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TIME Picks the Top Magazine Covers of 2015

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2015 proved that the magazine Cover is more relevant than ever – breaking news, igniting conversations and moving the needle.

Our selection of the top 10 covers of 2015 displays an exquisite use of photography. To arrive at this Top 10, we looked at a range of categories and stories – from news, to celebrity, fashion and sports. We interviewed the architects behind these covers, including photographers, photo and creative directors as well as top editors, for their insight on how they were conceived and executed.

Of the most notable and enterprising are Vanity Fair’s reveal of Caitlyn Jenner, who was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, and New York Magazine’s brilliantly conceived and executed Cosby’s Women, photographed by Amanda Demme. In the mix is also Harper’s Bazaar’s dynamic portrait of Rihanna in a shark’s mouth by Norman Jean Roy, Rolling Stone’s stunning portrait of Adele by Theo Wenner, and the New York Times Magazine’s bold cover of Nicki Minaj by Erik Madigan Heck. We particularly loved how Carlos Serrao captured Chantae McMillan flying naked through the air on the cover of ESPN’s annual body issue, and how Pari Dukovic summarized what New York City is all about on the cover of Condé Nast’s Traveler.

We also wanted to call attention to the New York Times Magazine’s epic commission of the French artist JR on the topic of immigration in New York City and the California Sunday Magazine’s magical execution by the artist Amy Friend. Both reveal how delightful it can be for a magazine to partner with an artist to create something that transcends photography.

When it come to photojournalism, we chose 27-year-old Devin Allen’s dramatic picture from the Baltimore protests. The picture was first spotted on Instagram by TIME’s photo editors before being selected for the magazine’s cover. The picture paired with the line America, 1968 2015 make this cover.

Looking through this selection, there’s no doubt that a great cover is a collaborative effort. It’s a unique canvas where talented editors, art directors, photo editors, and photographers come together. With this unranked selection, we’ve witnessed that the cover still holds the power to be iconic and, at the very least, move and delight us.

Kira Pollack is TIME’s Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise.

Vanity Fair, July 2015. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. This cover was successful for a number of reasons: a well known subject; a major surprise; and a cresting cultural shift. We wanted to keep it completely under wraps – the images, the story, even the fact that we had the story – until the cover was released, which was quite a feat in this day and age. The whole shoot, and the preparation of the piece, were on complete lockdown with full security. The result was this iconic image by Annie Leibovitz at a point in time when the issue of transgender rights was really about to explode. —Graydon Carter, Editor of Vanity Fair Caitlyn had hardly gone out in the weeks leading up to our session. Her home is cut off and isolated, set back high on a hill in Malibu. It wasn't quite clear what to expect, but the setting helped create the story. The shoot was a cross between journalism and performance art. While there was a portable studio set up in the garage for cover tries, the rest of the house was the landscape for the photographs. Her bedroom, her bathroom, her living room, and of course the large picture windows looking out to the sea. We were not inventing a new person. Bruce was still there—Caitlyn was emerging. Not really surprising (working with a great Olympic athlete), Caitlyn's confidence and determination grew with each photograph. —Annie Leibovitz, PhotographerVanity Fair
New York Magazine, July 27-Aug. 9, 2015. Photograph by Amanda Demme. These women have one thing in common - Bill Cosby. One man and all of these women, and the suggestion of countless more (with the empty chair). They demonstrated courage, conviction, and strength as they came together for this cover – after so many years of hiding behind the horrible curtain of guilt, shame, and fear. This cover became the symbol for the longstanding hidden climate of sexual assault in America. And with its blunt message, we hope we were able to inspire action. —Jody Quon, Director of Photography, New York MagazineNew York Magazine
Traveler, November 2015. Photograph by Pari Dukovic. I asked Pari to shoot a love letter to New York City. Like the opening scene of Woody Allen’s 1979 film, Manhattan, or Bernice Abbott’s seminal images from the 1930s, we wanted to create images that are timeless and romantic, that reflect our nostalgic affection for the city. Pari shot film which is a nice nod to the iconic New York City images from the past. —Jennifer Miller, Photo Director, Conde Nast Traveler. It is a challenge to make a memorable image of a subject that has been photographed often. Especially when the assignment is the New York City skyline. Imagine seeing the skyline for the first time and how exhilarating it is to experience the energy and vibrancy of the whole city. I wanted to portray this visual impression in a painterly way. —Pari Dukovik, Photographer Traveler
Rolling Stone, November 19, 2015. Photograph by Theo Wenner. Before the shoot I looked at every picture that has ever been taken of her. It is very obvious how beautiful she is. She is always made up and has a set look. She walked into the studio, wearing a track-suit and her hair was all messy, she looked so understated and cool and beautiful, I wanted to shoot her like that. She has real depth to her. She is very intelligent, she is very funny, but there is also a real gravity to her. That’s what I wanted to portray and document. The picture that ended up being on the cover was the last frame from the whole day. —Theo Wenner, PhotographerRolling Stone
The New York Times Magazine, April 26, 2015. Photograph by JR. The image on this cover, by the French artist JR, was created exclusively for The New York Times Magazine for our special issue about walking New York. JR does huge pastings of photographs on various sites around the world. For our cover, he pasted a 150-foot-tall image of Elmar Aliyev, a 20-year-old who immigrated to the U.S. from Azerbaijan last August, onto the ground of the Flatiron Plaza. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of April 11, 2015, JR and his crew began pasting this image of Aliyev onto the pavement. The photograph had been printed out onto 62 strips of paper. The pasting took about three and a half hours. Later in the day, JR went up in a helicopter to make this picture for the cover. At 7:45 p.m. that night, the strips of paper were power-washed off the plaza. —Kathy Ryan, Director of Photography The New York Times Magazine The New York Times Magazine
Harper's Bazaar, March 2015. Photograph by Norman Jean Roy. The idea to ask Rihanna to swim with sharks came from Glenda Bailey, Harper’s Bazaar's Editor in Chief. She loves to ask celebrities to do mad things. The cover was my idea - I've always adored the behind-the-scenes pictures from Jaws, with Steven Spielberg goofing around in the shark's mouth. I love that subversion of pop culture iconography. Also, it was handily Jaws' 40th anniversary. So I suggested it to Glenda - including building a fiberglass shark - and she said yes. Rihanna's a total badass and loves a challenge. Her team was more worried than she was. She just thought it was "dope." The picture was photographed last December, at the Tampa Aquarium. We shot the subscriber cover in the shark's mouth, and then Rihanna did the dive. The shark's mouth shot was the most straightforward - although we had to build the thing locally and drive it down to Florida. The dive was pretty crazy - Norman Jean Roy, our photographer, has a scuba license so got in the water before Rihanna did. She did a number of dives, but one of the supervising divers grazed one of the sharks with his foot, resulting in them circling her. So it was swiftly up and out and over. The cover was exactly how I envisioned it. Against all odds! It's one of the best covers we've ever done. And why I do this job. —Laura Brown, Executive Editor, Special Projects, Harper's BazaarHarper's Bazaar
The California Sunday Magazine, April 5, 2015. Artwork by Amy Friend. Our April cover story chronicled how the legendary design firm Ideo is reimagining the way we die. The end of life is often associated with sadness, darkness, and emptiness, but we wanted to avoid these qualities. We loved the work of Canadian artist Amy Friend, specifically her series Dare alla Luce, in which she manipulates archival photographs with a needle and then projects light through the images. For the cover, we used an existing contemporary photograph of a woman in silhouette by John von Pamer, which Amy then worked with and re-photographed. The resulting image has an otherworldly, ethereal quality—a perfect metaphor for this story. —Leo Jung, Creative Director, and Jacqueline Bates, Photography Director at The California Sunday Magazine The California Sunday Magazine
The New York Times Magazine, Culture, October 11, 2015. Photograph by Erik Madigan Heck We commissioned Erik Madigan Heck to create this cover portrait of Nicki Minaj for our Culture Issue. We wanted an elegant, somewhat stylized, mask-like portrait, to illustrate the themes of identity and self-reinvention that are explored in the issue. Heck's bright, colorful palette and strong graphic sensibility give this portrait of Minaj an iconic, beautiful presence. —Kathy Ryan, Director of Photography The New York Times Magazine I have always been interested in nudging photography into the realm of illustration. With Nicki, I wanted to showcase her in a Warholian way, as this character who we all know in an iconic, flat, illustrative manner. —Erik Madigan Heck, Photographer The New York Times Magazine
TIME, May 11, 2015. Photograph by Devin Allen. The cover of TIME was huge and life changing, it's still a dream to me. It was amazing not just for me, but for my city; showing us how even the little people can change the world. Now I can tell people dreams really do come true. The TIME cover has made me somewhat of a D-list celebrity. But the most important thing is that it has put me in a position to help my community. I have started my own photography outreach program working with the youth on Penn-North. I thought it was an OK picture but I did not know how powerful it was. I never thought it would become an iconic image. —Devin Allen, PhotographerTIME
ESPN The Magazine, Body Issue. Photograph by Carlos Serrao. Chantae [McMillan] is a heptathlete, so I wanted to find a location that would enable her to do some aspects of her sport. I was inspired by the long jump sand pit, and that was a deciding factor in shooting in the desert sand dunes. Also, I like to shoot as much in camera as I can without post compositing, so it was important for her to be actually able to run, jump and throw. Unfortunately for us, this assignment was in the middle of the summer, so temperatures out there where 108 degrees Fahrenheit by 9:30 a.m. Fortunately for us, Chantae is amazing and extremely comfortable with herself, and just was willing to try anything for the camera. —Carlos Serrao, PhotographerESPN The Magazine

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