TIME Picks the Top Photographic Magazine Covers of 2012

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The best photographs don’t always make the best covers. It takes a smart concept, a meticulously executed image, smoothly integrated typography and the combination of all those factors to create an immediate and lasting impact. Our top ten photographic covers of 2012 show exquisite use of photography.

The most notable is New York Magazine’s magnificent cover by photographer Iwan Baan of a half blacked-out Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy. It’s instantly iconic and will become one of the greatest covers of all time. In the mix is also W‘s stunning fashion cover image of Marion Cotillard, ESPN‘s high-concept “Fantasy Football” cover, depicting an NFL player in a magical forest with a unicorn, and a photojournalistic cover, the Economist’s powerful image documenting the personal toll of the conflict in Gaza.

We also decided to include two covers in the mix that were striking photo-based illustrations. An aged Obama on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek as well as a thoughtful commission by the New York Times Magazine for the visual artist Idris Kahn to reinterpret an iconic landmark on their London-themed cover.

A great cover is always a collaborative effort. To caption each of our selected covers, we spoke to a mix of editors, photo directors, art directors and photographers who took part during different stages of the creative process. In our selection, we refrained from choosing any TIME covers, though if we were to choose one, it would be Martin Schoeller’s arresting image of a mother breast-feeding her 4-year-old son, “Are You Mom Enough?”

Kira Pollack, Director of Photography

New York Magazine, November 3, 2012. Photograph by Iwan Baan.All of the circumstances perfectly lined up to make this picture possible. I was sort of unconsciously prepared for something like this — I had a car, I had the contact of the only helicopter that could fly that night over Manhattan. I had the right equipment that could shoot in the circumstances because it was pitch black. And then of course I was in town. I arrived the day before and I thought that was sort of the only way to show Manhattan in that stressful moment. You really saw two cities — one completely alive and vibrant as it’s always been, and then the whole downtown, completely dark and suddenly a completely different world. I’ve flown many times over Manhattan by helicopter to produce aerial shots. So in a way I sort of had this picture in mind already. I think I only realized the true impact of the photo after it was published on New York Magazine's cover and got such an incredible response. The picture was literally sort of the perfect storm. It’s a strange moment — of course a terrible thing — but the picture has an eerie beauty at the same time. -Iwan Baan, Photographer Jody Quon, the photography director, and her team, saw a version of this picture in their collective heads, and sent Iwan Baan high over New York in a helicopter to try to get it. But when the picture came in, I think we were all startled by just how viscerally it illustrated the divisions we were trying to describe, at some length, in the magazine; also by its beauty. The picture wasn't at all easy to get, and Baan just nailed it — as message and art.-Adam Moss, Editor-in-Chief, New York Magazine
M Le magazine du Monde, April 28, 2012. Photograph by Toby Melville—Reuters. As the French election season was in full bloom, our paper decided to write a story revisiting the meetings Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, held with our French presidents in the course of her rein. She is such a highly recognizable iconoclast figure that I knew I could ‘play around’ with her silhouette and try different things. We sadly did not have the possibility of assigning our own photographer so we looked at a number of pictures by wire agencies and freelance photographers.The choice fell on this particular picture of the Queen seen from behind, less classic, and certainly more surprising to our readers then seeing her face. The crown and royal attributes helped evoke the fact that all our French presidents come and go, yet she lives on, firmly seated on her throne. The blue and red background, along with the queen's white ermine coat and white hair, seemed to reinforce the visual impact of a cover that to some degree needed to include a hint to our French presidential elections since that was the angle of the story. In order to reinforce the French angle and suggest the French flag I also decided to flip, with the agency's consent, Toby Melville’s picture.-Eric Pillault, Creative Director, M Le magazine du Monde
W Magazine, December 2012. Photography by Tim Walker.This picture was a twist on Hans Christian Anderson crossed with The Nutcracker crossed with fetish rubber wear. The red backdrop was made out of latex in response to Jacob K's use of fetish wear. The face and limbs coming through the backdrop were something we discovered on the day by playing around on the set. The set designer, Andy Hillman, stood behind the backdrop to steady Marion on the rocky pathway of the rose garden where we shot, on the outskirts of Paris... as Andy braced her fall I noticed how good the shape of his hands looked forcing through the rubber. Marion cottoned on to this quickly... et Voila... the rubber man morphing through the rubber was created! It was genuinely a spontaneous development through playing around on the set.-Tim Walker, Photographer This year, W celebrated its 40th anniversary and 40 years of storytelling through fashion photography. Like W, Tim is a storyteller. It's never just about the clothes or the models; it's about the narrative. His dream-like sets create a fantasy, which is the approach W has always taken with fashion photography. Tim's unforgettable and wildly imaginative photos of Marion Cotillard from W's December issue really bring this concept to light.-Stefano Tonchi, Editor-in-Chief, W
Vanity Fair, December 2012. Photographs by Mark Seliger.I met with Judd Apatow, who guest edited the issue, in June and presented a bunch of ideas to him. He wanted the covers to feel classic, but have a real kinetic energy to it, so the viewer would laugh and have a lively experience. We came up with the idea of recreating the variety shows of the '70s—the game show host with the slick hair, the women dressed up as sexy bunnies—and photographed everyone together for the most part, which was great because all the actors ended up playing off each other. Judd had specific ideas about what he wanted, and I had my own ideas, and then we went to Colleen Atwood, an amazing costume designer who's worked with Tim Burton, among others, to map these ideas. We took them to the comedians and said, "How would you like to be a gay disco cowboy?" Or, "You’re going to be Evel Knievel—how do you feel about that?" The more enthusiasm we got from people, the more excited we became. In the end, I think these covers became a pretty comprehensive look at the world of comedy as it is now. The photographs really complemented the writing, but the covers are really about a high energy, '70s, super-fun party.-Mark Seliger, PhotographerActually, [my wife] Leslie Mann thought of the idea. We went online and looked at a ton of Vanity Fair covers and tried to think of something unique. She had the idea of doing something big and bright, like those big pictures of Goldie Hawn from Laugh-In. That led to an idea of a cover that encapsulated all of those variety shows from the 60s and early 70s. We didn't want it to be a straight parody, but a bizarre combination of of people dressed like those characters and others where you weren't really sure who they were. The complicated part was coming up with all of the costumes and getting all the comedians to sign off on the idea. I work with comedians so often that I knew I had to talk to them weeks in advance—each costume is a joke, so they have to like the joke. It was a massive job—and Colleen Atwood, who created the costumes, was really the unsung hero in coordinating everyone—but it was obviously so much fun.-Judd Apatow, Guest Editor, Vanity Fair
The New York Times Magazine, March 2, 2012. Photo Illustration by Idris Khan. In November 2011, Kathy Ryan emailed to ask if I would be interested in making a series of images for a special photography issue about London to be published in the 2012 Olympic year. I had always wanted to make a body of work on the most celebrated tourist sights of London: The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's, The Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge. My work is about repetition, and I kept thinking about how many times these places had been photographed since photography existed. Billions. But for these images, I wanted to use found photography so I roamed the London streets and bought postcards from the many tourist shops/vendors and collected around a hundred different postcards for each piece. I then sourced some vintage images online to complete my collection. I wouldn't necessarily use the whole image to create the composite, but photograph different fragments and bring them together. By doing this it created an image of stretched time capturing the essence of the building in a poetic and rhythmical way. -Idris Kahn, Photographer I had been a huge admirer of Idris Khan's work for several years and had been hoping to commission him to do something for our magazine. I was lying in wait for just the right moment that would call for the abstract, impressionistic nature of his imagery, and when Hugo Lindgren decided we should do a photo issue on London, I knew this was our moment. My thinking was that Idris would have the ability to reinvent the familiar look of London, so it was great to find out that he was interested in creating his own 'postcards' of London — images of the city's most famous landmarks, such as Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral and the London Eye. He would gather hundreds of existing images from the Internet and postcard shops around London and combine them into new, painterly Idris Khan pictures. This was perfect for us because it was a nice way to show the cliché landmarks of London in an entirely new way. And graphically, they added a nice note to the visual mix of the issue. When the London Eye photograph arrived, it was clearly a stunner, one for the ages. It announced itself as the cover from first sight. -Kathy Ryan, Director of Photography, The New York Times Magazine
The Economist, November 24, 2012. Photograph by Bernat Armangue—AP Covering a conflict has never been a pleasure, but since I became a father a year ago, war has become even harder to cover. This day was particularly complicated; 11 members of the Daloo family had been killed when an Israeli missile struck the family’s two-story home in Gaza City, and I spent most of the day taking pictures of bodies being pulled out from beneath the rubble. I took this picture at the end of the day. The morgue was crowded and very noisy. Behind me, a few journalists were filming and taking pictures of four dead children of the Daloo family. In front of me, a group of men that had just stormed into the room were facing the cruel reality of discovering the dead body of a loved one. Everything was happening very fast, but I remember seeing a teardrop falling over the inert hand and whispering “ma’a salama” (goodbye in Arabic). I’ve always thought that war brings out the best and the worst in humans. To me, this was a sad and tender moment of love. -Bernat Armangue, Photographer As we went through photographs for this cover, there were endless pictures of devastation. With these sort of covers, you can show lots of burned out buildings and so on, but suddenly we came across this kind of close, intense image of the man holding his relative's hand. What we quite liked about it was that it was sort of universal—he's Palestinian, but it could have been someone on either side. It was just simple, pure suffering. It's the kind of picture that, when you’re going through a pile and first see it, you don't immediately recognize how powerful it is until a closer look. And what's great about it is that he’s everyman. It’s the way that anybody would feel in that situation. We don’t know precisely who he was or what he was doing, but it doesn't matter, because his raw suffering is so basic that we all understood.-John Micklethwait, Editor-in-Chief, The Economist
New York Magazine, August 6, 2012. Photograph by Tim Flach—Getty Images.Art Director Randy Minor and photo editor Lea Golis were noodling with various crops of these lips until it became difficult to tell that they were lips at all or whether either kisser was a man or a woman, which made the picture that much more mysterious . Then when Design Director Tom Alberty put the word Sex in that old 60s font in the space between the mouths, the cover, to our eyes, became almost erotic – and yet it's just a little kiss, really. The cover's success is in the magic of framing.-Adam Moss, Editor-in-Chief, New York Magazine
Rolling Stone, March 2012. Photograph by Nadav Kander.Not only living in the same city as Paul, but living only a mile apart, added to the enjoyment and occasion of photographing a Beatle in the very same huge recording studio that they recorded some of their greatest works. When Paul picked up his guitar and sang to me, making up words about me as he sang along, that was a pretty special memorable moment.-Nadav Kander, PhotographerIt's not easy to shoot Paul McCartney mostly because he's been in front of the camera for 50 years, and often the photographs of him come off as contrived, even corny.I really think it captures McCartney's personality in a simple kind of way. There's no pointing at the camera or flashing of the peace sign--the kind of thing you often seen in pictures of him. It's just Paul McCartney being whimsical and playful.-Jodi Peckman, Creative Director, Rolling Stone
Bloomberg Businessweek, November 12, 2012. Photo Illustration by Justin Metz.Josh Tyrangiel (Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek) asked if we should age Obama four years for the post election cover? I said 'Yes, that's a good idea — let's do that.' We used Justin Metz in the UK, who does all our Photoshop work (he currently does like 50% of our covers). So he aged both Obama and Romney. We aged them too much really — deliberately. It needed to be a bit too much in order for them to look any different and for it to be a bit of a shock.-Richard Turley, Creative Director, Bloomberg Businessweek
ESPN The Magazine, July 2012. Photograph by Chris Buck. Up until a couple of days before the shoot there were some serious questions about whether running back Arian Foster would pose with a unicorn. Originally we’d discussed the idea of him riding it, perhaps amongst fluffy clouds, and it was probably that image that made him nervous and led to him back out at first. Senior Photo Editor Stephanie Weed and I discussed a number of alternate ideas that could be brought to Karen Frank and John Korpics, but she also had this strange confidence that it would eventually work out with the unicorn. And, of course she was right.The shoot itself was comparatively easygoing. We had a great team of set builders (John Geary and co.) who put together our enchanted forest, but it was only once the unicorn itself was brought in that it all came together. One of the cool things about the final image is that we did very little retouching to finish it off, as it was pulled together so nicely on set.-Chris Buck, Photographer Chad Millman, Scott Burton, John Korpics and I met [at ESPN] to discuss the Fantasy Football cover. The action hero approach, we felt, had been done over and over again and we wanted to come up with something more playful and fresh. When we started to explore the idea of fantasy, someone blurted out: "Well, we've always wanted to shoot an athlete riding a unicorn." We pounced on that idea, expanding it to include an enchanted forest setting. The next challenge was convincing our cover subject, Arian Foster, to play along. After some back and forth, and with the caveat that he would not ride the unicorn, Foster agreed. The next step was getting Chris Buck on board as the photographer. As anyone who's ever worked with Chris knows, he is a great collaborator, and he was full of ideas for the set. Stephanie Weed handled production for the shoot, ensuring that our vision — unicorn, butterflies, and woodland creatures — came to life. -Karen Frank, Director of Photography, ESPN The Magazine

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