27 Jun The Magic of Magazines
At a time when Americans came to rely on the periodical for guidance and education on a variety of topics from housekeeping to gardening to sartorial advisement and trend direction to the latest scientific or technological advances, photography as a medium steadily increased as the dominant form of communication to complement everything from news stories to fashion spreads.
The American magazine matured in the mid 20th century, as European art directors, escaping unstable countries, immigrated to the United States with innovative and audacious viewpoints. Eager for new ways of expression, these art directors preferred the use of artistic and experimental photography over illustration. In due course, photographers blossomed and became celebrities in their own right. Richard Avedon, Herbert Matter, Edward Steichen, Lillian Bassman, Gordon Parks—to name a few—became just as acclaimed for their commercial work as their fellow fine artists of the time.
Advertising soon picked up on this trend, with myriad products and services all being photographed to grab and hold a reader’s attention and ultimately influence buying decisions.
Text and illustrations no longer held their interest.
These two photos cleverly employ a sense of whimsy to convey a consumerist message to post-war readers.
And, with the introduction of color imagery, magazines exploded in popularity. Color enriched the pages and brought a lushness to the various facets of print communication, providing a fresh and more direct impact. The viewer could experience the visual landscape in an almost three dimensional way.
Photography provided information, inspiration and aspiration to a nation that transitioned from the wartime period; to civil rights; to the moon landing; and onto the first African American model to appear on the cover of Vogue.
The Jewish Museum’s exhibition provides a comprehensive survey of images from chronological historical periods and covers a wide range of then current issues, lifestyle topics and social changes from these periods.
Many have said that magazines are now anemic in their influence at best and simply dead, at worst. That may be somewhat true, with the rise of social media. But nothing can away take that “fresh off the stands” feeling of a new issue, beckoning a reader to explore what lies beyond the cover. For this reason, I personally love magazines and the unique experience one can have sitting with the pages.
Modern Look: Photography and the American Magazine reignites the excitement that magazines once held for readers when they all anxiously awaited the arrival of the mail carrier with the latest monthly, holding wonders within and possibilities for the future.
Perhaps this exhibition will reignite the desire to buy a magazine once again.
Modern Look: Photography and the American Magazine runs through July 11.