Do Not Recycle

The most stylish magazine photography of 2004

Best Covers

1. Matthias Vriens: Pharrell Williams blows a bubble, The Face (January)

2. Matthias Vriens: Martin/Malcolm/Bernardo/Andy, Numéro Homme (Autumn/Winter)

Matthias Vriens: Pharrell Williams blows a bubble, The Face (January)
Matthias Vriens: Pharrell Williams blows a bubble, The Face (January)

3. Phil Poynter: Lenny Kravitz nude, America (Summer)

4. Ryan McGinley: Michael Phelps, New York Times Magazine (August 8)

5. Steven Klein: Madonna, Paris Vogue (August)

6. Steven Meisel: "Great Expectations," Vogue Italia (September)

7. Bruce Weber: Justin Timberlake, GQ (September)

8. Irving Penn: Nicole Kidman, Vogue (May)

9. Raymond Meier: A toppled chair, The New York Times Style Magazine (Fall Design)

10. Tyen: "Utopia," Vogue Hommes International (Fall/Winter)

Best Spreads

Annie Leibovitz: "High Art," Vogue (November)
1. Richard Avedon: "Democracy 2004," New Yorker (November 1)

2. Ryan McGinley: "The Strokes," New York Times Magazine (August 8)

3. Steven Meisel: "Night Clubbing," Vogue Italia (September)

4. Steven Meisel: "Asexual Revolution," W (October)

5. Annie Leibovitz: "High Art," Vogue (November)

6. Bruce Weber: "Olympiad XXVIII," Vanity Fair (September)

7. Steven Klein: "Showgirl," W (May)

8. Philip-Lorca diCorcia: "La Belle Isabelle," W (November)

9. Charlie White: "2Player," Vogue Hommes International (Spring/Summer)

10. Stephen Shore: "High and Mighty," W (March)

Phil Poynter: Lenny Kravitz nude, America (Summer)
This is the space that, for the past nine years, I have traditionally filled with an overstuffed list of the best photo books of the previous year. This year, that list is available on the Voice's website and in its place is an even more idiosyncratic and compulsive compilation of 2004's best magazine photography—the images, spreads, covers, and entire issues that I just couldn't throw away. Granted, the function, frequency, and frank commercialism of magazines make them more ephemeral than books, but anyone who cares about contemporary photography can't afford to ignore the wealth of extraordinary work that appears week after week, month after month in periodicals around the world. And the work itself is far from ephemeral: Many photographers—including Edward Steichen, Paul Outerbridge, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White, Martin Munkacsi, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus—produced some of their most memorable images on assignment for magazines. Two influential and prolific legends, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, made their last editorial pictures this year, but another one, Irving Penn, still contributes regularly to American Vogue. Although the magazines that featured Frank's or Cartier-Bresson's work may not have the collectible clout of the artists' books, they have the advantage of putting the work in context, both historic and graphic. You don't need to be a fetishist to appreciate the impact of seeing Arbus's portfolio of eccentrics "The Full Circle" as it first appeared in the November 1961 issue of Harper's Bazaar between a Jorge Luis Borges short story and a pair of Avedon fashion photos, modeled by Gloria Vanderbilt. Or do you?

(left)Steven Meisel: "Asexual Revolution," W (October)
(right) Matthias Vriens: Bernardo: Numéro Homme (Autumn/Winter)
Context remains important: A good photograph tends to get lost in a bad magazine; a great magazine can make even a so-so shot look brilliant. Harper's Bazaar is desperately trying to arrest its slide into mediocrity, but it's turned into a black hole; terrific work disappears there every month. But Paris Vogue, under Carine Roitfeld and Fabien Baron, has cultivated the ideal editorial environment. Many of the same photographers who languish in Bazaar shine in these pages, where everyone's work looks fresher, fiercer, and razor sharp. Similarly, two of the best-looking magazines in the U.S., New York and GQ, are shrewdly remixed versions of old standbys. Even before its redesign completely kicked in, the photography in New York had taken a decided turn for the better; its quirky combo of young guns and established stars feels just right—classic but not in the least conservative. GQ, also smartly revamped, is much less uptight these days, thanks mainly to Bruce Weber, who returned to its pages in May after a 21-year absence. The shameless self-indulgence Weber is allowed elsewhere (see "Trunk Show," his inane elephant stunt in the January 2005 W) seems reined in here, but the work retains its trademark insouciance and erotic heat. Neither magazine has felt this confident in years. Also much improved but still clearly a work in progress: The New York Times Style Magazine. Though Raymond Meier's covers, especially the still lifes on the Design and Living issues, have been especially strong, the contents seem a bit unsettled. As long as that allows for work by Ralph Gibson, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Bruce Gilden, Robert Maxwell, and a Vik Muniz wire drawing of the Paris couture, however, that's fine by me.

Steven Klein: "Showgirl," W (May)
You've probably realized by now that we won't be discussing the photos from Abu Ghraib here. No question, those images will mark 2004 more indelibly than any of the work described on these pages. Forgive my focus on a different sort of visual history—a parallel universe that, while hardly oblivious to photojournalist concerns, takes genuine pleasure in entertainment, titillation, and escape. That said, Richard Avedon's "Democracy 2004" portfolio in the November 1 New Yorker—the photo reportage project he was working on when he died—would still be the first thing to go into my vault. Avedon made plenty of other arresting portraits for the New Yorker this past year (the last of which involved the gleeful mauling of artist Maurizio Cattelan), but this unfinished series turned his anxiety about the state of the union into a tribute to the diversity, dedication, and resilience of its citizens.
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