TIME Picks the Top Photographic Magazine Covers of 2012

New York Magazine
New York Magazine, November 3, 2012. Photograph by Iwan Baan.

All of the circumstances perfectly lined up to make this picture possible. I was sort of unconsciously prepared for something like this — I had a car, I had the contact of the only helicopter that could fly that night over Manhattan. I had the right equipment that could shoot in the circumstances because it was pitch black. And then of course I was in town. I arrived the day before and I thought that was sort of the only way to show Manhattan in that stressful moment. You really saw two cities — one completely alive and vibrant as it’s always been, and then the whole downtown, completely dark and suddenly a completely different world.
I’ve flown many times over Manhattan by helicopter to produce aerial shots. So in a way I sort of had this picture in mind already. I think I only realized the true impact of the photo after it was published on New York Magazine's cover and got such an incredible response. The picture was literally sort of the perfect storm. It’s a strange moment — of course a terrible thing — but the picture has an eerie beauty at the same time.
-Iwan Baan, Photographer

Jody Quon, the photography director, and her team, saw a version of this picture in their collective heads, and sent Iwan Baan high over New York in a helicopter to try to get it. But when the picture came in, I think we were all startled by just how viscerally it illustrated the divisions we were trying to describe, at some length, in the magazine; also by its beauty. The picture wasn't at all easy to get, and Baan just nailed it — as message and art.
-Adam Moss, Editor-in-Chief, New York Magazine

The best photographs don’t always make the best covers. It takes a smart concept, a meticulously executed image, smoothly integrated typography and the combination of all those factors to create an immediate and lasting impact. Our top ten photographic covers of 2012 show exquisite use of photography.

The most notable is New York Magazine’s magnificent cover by photographer Iwan Baan of a half blacked-out Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy. It’s instantly iconic and will become one of the greatest covers of all time. In the mix is also W‘s stunning fashion cover image of Marion Cotillard, ESPN‘s high-concept “Fantasy Football” cover, depicting an NFL player in a magical forest with a unicorn, and a photojournalistic cover, the Economist’s powerful image documenting the personal toll of the conflict in Gaza.

We also decided to include two covers in the mix that were striking photo-based illustrations. An aged Obama on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek as well as a thoughtful commission by the New York Times Magazine for the visual artist Idris Kahn to reinterpret an iconic landmark on their London-themed cover.

A great cover is always a collaborative effort. To caption each of our selected covers, we spoke to a mix of editors, photo directors, art directors and photographers who took part during different stages of the creative process. In our selection, we refrained from choosing any TIME covers, though if we were to choose one, it would be Martin Schoeller’s arresting image of a mother breast-feeding her 4-year-old son, “Are You Mom Enough?”

Kira Pollack, Director of Photography

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