In keeping with one of our themes for the month of February, here are five magazine covers that generated buzz for their controversial nature – all shot in glorious analogue! Just a little warning, though: these images might not be safe for viewing at work!
The very definition of controversial is quite broad. For one, you could be referring to anything – politics, sports, fashion, and entertainment among many others. Another factor is that we each have individual considerations, beliefs, standards, and taboos when deeming something as such. For a long time, the covers of the magazines have played host to such controversial images – sometimes done intentionally to drive a point home, to express an artistic vision, or to simply generate buzz; other times it’s done with one or more of aforementioned things in mind, but something goes wrong in the execution and the end product garners flak.
Placing naked models up front in the covers is one of the most common subjects of controversy, a longstanding practice especially by fashion and entertainment titles. Unfortunately, no matter how they’re artfully done, it’s almost always that they’re immediately stamped as controversial. In this week’s installment, in chronological order, we’re shedding light onto five of the most talked about, now-iconic magazine covers.
Esquire, August 1966
This cover featuring actress Angie Dickinson was photographed by Frank Bez. Although it featured on Esquire, it turns out that Bez actually didn’t conceptualize this specifically for the magazine. It was a collaborative work between the actress and the photographer, who wanted to shoot a “non-nude nude.” The resulting spec shot was sent by Bez’s agent to Esquire, who immediately liked it. In fact, they liked it so much that they’ve gone on to recreate the classic pose a few more times on subsequent covers.
Playboy, October 1971
At the time of this issue’s publication, it was considered “rare” for publications to feature an African-American model on its covers. In fact, this one with model Darine Stern on it was Playboy’s first in its then 18-year history. Granted, Stern wasn’t the first African-American to grace the cover of said magazine – Jean Bell was featured a year earlier albeit with four others – yet she was the first to make a solo appearance. Anyway, Stern’s cover was shot by Richard Fegley while art designer Len Willis came up with the idea of having the model sit on a chair whose back was shaped like the Playboy bunny silhouette.
Rolling Stone, January 1981
In a chilling coincidence, then Rolling Stone chief photographer Annie Leibovitz took this photograph of couple John Lennon and Yoko Ono just hours before the former was assassinated. Leibovitz originally wanted to shoot only Lennon, and Ono was only included on Lennon’s insistence. Leibovitz acquiesced to this request although she wanted both to pose in the nude. But Yoko would only go as far as taking her top off, hence this photograph. Leibovitz, Lennon, and Ono all liked the result, and it seems people in the industry too as it was lauded by the American Society of Magazine Editors’ the best cover in the last 40 years.
Vanity Fair, August 1991
After working for Rolling Stone, Leibovitz moved to Vanity Fair where she shot this cover also known as More Demi Moore. It was to accompany a cover story about the then seven-month pregnant actress. Moore was 28 years old at the time, an A-list celebrity married to another A-list celebrity Bruce Willis, and carrying their second daughter. The intention in shooting Moore in this manner was “to portray pregnancy with a celebrity in a way that was bold, proud and understated in a[n] ‘anti-Hollywood, anti-glitz’ manner.” Unfortunately, there were people objected and deemed it “morally objectionable.” In any case, this cover was elevated to a respectable stature. Like the Lennon couple photograph, Moore’s has been regarded as one of Leibovitz’s finer works.
Rolling Stone, September 1993
Just like Dickinson’s cover for Esquire, this one featuring then 24-year old pop star Janet Jackson wasn’t created specially for Rolling Stone. If it seemed familiar, you most likely have seen it as album art to Jackson’s fifth studio album janet. – only that one featured only her face. The story was that although Rolling Stone had the option to photograph the singer themselves, they ended up picking this one shot by Patrick Demarchelier and offered by her camp. “They offered us this and the image is very powerful. With the album you get the face on the front and the stomach and legs on back. We get the middle part,” Rolling Stone director of photography Laurie Kratchovil said.
Oh, and those hands that served as Jackson’s handbra? Reports say that those are Rene Elizondo’s, the singer’s boyfriend at the time.
Like this article? Check out our Top Five List series in the Lomography magazine!