Celebrating The Times Magazine's Most Iconic Images

Celebrating The Times Magazine's Most Iconic Images When you work for a magazine that produces 52 issues a year, there is not a lot of time for reflecting on the past. But that's exactly what Kathy Ryan, the longtime photo editor of The New York Times Magazine, was asked to do for The New York Times Magazine Photographs, a revealing new book to be published by Aperture this October.

Edited by Ryan with support from Times magazine staff members Stacey Baker and Marvin Orellana, "Photographs" looks back at highlights of three decades of photography published in the magazine.

The result of over five years of work is a 447-page book, spanning 1,700 issues of the magazine and containing photographs from 140 talented image makers. The photographs are divided into sections by genre, including portraiture, documentary, photo-illustration, style, and special projects, and most are accompanied by behind the scenes insights and anecdotes from photographers, art directors, photo editors, story editors, and occasionally, subjects, obtained through interviews conducted largely by Ryan. She also contributed a foreword in which she discusses the magazine's signature practice of "cross assigning," or bending genres, offering insights into how photographers are paired with subjects. In addition, the former editor Gerald Marzorati wrote a preface that explains what gives these images their currency at a time when web-based imagery is ubiquitous.

GMP_5628.jpgGMP_5616.jpgKathy agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her ambitious project.

How did "The New York Times Magazine Photographs" come about?
Almost six years ago, Melissa Harris and Lesley Martin at Aperture asked me if I would create a book on the photographs that have appeared in The New York Times Magazine. I said yes, and so that was the beginning of it. When Chris Boot took over Aperture as the director in January this year, he was the catalyst for finally getting the book done. He really believed in this book and was behind it in a big way, giving me great editorial support and guidance.

What criteria were used to select the photos?

I chose the photos based on which images were the most powerful. I did a broad edit and then put up boards in my office. I found that often the photos that qualified for the book had an emotional undercurrent, and the great photographers get that. They pick up on that and give you something else, beyond the surface reality. Something that just made you stop and say, "Wow."

Visually there's a moment that a photo hits when it seems to transcend the immediacy of its purpose. Probably 95 percent of these photos were commissioned for the magazine, but there are some exceptions, in which a photographer came up with an idea and then we published it. Or they brought us a newsworthy portfolio. What gives them staying power and qualified them for this book was that they transcended that moment and that years later those images still had that incredible power.

What was the biggest challenge you found when putting together the book?

The biggest challenge with the book was its 33 years of work, and it was really daunting. The first couple of years I was working on it were so difficult because, how do you begin to tackle that?

Which shoots stand out in your mind as particularly memorable?

You know that one's hard to answer because the book is full of them, I think. My intention throughout was trying to convey to people a sense of the process, of how magazine photography comes to be. I wanted to make that easily accessible, and hope that by the end there's a greater understanding of how the great highly stylized studio portrait of a glamorous movie star comes to be, and how that picture in Afghanistan came into being. So my intention was to single out the best photos but then to go a step further and offer some words to accompany them. I like the idea that some of the more philosophical, articulate and thoughtful photographers provide some insight into a larger kind of understanding of what photography means, and then others are just playful. It's a nice mix.

Do you have any favorite photographs?
The book is full of my favorites, and it covers such a wide range, again, it's an unusual book in a sense that we have it all from the most powerful documentary photography that captures the most important news moments of our era, and then we have glamorous high-end portraits of celebrities, and we've got fine artists. It's a gathering of major photographic talent from the art world to the style world to the journalism world. That's definitely something that I think makes this book singular. And there's a lot of history in the book.


See related links:
On August 21, the Magazine published a cover story that revisited some of the subjects of these photos. Read that here.

Pre-order your copy of "The New York Times Magazine Photographs" from Amazon here.

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