Arthur Hochstein's 15 Favorite Time Magazine Covers

Arthur Hochstein's 15 Favorite Time Magazine Covers
Arthur Hochstein was the art director of Time magazine from 1994 to the end of 2009. He created over 1000 covers during that time, including some he did as deputy to Rudy Hoglund before 1994. Hochstein created what I consider the greatest contemporary body of cover design at any one magazine over the past 15 years. Hochstein's Time covers are by turns momentous, funny, pointed, provocative, intelligent, and highly creative. They feature the top photographers (and occasionally illustrators) in the business, along with Hochstein's own considerable creative Photoshop work. To my mind this is as close as contemporary American cover design will get to the legendary work of George Lois at Esquire in the 60s and 70s

Hochstein's Time covers skewed to the homemade, self-created. An early adapter to Photoshop, he created many of the images himself with stock and archival photography and found images (he used the same globe of the world from his office for at least six covers!). There's a sense of creativity, fun, excitement, passion, and ingenuity that is lacking from many of today's highly-scripted and tested magazine covers. I can remember sitting in Hochstein's Time office one afternoon a few years ago and watching him work on a cover on two computer screens, with a mouse in each hand, gleefully manipulating and changing the image. This is a person who loves the process of visual creation, and it comes through in the printed covers. Hochstein's bespoke imagery is reminiscent of much of the work currently appearing on the covers of alternative newsweeklies like The Dallas Observer, Riverfront Times, Miami New Times, and Westword, although with a much greater budget and resources.

While we await the inevitable book collection of his work, here is Arthur Hochstein on his favorite covers and how they came together. This is a great inside look at the sausage-making process of creating covers at the largest American newsweekly.



Arthur Hochstein: My 15 Favorite Time Covers (That I had something to do with, in no particular order)

Even in today's world of multiple media sources, the cover of Time magazine is still a great gig for artists and photographers, and an honor for most subjects as well. During my years as art director I was in charge of producing roughly 1000(!) covers. Picking my top 15 was a tough assignment. In doing all those covers, I had the great pleasure of collaborating with many of the  top artists in and out of magazine publishing--Matt Mahurin, Gregory Heisler, C.F. Payne, Tim O'Brien, Michael Deas, Platon, Anita Kunz, Michael Elins, Robert Rauschenberg, Herb Ritts...too many to mention. Although I skewed this list toward the offbeat, the historic, or covers that I had a larger hand in, I want to thank all the great folks who made the Time covers so special.

(Above): The End of Cowboy Diplomacy, July 17, 2006. This cover was a thoughtful essay on the failings of the "either-you're-with-us-or-you're-against-us" style of the Bush approach to foreign policy. The Texas expression "All Hat and No Cattle" came to mind, and it was just a matter of execution. This could have been a cartoon or a traditional illustration, but I'm a big fan of making covers from found objects or homemade elements. So I borrowed a cowboy hat from a guy in the tech department who always wore one to work and shot it in our in-house studio. The boots are from a George Bush action figure, which my invaluable assistant Skye Gurney procured from a store in Times Square. After that, it was just a matter of getting the scale right.


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What Will Happen When We Leave Iraq?" July 30, 2007. I've always thought that some of the best covers have a poster-like quality: simplicity, strong typography and a clear image. Take away the border and the logo and there is still a complete image. The subject was "What will Iraq look like after the U.S. pulls out?" I had to show a hypothetical, and that called for a conceptual approach. The primary element was typographic--remove the A from IRAQ and fill it with the American flag. I tried several options, including pulling the A off to the side with a rope. But when I tried removing it from above it took on added power, because it echoes the U.S. withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. The helicopter came from a stock agency; there's a story behind that, but it'll cost you a cocktail(!) to hear it.

"What a Mess..." October 16, 2006. On the heels of yet another Republican scandal, the peccadillos of Congressman Mark Foley, Time decided that the tipping point had come. We didn't want to run Foley's picture--he wasn't really an important or well-known politician, so I went fishing for ideas. I searched stock agencies for good photos of elephants (GOP, of course) to see if any images would spur an idea or become part of a photo illustration. My search led me to this great picture of an elephant's rear end by the legendary crime photographer Weegee, done while the circus was in New York. The big trick was selling the editor (as always!), and I used an old tactic: when another editor, a trusted elder, came into my office and saw the cover on my screen, he loved it. So I told him to tell the boss before I presented it; that gave him the license to like it without worrying that it was over the line. From the time it was published, it was known in-house as "The Elephant's Ass Cover." It won an ASME award as the best conceptual cover of the year.


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Love Him! Hate Him! December 1, 2003. Trying to be "fair and balanced," Time did a cover on the polarizing effect George W. Bush had on the nation. (Most of the rest of the world seemed to share one opinion.) The cover was an exercise in photo editing; I needed to find an almost straight-on picture that had that certain quintessential Bush expression that looked like he just got banged in the head by a 2X4. The smoochy kiss and black eye telegraphed the opposing points of view. Both were done in Photoshop; the fun part was going around the office collecting lipstick samples from willing staffers. The cover lines needed to be balanced with the visual elements and terse enough to make the point. I thought the cover had a certain "cheeky" quality that evoked the spirit of the old George Lois Esquire covers.

Why Voters Don't Trust Clinton, April 20, 1992. This was the cover for the launch of a sweeping redesign (dubbed T2, and drubbed as well). The story dealt with how Clinton's candidacy could be derailed by his slippery public image; remember Slick Willy? One of the objectives of this cover was to draw even more attention than usual to the issue; we wanted to make sure readers knew this was a different sort of Time magazine. Sometimes literal thoughts lead to a striking visual; if people had a negative image of Clinton, why not use a negative image? So I took a color headshot of Clinton, turned it greyscale and the inverted it. As is often the case, the biggest hurdle was the sales job. When you launch a redesign, you don't want to risk alienating readers with too much change, so you often soft-peddle the cover. I'm glad that didn't happen here.


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How to Save the Earth, August 26, 2002. This one is a tough choice. It may not be the most memorable, but I love that idea that with a Nikon Coolpix camera, a Rand McNally globe, and a terrace with some potted flowers, you could bring a concept to life and have it look like a bit of a production. Fortunately, I had all three at the time; the globe was in my office for years, and I used it on at least a half dozen covers. This one stuck with me because it illustrates my belief that you can't put a price tag on ideas or creativity. Good design needn't cost a penny more than bad design, and oftentimes it's cheaper. This idea didn't start as a sketch--the more I worked with digital components, the more I began to "think" in sync with the technology and stopped looking at Photoshop as a mere production tool. It was liberating and made my job a gazillion times more fun.

The New New Deal, November 24, 2008. Honk if you love Photoshop! In the midst of an historic economic downturn, Obama's election invited comparisons with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Time decided to do a cover called The New New Deal, and my immediate impulse was to create an image that merged a new star with a familiar icon. I commissioned C.F. Payne to do a painting that merged the two, with Obama-as-FDR sitting in a wing chair, cigarette holder clenched in his teeth. Chris came through beautifully, but these days editors prefer photography to great illustration. So I did my thing and dug up an iconic photo of FDR and found the perfect Obama head to match up with it--not only in angle, but in the ebullience of expression. The entire image in black and white, save for Obama's head and FDR's tinted hands, to emphasize the old-meets-new aspect. Got some help from Time's all-round graphics wiz Lon Tweeten on the detailing. A fun cover, even if in hindsight it seems like a bit of a stretch.


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How Man Began, March 14, 1994. From time to time, newsmagazines go to the well for dependable feature cover subjects. Science and anthropology were always good bets. For this cover on newly-discovered Homo Erectus bones, we called on an artist who usually does well-researched and lifelike models of cave men, which are later photographed. The piece was in-house and we were almost ready to close the cover. But sometime during the process, on a hunch I asked the brilliant Matt Mahurin to try his hand at an image as well. Even though the other piece was fine, Matt's made me gasp. He had photographed himself and using bits of skin and hair turned himself into an image that actually felt alive rather than simply lifelike. This was early in the Photoshop days, and I consider it a seminal piece in the development of computer imagery.

Dolly the Cloned Sheep: Will There Ever Be Another You? March 10, 1997. Tackling familiar subjects in a fresh way at a newsweekly was always a challenge. In my career at Time I had to do at least three cloning covers, and this is my favorite. The first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell was the instantly-famous Dolly. (Dolly only lived to age 6, but her death was not related to her being cloned.) Obviously the cover called for some form of replication--it's not called the "clone tool" for nothing. We had arranged for a head shot of Dolly, and when the pictures came in I tried to create something where the whole would be more than the sum of the parts. By a happy accident, the head shot was scaled such that when I brought it and its copy into Photoshop, they overlapped. Voila! The two overlapping faces formed a third face (a really weird third face) that illustrated the concept perfectly. For added fun I made some sheep wallpaper as a background. The clever cover line, written by John Stacks, was a play on the old Nat King Cole song "There Will Never Be Another You."



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TWA Flight 800, July 29, 1996. When TWA Flight 800 tragically crashed off the south shore of Long Island, we immediately knew it would be the cover. In today's 24/7 news cycle, I wonder if that would still be the case. In any event, it was big news and the only available images were wire photos of the wreckage and of grieving family and friends. Searching through the hundreds of images, one leapt above all the others: a piece of the plane's wing floating forlornly in the water almost like a floating monument to the dead. As it often the case, less is more in terms of cover language; Time had developed a convention for historic or tragic covers that follows that minimalist principle. The cover was simple, elegant and elegaic--there are times when fancy tricks or bombast are simple not called for. When Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson showed me a congratulatory note to him from Tina Brown, I figured I must have done something right.

Overturning the Reagan Era, August 16, 1993. In 1993 Congress passed Bill Clinton's hard-fought budget reforms, which effectively overturned Reaganomics. Visually representing budgets can be boring and complicated, but the image of Ronald Reagan is not. So how to show overturning Reagan? Overturn him! Literal, but surprising and uncharacteristic for sometimes stodgy Time. George Lois once said that covers that stay in your flat file don't count--you have to sell them through persuasion and persistence, or simply because they are compelling. Reagan was an almost untouchable icon, so to treat him disrespectfully--in the graphic sense--took some convincing. I think the cover worked because it was a visual non sequitur and because of the winning smile on Reagan's face. This was a Clinton cover without Clinton that was instantly simple to comprehend. 



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Echoes of the Holocaust, February 24, 1997. In 1997 it came to light that during the Holocaust, Nazis had confiscated gold and other riches from Jewish families that were discovered to be stored in Swiss banks. An international legal battle ensued, and Time decided to put the poignant story on the cover. For the cover I wanted to conflate the human suffering with the outrage of denying the survivors their wealth. Sadly, the concentration camp image was all too easy to find. Then I crafted a swastika from one stock photo of a gold bar, pushing saturation and brightness to contrast with the black and white photo, blurred slightly in Photoshop. The cover was approved by Managing Editor Walter Isaacson, but I wasn't sure the "34th Floor," the top Time Inc. editors, would feel comfortable with it for a mass-circulation magazine. To my surprise and gratitude, they were. On a purely emotional level, this may be my favorite Time cover.

Are Men Really That Bad? February 14, 1994. For many covers--even serious topics--I tried at least one funny version. Usually they would get a laugh and then be tossed on the reject pile. But I always have maintained that humor is a really effective way to illustrate a serious topic, because it disarms the reader. This story was an essay that looked at the current wave of man-bashing taking place in American culture. For the cover I tried many approaches, most of them serious. But as this cover demonstrates, tackiness can triumph. The image is literal, but a hyperbole: Men Are Pigs. The body was an unused frame from an earlier cover shot by Dennis Chalkin, so all I had to do was find a pig head that would register surprise and cluelessness on the pig's part when he was looking in the mirror. It was a cheap joke and more than a little silly, but when Managing Editor Jim Gaines walked into the cover show, he broke out in convulsive laughter. Luckily for me, he followed his instincts and didn't throw it onto the reject pile.


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9/11 Commemorative Special Issue, September 14, 2001. At a newsmagazine, a cruel irony is that often the worst events produce the most memorable work. After the attacks of 9/11 those who could get into the office began work on a special issue, produced off our normal cycle with no advertising. Thousands of images flooded in, many of which could have made good covers. But this one by Lyle Owerko had captured an amazing moment and was shot on medium format film, meaning that the quality was outstanding. There was no debate--one image, one layout was all we needed to see. Managing Editor Jim Kelly suggested the first black border in Time's history. There were legal (copyright) and philosophical issues to resolve, but in the end his judgment prevailed and the black border made the issue more memorable. The special issue came out two days later, and was the largest-selling issue in Times history. The issue won the National Magazine Award for Single-Topic Issue, and we were never prouder of anything we'd done in journalism.

Person of the Year, Rudy Giuliani, December 31, 2001. In the aftermath of 9/11, there were two candidates for Person of the Year: Osama bin Laden and NYC's Rudy Giuliani. Time went with Giuliani, one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situations. Once Giuiliani was chosen, we knew we wanted something memorable and monumental; no studio shot would do. We asked Gregory Heisler, who has shot more Time covers than any other photographer, to do the honors. Greg is one-stop shopping. He plans the picture, produces it and executes it with technical mastery. The picture was a logistical nightmare--the time kept changing, and on the day of the shoot Giuliani showed up almost two hours late, meaning Greg was losing his natural light for the cityscape background. Giuliani is really standing atop 30 Rock, and Greg built a wooden platform out of frame in the foreground so the mayor would have a visual reference to improve his balance and ease. The result was an incredible example of environmental portraiture at its best. Greg's mentor Arnold Newman would be proud.

See the complete Time magazine cover archive here.



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  • HI

    I like the cloned sheep one

  • Josh Klenert

    Great collection! Now I want to see the 5 covers that makes Arthur cringe--and why!

  • Benjamen Purvis

    As a big fan of using humor to illustrate a serious topic, I really appreciate this gallery. The elephant's ass cover, treated with such serious packaging (crisp, isolated black and white photo; elegant, understated type) is so funny and perfect. No wonder it won an ASME award. And it's so cool that so much of this is DIY -- something almost every alt-weekly art director can relate to.

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