marina city / yankee hotel foxtrot

Sam Jones | Lawrence Azerrad

Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a favorite and a touchstone.

Sam Jones’ cover photo has always fascinated me. I walk past Marina City frequently, often make images of the iconic “city within a city” and have researched the conception, design and placement in Chicago’s history as if researching Chicago’s architecture is my full time job.

Intuitively, I’ve understood Jones’ original image wasn’t quite the scene you see from the street or riverbank. In an effort to better understand the composition of the photo as well as Lawrence Azerrad’s cover design, I thought recreating the cover with my own image would be a fun project.

How close I could get to the original image with as little post-processing as possible?

Shooting from Jones’ angle would require removing a good portion of 330 N. Wabash (Mies van der Rohe’s AMA Plaza, formerly the IBM Building) and several newer structures North of Marina City.

Below, two alternate universe versions of the cover.

The source image was made in the early evening and it’s pretty clear Jones’ image was made much earlier in the day. To eliminate the AMA Plaza and buildings to the North, I shot from a more acute angle while standing in the southeastern most corner of the AMA Plaza park.

In the color image the contrast was increased slightly to highlight the edges of the balcony, eliminate the distraction of the things on the decks, emphasize the shape of the buildings and echo the contrast of the original cover image’s color. The booms on the top of the East tower support the window cleaning apparatus. The windows were being cleaned this week which seemed to be a good decision until Winter and the rains returned Thursday evening.


The second image is about as close as I could get to the original album cover. The booms have been retouched out of the image (by this point, they really, really annoyed me) and the contrast increased an additional 20% give or take.


Interesting exercise. I think I managed to match the font correctly, too. Yep, I know a bit about Photoshop and am aware of the font matching feature but, in the case of this project, my goal was to use my eyes and (what remains) of my brain.

Jones‘ photo and Azerrad’s design are well paired to each other, the music, Marina City and Chicago. A bit of background on the album, photo and cover design with a couple of interesting alternate cover designs.

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