While conventional wisdom and dwindling sales of hard copies of magazines and newspapers dictate that the print industry is dying, the legacy of reporting and the imagery associated with the editorial is something that will live on forever – perhaps treasures for the next generation for those who built great wonders with photographs and the pen instead of blueprints. With popularity of image-driven apps and other social media tools, we’re arguably living in the golden age of visual sharing. Keeping in that same spirit, we’ve dug through the archives of some of the most well known and respected publications in the world to pick out photographs, stories and the anecdotes surrounding their origins for a compilation embracing everything from the horrors of the modern world to more uplifting captures. These are our choices for the 20 most memorable magazine covers of all-time.
Esquire – October 1966
“Oh my God – we hit a little girl.”
“M” by John Sack served as the cover story for Esquire’s October 1966 issue with the unmistakable black-and-white cover with the chilling statement, “Oh my God – we hit a little girl.” Chronicling an infantry company from its training at Fort Dix to battle action in Vietnam, the work remains the longest article to appear in the magazine.
One, two, three at the most weeks and they would give M company its orders — they being those dim Olympian entities who reputedly threw cards into an IBM machine or into a hat to determine where each soldier in M would go next, which ones to stay there in the United States, which to live softly in Europe, and which to fight and to die in Vietnam.
No matter. What agonized M this evening wasn’t what was in its cards but what was in the more immediate offing — an inspection! indeed, its very first inspection by its jazzy young Negro captain. So this evening M was in its white Army underwear waxing the floor of its barracks, shining its black combat boots, turning the barrels of its rifles inside out and picking the dust flecks off with tweezers, unscrewing its eardrums — the usual. The air was thick with the smell of floor wax and rifle oil, a moist aroma that now seemed to M to be woven into the very fabric of Army green. Minutes before, the company had heard a do-or-die exhortation by its bantamweight sergeant, Sergeant Milett. Get yourself clean for my sake, Milett had told M. “I’ve got a wife, three kids at home. I leave in the dark, I come home in the dark. I haven’t talked to them in thirty-six hours. I don’t know, maybe they’re dead,” using psychology, leaning against a two-decker bed, reaching an arm through the iron bedstead, beseechingly. “Well …” making a joke of it, “I left them enough food, I shouldn’t have to worry,” and getting to the point, “I got a boss downstairs, he got a couple bars on his collar, he is the boss I work for. Tomorrow afternoon he will inspect us: don’t make a jackassout of me!”
Read the entire piece here.
Time Magazine – June 21, 1968
“The Gun in America/The Gun Under Fire.”
With an illustrated cover created by iconic artist Roy Lichtenstein, its intended effect was to jar the readership about the current state of gun ownership in the United States in the wake of the assasination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy as he walked through the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel two weeks prior to the magazine being released. Taking literal aim at the rather lenient gun control laws, it still proves to be as valuable a read today as it was over forty years ago.
Though states and localities have a bewildering crazy quilt of 20,000 weapon laws, only two are on the federal books. One is the National Firearms Act of 1934, taxing interstate shipments of such gangster-style weapons as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. The other is the pallid Federal Firearms Act of 1938, prohibiting interstate gun shipments to felons. In 30 years, Congress has failed to enact a single new gun bill, thus allowing, as the President declared, “the demented, the deranged, the hardened criminal and the convict, the addict and the alcoholic” to order weapons by mail with no questions asked.
Time Magazine – January 2, 1939
Adolph Hitler as Man of the Year.
Time Magazine’s annual Man of the Year endowment to Adolph Hitler is the only one not to show the face of the person receiving the title and was awarded “for influencing the year’s news most ‘for better or for ill.’”
“But the figure of Adolf Hitler strode over a cringing Europe with all the swagger of a conqueror. Not the mere fact that the Führer brought 10,500,000 more people (7,000,000 Austrians, 3,500,000 Sudetens) under his absolute rule made him the Man of 1938. Japan during the same time added tens of millions of Chinese to her empire. More significant was the fact Hitler became in 1938 the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world faces today.”
Time Magazine – April 8, 1966
“Is God Dead?”
The April issue was the first instance where Time didn’t use an accompanying image for the cover – relying on the provocative title as a means to entice the reader. Spearheaded by editor Otto Fuerbringer who saw an opportunity to cash in on the counterculture sentiment of the time, the cover served as a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s much-quoted “God is dead” and holds the distinction of being one of “10 magazine covers that shook the world” according to The Los Angeles Times.
Esquire – April 1968
“The Passion of Muhammed Ali.”
Claiming status as a Conscientious Objector, Muhammed Ali famously stated, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong, they never called me n*****” when faced with the prospects of having three times failed to step forward following his induction into the US Armed Forces on April 28, 1967. After losing his title, photographer Carl Fischer’s magazine cover image was directly influenced by Andrea Mantegna’s c.288 painting of Saint Sebastian and whose inspiration came from art director George Lois. In an interview with Juxtapoz, Lois described the process of connecting with Ali and his hesitancy during the shoot.
I get Ali on the phone and told him that I need him in NYC for 2 days, and he says “Gee George, I can’t…”. And I said, “Fuck you, you’re not doing anything.”
There wasn’t a fight. He had no license to fight, and he would just go to colleges and give talks. He was funny as hell.
Anyways, so I said “I’m going to take a photo of you as Saint Sebastian, blah blah blah.” And Ali says okay. I told him to bring his pretty white fucking trunks and his pretty white shoes and bring your sorry ass.
The day of the shoot, I had looked at hundreds of pictures of the great painting of Saint Sebastian and they are all really bright. But I told Ali, “I want you to pose where your body is very quiet but your head is in pain because I don’t want to show your body like that. I want to show your body strong, but your head is in pain.”
So he’s looking at this postcard of the painting and he looks at it and says, “Hey George, is he a Christian?” And I say, “Saint Sebastian… yes he’s a Christian!”
And Ali says. “George I can’t pose as a Christian.” I said, “It’s a symbolic thing. Anyone in the world can look at this thing and understand the imagery. And the imagery doesn’t say that you’re a Christian, the imagery says that you are a martyr. And what I am saying is that you a martyr to your race, you are a martyr because of the war. It’s a combination of race, religion, and war in one image, you’re symbolizing it in one image.”
And he says, “George, I can’t pose as a Christian, this is against my religion.”
I go holy shit, “Who can I talk to? He didn’t know who. And I said, “Can I talk to Elijah Muhammad? Can you get him on the phone?”
It takes about 2 minutes, but Ali gets him on the phone, so I pick up and have about a 15 minute talk about what religion am I, how old am I, etc. I’m talking to him about symbolism, how Ali is a martyr, blah blah blah. Finally, Elijah asks to speak to Ali.
Then, Ali gets off the phone with him and says, “Lets do it!”
Rolling Stone – January 22, 1981
John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Photographer Annie Leibovitz has said the original concept for the now legendary John Lennon and Yoko Ono Rolling Stone cover was for both to appear nude in support of their album Double Fantasy. According to the The Los Angeles Times, “as legend has it, Lennon was game, shedding his clothes quickly, but Ono felt uncomfortable.” Leibovitz recalled for Rolling Stone, “I was kinda disappointed, and I said, ‘Just leave everything on.’ We took one Polaroid, and the three of us knew it was profound right away.” That same night, Dec. 8, 1980, he was shot and killed by a fan in front of his Manhattan apartment.”
Rolling Stone – January 2006
“The Passion of Kanye West.”
The photograph by David LaChapelle of Kanye West depicted as Jesus Christ was “not the most outrageous photograph from this marathon thirteen-hour cover shoot” according to Rolling Stone. LaChappelle said “I wanted to make it look exactly like the DVD cover of The Passion of the Christ, right down to the individual thorns.”
The New Yorker – July 21, 2008
“The Politics of Fear.”
Labeled “tasteless and offensive” by Barack Obama’s campaign spokesman Bil Burton, the satirical cartoon by Barry Blitt was called “the most memorable image of the 2008 election” according to The New York Times. Blitt was quoted as saying “Anytime I produce a cover, I always regret it afterward.”
Time Magazine - May 21, 2012
“Are You Mom Enough?”
According to “attachment theory/attachment parenting” which was coined by Dr. Bill Sears, a child forms a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong consequences – characterized by extended breast-feeding, co-sleeping and wearing your baby in a sling across your body. Photographed by Martin Schoeller, Jamie Lynne Grumet is seen breastfeeding her three-year-old son. “When you think of breast-feeding, you think of mothers holding their children, which was impossible with some of these older kids,” Schoeller said. “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.”
Rolling Stone – August 2013
Proving that bad press can be good for one’s bottom line, the Rolling Stone cover of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sold twice as many copies of the August 1 issue at the newsstand than its average according to Adweek. It should be noted that the self-portrait was published on the cover of the May 5 New York Times to considerably less criticism.
Playboy – October 1971
Photographed by Richard Fergley, Darine Stern has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of Playboy. Additionally, the composition of the photograph was used when Marge Simpson graced the cover in November 2009.
Rolling Stone – September 1993
As memorable a magazine cover ever produced, Patrick Demarchelier shot of Janet Jackson topless – covered only by then boyfriend Rene Elizondo’s hands – was produced without Rolling Stone’s in house team of professionals being involved. According to the Los Angeles Times, Jackson offered photos from the album artwork session to Rolling Stone for its September 1993 cover story and Rolling Stone director of photography, Laurie Kratochvil, said,”We had a choice of shooting her ourselves, but they offered us this, and the image is very powerful.”
Esquire – November 2004
Having been named Sexiest Woman Alive in 2004, the editorial revealed an actress once again trying to reinvent herself.
She materializes in the dark lobby bar at the Hotel Bel-Air, a wisp of smoke, late but somehow unexpected.
She looks at me attentively with large blue eyes. Her hair is long and chestnut colored, framing her porcelain face, her lips preternatural. She is smaller than I imagined, thin and insubstantial. Cloaked in a camel-colored overcoat, vaguely rakish, she brings to mind Amelia Earhart.
It is our second meeting. In the three nights since last we met, she has stayed in three different hotels — two in Beverly Hills and one in New York City, where she went, she says, partly because she had a business meeting, but also because her son loves to play in Central Park.
Her son’s name is Maddox Jolie, and she adopted him in Cambodia in 2002. Like his mother, the boy is airplane mad. She promised him on his second birthday that she’d learn to fly. And just the other day, on his third birthday, she test-flew her new airplane. (She calls it “our new plane.”) She soloed for the first time in August.
Mounting the barstool, she removes her coat to reveal a tight black sleeveless top over low-slung jeans. On her left shoulder, skin-colored makeup barely covers an old tattoo. In the course of the evening, she will allow me to moisten the tip of my finger with my tongue and try to wipe off the makeup, under which had once been written BILLY BOB. (Also, she will turn her back to me and pull up her shirt and bend over, all of which to show me her new tiger tattoo, which stretches roughly from her shoulder blades on down to the swell of her ass.) The shoulder itself, the arm, the neck, all of her, really, appears a bit too thin. She looks fragile, like a refugee.
Read the entire piece here.
GQ Italy – June 2008
Ana Beatriz Barros.
Leave it to notable voyeur/photographer Richard Kern to capture Brazilian beauty Ana Beatriz Barros without much on. While there aren’t any special anecdotes about this particular cover, Kern has a show with VICE that is a (NSFW) watch.
GQ – October 2008
It all makes sense. Terry Richardson. A young starlet. The tongue. It’s a recipe for a perfect cover – especially with a then 22-year-old Megan Fox and not a 22-year-old Miley Cyrus.
V Spain – Summer 2010
Thanks to a clever utilization of the magazine’s moniker and a stunning photograph by Mario Sorrenti, this cover delivers.
Life – Special Edition 1969
“To the Moon and Back.”
As mentioned in a retrospective that chronicled the great Space Race, it’s unfathomable to think that in our current 24/7 news cycle, we’d actually have to wait to see an account of something that would inevitably shape the way we see the world. But, that was exactly the case for the cover of Life – which ended up producing the now iconic image two weeks after the 1969 lunar landing.
Time Magazine – April 14, 1997
“Yep, I’m Gay.”
Back in 1997, and arguably at the height of her career, Ellen Degeneres announced to the world that she was gay. While she’s arguably one of the biggest female personalities in the media, it’s wise to remember that following the announcement, her show ran for only one more season (with a parental advisory disclaimer for the lesbian story lines), and following cancellation, she didn’t work in the business for three years.
“I hate that term ‘in the closet,'” says Ellen DeGeneres, the aforementioned sitcom star whose all-pants wardrobe and sometimes awkward chemistry with male ingenues was provoking curiosity from fans and reporters long before her sexuality became a minor national obsession. “Until recently I hated the word lesbian too,” she continues. “I’ve said it enough now that it doesn’t bother me. But lesbian sounded like somebody with some kind of disease.
Read the entire piece here.
The New Yorker – September 24, 2001
Twin Towers in Silhouette.
The cover – created by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly for the September 24, 2001 issue – received wide acclaim and was voted in the top ten of magazine covers of the past 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors. At first glance, the cover appears to be totally black, but upon close examination it reveals the silhouettes of the World Trade Center towers in a slightly darker shade of black.
Life – November 26, 1965
“The Blunt Reality of War in Vietnam.”
Paul Schutzer’s photograph of a Vietcong prisoner with his eyes and mouth taped shut is both a bitter reminder of the horrors that the Vietnam War brought as well as sorrow-filled remembrance of Schutzer who died in the field while covering the Six-Day War in 1967.