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Insight: Caitlyn Jenner and the Power of the Magazine Cover

By David Schonauer   Tuesday June 2, 2015


Once again, a Kardashian-related story has broken the Internet.

The online world erupted yesterday when Vanity Fair  released the cover of its new issue, featuring a portrait of Caitlyn Jenner, the former Bruce Jenner, shot by Annie Leibovitz. From BuzzFeed to the Wall Street Journal, from Gawker and TMZ to Time.com, the story of the day was the VF cover. The Huffington Post topped its front page with the cover and a single-word headline: “Herstory.”

Anticipation for the issue and the story on Jenner’s transition had been building. The New York Times  pointed out that Jenner had spoken publicly about it in an interview with Diane Sawyer in April. But it was only yesterday that we learned Jenner’s new name.

“Call me Caitlyn,” proclaimed Vanity Fair’s cover line.

Inside, Jenner tells her story to Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Friday Night Lights. “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, 'You just blew your entire life,’” Jenner says.

The story was bound to be big. Bruce Jenner was among the most public of public figures—as the Times points out, he’s been an Olympic gold medalist, a cover model for Playgirl, an author and actor, and of course part of the Kardashian reality-TV milieu.

Aside from Jenner’s story, though, there is an interesting insight pertaining to the media and photography that can be gleaned from all this: That magazines still have astonishing power to set the cultural agenda, even in the era of the Internet.

It certainly helped that the Jenner cover photo was exceptionally beautiful, and that it was shot by a celebrated photographer. But beyond that was the force of photography itself to break through the clutter of words and pictures coming at information consumers from all sides, and the prominent position a magazine’s cover provides in the media fermament.

Yesterday, I happened to be speaking with Los Angeles-based photographer Art Streiber, who has shot a magazine cover or two in his career. The conversation almost immediately turned to the Vanity Fair cover. Streiber pointed out that even as magazines plow ahead with websites that publish original material and Instagram feeds that spin off in new visual directions, it’s the printed page, and the cover, that holds the brand together.

“The magazine cover is the window dressing, it’s the couture,” he said. “I still really believe that the printed magazine is the key to it all. That’s what Jimmy Fallon holds up when guests come on. He doesn’t hold up a tablet to show a website. The magazine cover is still this iconic presence.”

Is print dead? Not yet.

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