In any creative process, there are a whole load of decisions that shape the final outcome. These range from the hugely significant to the seemingly small, but taken together they map the path to the image, the track or the film that is released into the world.
For Dominic Flannigan, the creative director of the LuckyMe record label, the cogs start whirring as soon as he first hears a new track in demo form. The final decisions on album artwork are approved once he sees the test pressings. “So the creative process of the work we produce for these records can take up to a year, depending on our release schedule,” he explains.
He first met the American photographer Yumna Al-Arashi back in 2010 when she was touring with the rapper Theophilus London. Immediately he made a connection between her and Sam Obey, aka Obey City. “I think I made an immediate association to her work defining young New York, as I see in Sam,” Dominic explains. “There’s an energy there in her early point-and-shoot images that I knew would fit, but it was seeing her water pictures that everything clicked for me. For a start they have a slight reference to this famous Toni Frissell cover for the Bill Evans and Jim Hall album Undercurrent, which I have blown up in the studio. That was a great starting point for me.”
Yumna Al Arashi: Merlot Sounds for Obey City
Champagne Sounds, Obey’s first release on LuckyMe, dropped in 2013. It was “camp and fun and conceived to be this bright dance record – the best of his early demos,” Dominic says. The second record, Merlot Sounds, released in 2015, was always going to be different – “it was about Sam working with vocalists and friends in New York and making new contemporary music for us.”
For the artwork, Sam knew from the start he wanted to create a series that linked the two records but felt relevant to their different artistic qualities. “From Yumna’s water images, I could establish a series and metaphor that worked on a number of levels for Sam,” he says.
Yumna’s work is eclectic, but water recurs as a theme throughout her portfolio. “It is my element,” she says. “It represents so much that is so important to me. It’s a reminder of how small and powerless we are. It allows room for disconnection, total submission, and beauty.”
Yumna Al-Arashi: Merlot Sounds for Obey City
She says it was the “strong trust and creative bond” with Dominic that drew her to working with Lucky Me, and the pair went through her water-based work together to find the right shots that would work for Obey’s two albums. On Champagne we see a model in a swimming pool, shot from under the water line (the reverse has a foot trailing through some bubbles). By Merlot we are in the ocean, and the figure we see bobs just above the waves. It’s a neat visual reflection of Sam’s creative evolution, communicative without being cheesy, and Yumna’s talented eye for unusual composition makes it very atmospheric.
The lone female is another cornerstone of Yumna’s work and she excels in presenting them in original ways. “I love strong female figures,” she says. “I document them and share their beauty because they inspire me, and I believe they can inspire others as well.”
But Yumna is not an artist that is easy to categorise. Raised in Washington DC where her dad was a diplomat, she studied politics and the Middle East at university and is entirely self-taught when it comes to taking photos.
Yumna Al-Arashi: Champagne Sounds for Obey City
“I play in a lot of different arenas,” she says, “activism, feminism, fine art, fashion, politics, travel. They all feed off of each other in strange ways for me, and there’s always new things to learn and create.
“I can’t imagine only stepping foot in one world; I love expanding my knowledge, allowing different things to inspire and influence me. We have all these resources at our fingertips, how could you not? Life would be so dull if you didn’t take the time to learn about and indulge in the world around you.”