Photographer remasters iconic album cover art

Album cover photographer remasters greatest h... 02:22

NEW YORK -- A giant in the music industry is remastering some of his greatest hits. He doesn't sing or play a note, but his work is on some of the most popular albums of all time.

At the age of 69, one of the most dependable places for Jim Cummins to meet up with some old friends is New York's Bleecker Street Records.

Jim Cummins CBS News

For three decades, Cummins took the portraits of some of the music world's biggest names, from Wilson Pickett to Glen Campbell, and just about everyone in between. And he created a museum's worth of iconic cover art. Call him da Vinci of 'da vinyl.

"You couldn't be awe-struck in this, you had to be focused on what you were doing," he says. "Because there are no rewrites in photography."

He started in 1968 at a concert at Madison Square Garden. An amateur photographer, he snapped the stars right in front of him. He sent the pictures off to Atlantic Records on a lark.

"So about a week went by, and I don't get the stuff back, and I called and they said, 'Oh, we were just about to call you,'" Cummins recalls. "'It turns out we needed two of your pictures for album covers.' You have 'Aretha in Paris' and Sam & Dave 'I Thank You' covers."

Atlantic paid him $350 for the two cover shots, then hired him to shoot a hundred more a year.

"This was amazing! This was humbling," Cummins says. "This was a mouth-open kind of thing."

His private collection of 2,500 images was rotting away in Cummins' basement when he reached out to Bob Pokress, who owns a digital restoration company.

Jim Cummins' work is on some of the most popular albums of all time. CBS News

"The hardest part of the process was deciding which of the photos to work with first," Pokress says. "An embarrassment of riches -- they are stunning, and most of the photos -- the ones that aren't album covers -- hadn't been seen."

They are now being restored, one negative at a time, which gives Cummins a chance to examine the grand sweep of his life's work -- back to a time before we listened to music on our phones, when the album was king and Jim Cummins was the court photographer.

  • Jim Axelrod
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    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.