1. Matthias Vriens: Pharrell Williams blows a bubble, The Face (January)
2. Matthias Vriens: Martin/Malcolm/Bernardo/Andy, Numéro Homme (Autumn/Winter)
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)
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)
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.
(left) Steven Klein: Madonna, Paris Vogue (August)
Among the other 2004 issues worth holding onto are two pegged to the summer Olympics: Ryan McGinley’s ecstatic underwater pictures of the U.S. swim team in The New York Times Magazine and Weber’s black-and-white portfolio of American athletes in Vanity Fair—a reprise two decades later of a 1984 Interview Olympics issue that’s since become a cult collectible. Virtually all the others in my tight Top 10 are fashion-related, including Annie Leibovitz’s “High Art,” photographed with typically restrained extravagance in the not-quite-finished Museum of Modern Art for Vogue. Leibovitz’s portrait work in Vogue and Vanity Fair is so flawlessly state-of-the-art she could have her own Top 10, but she’s also become a fine fashion photographer over the past few years, with a witty, Beaton-esque sense of theater. Of course she faces serious been-there, done-that competition from Steven Meisel, who, even in an off year, is hard to beat. His cross-dressing “Asexual Revolution” in the October W, with its topless girls and boys in heels, was silly and sensational, verging on self-parody. It wasn’t half as good (or as tantalizingly believable) as his “Night Clubbing” story in September’s Italian Vogue, or as spectacularly versatile as the 82-page portrait sequence that opened up January’s Italian Vogue, but it still got under your skin. And besides, it was in W, another marvelously supportive but even more handsomely oversize editorial environment, where pictures just pop. Steven Klein, who had an extremely productive if erratic year, looked his best in the May W with a smashing, sexy Naomi Campbell spread called “Showgirl.” The same month found him in need of a ruthless editor for an all-Brad Pitt issue of L’Uomo Vogue that was half genius, half delusional. I’ll stick to the genius part, thanks.
The New York Times Style Magazine
Welcome to the Club
America (makes Vibe look old-school)
Sweet Action (makes Playgirl look prehistoric)
Can These Magazines Be Saved?