Long before the photo shoots for our covers, our staff spends a lot of time talking about why we want to feature someone on our cover in the first place, and how we're looking to present them. Our goal is always to create definitive and honest cover photos that will look good long after they hit newsstands, and once we've got some image options, it's usually not too hard to settle on the ones that capture the right stuff. In this issue, we wanted to show Hannibal Buress as a brilliant dude who's skeptical of success but nevertheless poised for endless amounts of it, and PARTYNEXTDOOR as a quietly confident man who takes pride in making people feel great. I think our covers succeed in this, and complement one another.
But when we were starting to narrow down the final photos for our PARTYNEXTDOOR cover, there was another image that caught my eye first. In that one, dude's posture was peaceful and certain; he was making great eye contact; he looked sexy. More than the other portraits, it reminded me of a selfie—flattering and intimate, seeming to capture what he knew and liked about himself more than how he normally looked or acted. I loved the picture, and so did the other women I showed it to, but none of the men who saw it thought we should use it. I only polled a few people, and I'm sure there are women who'd hate it and men who'd like it. But we've got lots of different kinds of readers, and the guys who weren't feeling the photo had valid points, so I moved on.
The fact that this photo looked great to me and terrible to other people I trust and respect surprised me, but it shouldn't have. Images don't always convey what we hope they will. That's why it feels like a risk every time I share a photo with my face in it, or screenshot someone's music video for a blog post. Pictures travel so efficiently on social media, where consolidation has become a virtue, that it's easy to forget how misunderstood they can be.
This year, our annual Photo Issue is mostly about how to be savvy in a world where images can speak louder than the people who make them, or take on meanings no one anticipated. Whether you're trying to use photos to bring about social change, or document a vanishing scene, or just want to take party pics that honor everyone in them, we've got stories with real photographers to show you how.
We tried to go extra hard on the actual photos we featured in this issue, too. Next-up superstar Elle Perez debuts a body of work she made at school; it's about underground wrestlers and feels as much like sculpture as it does photography. Joyce Kim knocked her GEN F portrait of CL out of the park. We even tried to convince the printer to use one extra ink color on the cover this time. Everyone might have their own favorite picture, but the quality of the work's not up for debate.