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New York Times Magazine High Life issue
Magazine of the week

New York Times Magazine High Life issue

Social media has been buzzing over the last few days with images of another special edition of The New York Times Magazine. Published last weekend, the ‘High Life’ issue is their latest annual issue about New York, and celebrates the height of the city, a nice idea that’s made special by the simple device of rotating all the content by 90 degrees; the issue has been designed so the pages turn upwards instead of left.

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As editor Jake Silverman explains in his introduction (above), ‘The dimensions of the magazine are 8.9375 inches by 10.875 inches… in its customary orientation, the magazine is 9,589.125 inches shorter than the 800-foot-tall highrises of Manhattan… To make up a small fraction of the difference, we rotated the entire issue (including the crossword and all the ads) 90 degrees, creating a magazine… with a 17.875-inch-tall dimension… this is as tall as it is possible for our magazine to be.’ Note that 800 feet figure; the starting point for the issue was to look at 1000 feet high, but even in skyscraper-laden NYC there aren’t so many buildings that tall.

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The idea to rotate the issue was first suggested by art director (and lead designer on the issue) Matt Willey three months ago. ‘Initially there was excitement but also some hesitation,’ explains design director Gail Bichler, ‘mostly because in order to do it right we felt that the ads would need to be sideways as well. It was hard to understand what the format would look like without seeing a physical copy of it, so Matt made a mock-up, and once we showed that, the idea seemed more concrete and everyone got excited about it and got onboard.’ Having decided to go ahead, the ad team were given printed mock ups to use as sales tools.

The issue opens with a fold-out cover that takes full advantage of the taller dimension, featuring a stunning image of nightime Manhattan shot by Jimmy Chin from the spire of the new downtown World Trade Centre building (above).

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Inside the issue there’s a detailed story about taking that cover shot – another photographer, George Steinmetz, shot Chin and safety specialist Jamieson Walsh preparing the shoot (above).

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For the photographers and their teams, such climbs are special events; in contrast, we also see ironworkers carrying out their daily work (above), a contemporary version of Charles C. Ebbets’ shots of the Rockefeller Centre being built in the 1930s. Note the Statue of Liberty in the background.

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The subject is perfectly suited to another of Willey’s bespoke compressed sans serif typefaces, UP UP UP introducing the visual theme of the issue above Silverstein’s introductory notes about the current vertical building spree on the island.

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That typeface’s big moment comes with the opening spread of a portfolio of portraits by Jack Davison (above); when has a seven-letter headline so boldly taken up an entire spread before?

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Davison’s portraits of workers (above) then match the typography in impact, just as stark and fitting into the tall space equally well. The photo team, led by Kathy Ryan, had been planning and researching the subject for sveral years, with photo editor Christine Walsh putting a particular amount of work into the issue. All the photography was specially shot for the issue.

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While all ads are rotated, not all take full advantage of the new format, though this whisky ad (above) does so more than most.

As well as the photography and typography, there are some great written pieces and editorial tangents too, including a look at the physics of building high; an assessment of the economic and social consequences of reaching higher; and a quick look at the aged glamour of the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Centre. There’s also another of the magazine team’s VR movies available to download.

Of course the magazine has a huge team and great resources (see the credits below), not to mention a fantastic locale to focus on. But to do it so well and make it appear so simple is the special part of the project. And that starts at the very beginning. As Bichler explains, ‘Our editor, Jake, encourages us all to think big and is very open and visually astute. I think many editors would have killed this idea at the outset given the amount of risk involved. Jake made it happen, not only helping us get our ad-sales team excited about it, but even writing short headlines to fit Matt’s supertall typography.’

I can imagine the general reaction to the suggestion of rotating an entire issue in most magazine/newspaper offices. Would it ever get beyond that first suggestion? Maybe now it might, but… too late!

Gail Bichler will be speaking at this year’s Modern Magazine day, 27 October. Book here.

Read the interactive version of the issue.

Editor in chief: Jake Silverstein
Design director: Gail Bichler
Art director: Matt Willey
Director of photography: Kathy Ryan
Photo editor: Christine Walsh
Deputy art director: Jason Sfetko
Designers: Ben Grandgenett, Frank Augugliaro, Choe Scheffe, Chelsea Cardinal
Interactive design: Linsey Fields, Danny DeBelius

nytimes.com/section/magazine

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