob Dylan on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.34.12 AM-thumb-275x274-17866“Jimmie is a fan of all sorts of music and really loves artists like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. This album cover seemed a perfect fit for him: He got to work with his wife, Chandra, and the location is meaningful, as it’s very close to his own home in NYC,” says Stacey. “We shot in the same location in the West Village of Manhattan, on Jones Street between Bleecker and West 4th, as the original album cover. The buildings on the street were covered by scaffolding and trees that hadn’t been there at the time when the album cover was shot, so we adjusted on set by shooting in the opposite direction, which got us pretty close to the original look. All the cars were sourced from different companies. The white Dodge in the front was actually newly painted lime green. It was our best option, so we grabbed it and changed the color in post. With everything in place, we only needed an overcast day to complete the magic, and luckily we got one! (We also got some falling snow, which kept things interesting.)”

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Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8915030/

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Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915654

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James Stewart as Rick James on “Street Songs.”

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James Stewart as Rick James on Street Songs
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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.34.52 AM-thumb-275x272-17877“MotoX sports star James Stewart used to make videos of himself as ‘Rick James’ Stewart and put them online. It was a no-brainer to sign him on to this project, as he was able to take Rick James to a whole new level and do it in a real way. We shot at Universal Studios, on their Brooklyn street lot, the location for the original Rick James album shoot. The red boots we hoped James would wear were too high for him—he could barely stand in them—so we painted a pair of flat black boots red, and voilà!”

Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8915582/

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Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915730

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Alex Morgan as Katy Perry on “One of the Boys.”

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Alex Morgan as Katy Perry on One of the Boys

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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.35.21 AM-thumb-275x275-17882“Alex is a fan of Katy Perry and was very excited to re-create the One of the Boys cover,” Stacey says. “Set designer Rae Scarton and her team used 12 different types of flowers (only one of which was real: primrose—the dark purple, pink, and yellow clusters in the foreground); 120 square feet of live, overgrown grass; 16 feet of fencing; and rose vines. The lounge chair was custom fabricated in about seven hours because the one used for the original Katy Perry album cover was lost in a fire a few years ago when part of the prop house where it was stored burned down.”

Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8915141/

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Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915608

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Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Brandon Phillips, Evan Longoria, and Shane Victorino as Devo on “Freedom of Choice.”

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Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Brandon Phillips, Evan Longoria, and Shane Victorino as Devo on Freedom of Choice

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Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 12.35.58 AM-thumb-275x274-17886“ESPN Creative Director of Print and Digital Media John Korpics really wanted to find five guys to re-create this cover,” Stacey explains. “I had been talking to Giancarlo Stanton, who wanted to be part of the project. I sent him the Devo cover and he thought it was hilarious, and the rest of the cast followed. Although none of the ballplayers had ever heard of Devo, they thought it was a cool image that would be fun to do and really got into character on set. It took 10 days to make the suits; the fabric had to be specially made.  See tweet below from Gerald Casale of Devo…”

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Behind-the-scenes gallery: http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8915324/

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Behind-the-scenes video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8915645

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One Comment

  1. Posted 03/03/2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    James Stewart IS Rick James


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Clamer, who recently photographed a portfolio of pro athletes as famous musicians for ESPN The Magazine’s Music Issue, was commissioned by British GQ to shoot portraits for their Comedy Special, which hit newsstands [...]

  2. […] year, for its first-ever Music Issue, ESPN The Magazine asked Matthias Clamer to re-create famous album covers using sports stars in place of the musicians. And it was a big hit. So this year, with the bar set high, the magazine once again turned to […]

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