Keith MacMillan is a British photographer and designer whose album cover artwork for the early progressive rock labels Nephenta, Neon, and especially Vertigo are now considered 'iconic' and helped defining the style of a whole generation of music. MacMillan is not credited with his real name on the album sleeves, instead he used Marcus Keef or just Keef.
When Phonogram launched its groundbreaking progressive sub-label Vertigo in 1968, MacMillan was hired to design the new label's first album cover, Colosseum's Valentyne Suite. Many more Vertigo covers should follow over the years, but this first work already established his unique style in a perfect way.The photo shows a solitary figure, unrelated to the band or any of its members, in a mysterious landscape setting.
By the use of infrared film, the image has a very distinctive false-colour effect, creating a rather dark and gloomy atmosphere, intensfying the mystery. This atmosphere was a clean break with the flower power, peace and love, sunny psychedelic style that was established for alternative rock music covers at the time. And the visual style that McMillan created helped turning the Vertigo label into both a commercially successful enterprise and one of the most collectible record labels of all time.
The Vertigo sleeves were all gatefold style with the coverart spanning the entire width of the cover, both front and back, giving MacMillan's photography enough room to create a captivating, almost like storytelling effect. Additionally, the inside of the gatefold often had another photo that complements the outer cover art, as MacMillan was usually in charge of designing the entire cover. There were just very few elements as text, logos or liner notes on these sleeves that would break this design and distract from the imagery.
Several of the early Vertigo releases used the exact same false-colour style as the Colosseum cover, among them the Affinity LP and probably most prominently the first Black Sabbath album. But MacMillan also did a lot of work for other labels, some of them no less iconic than his Vertigo sleeves, like the famous 'dress cover' for David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World, that features a photo of Bowie in a Victorian setting, wearing a dress.
Keith MacMillan was very successful, and with that busy, as an album cover designer from 1968 to 1976, when he moved on to produce video promotional films for the music industry (as Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights music video). He said he'd "done basically over a thousand [covers] by then," so he was "a little bored with it," and turned to film instead.
The cover gallery below can show only a fraction of what are known Keith MacMillan/Marcus Keef covers, but we can safely assume that there are quite a few album covers out there, that were designed by McMillan but not credited to him, as the total of known Keef covers is closer to one hundred than to one thousand now.