The third issue of Ladybeard is published this week. The covers of the first two issues were consciously beautiful: Sex featured an artfully styled lifesize photograph of a dildo, and Mind was represented by a psychedelic illustration from Rose Pilkington. The new issue tackles Beauty, and its pair of front covers challenge our concept of beauty by being resolutely un-beautiful by any traditional measure.
Each cover option features a full-bleed wraparound image by photographer Anton Gottlob; one an unretouched close-up of an older women’s mouth, a rare sight in magazine-land, the other a similarly tight crop of an arsehole, even rarer! Each is disturbing in its own way, and together they represent a significant change of tone for Ladybeard that is emphasised by design changes. Gone is the white frame around the image, and the theme takes precedence over the magazine’s name, the word Beauty rendered large in flourescent red sans serif acting as a challenge to the image behind it.
I spoke to co-editors Madeleine Dunnigan and Kitty Drake and co-art director Scarlet Evans about the thinking behind the cover and its execution.
‘In the issue we question the principles on which the idea of beauty is founded, and this extends to the covers in a direct, almost aggressive, way,’ Maddy told me, ‘They caused controversy, debate and tears within the team, and went through several iterations before the final decison. Some of us find the one beautiful and the other gratuitous; the one pleasant and the other boring.’ The graphic nature of the covers is a deliberate challenge to the reader, ‘It may be impossible to say what is beautiful, or what should be beautiful, but we hope that these covers will make the viewer consider the question.’
Scarlet also spoke of the change in tone and how it takes it cue from the beauty industry, ‘We did strive to make serious content more digestible for the earlier issues – using a bright, playful aesthetic throughout. With these covers – and how we used imagery throughout the issue – we were keen to reflect a feeling of how beauty is presented to us.’
They are an extraordinary pair of covers, sheer provocation and a strong retort to anyone who claims indie magazines are stuck in a rut. What is the point of making your own magazine if you stick to the prevailing rules?
Comparing the two, I found the mouth image the more disturbing. Such close-ups are common but are always of young women, the lack of lines and fascial hair enhanced by make up and retouching. They are in effect photo-illustrations, not real photos; this cover is totally real and disturbing for its subversion of the norm.
Next to this, for all its challenge to ‘good taste’ the anus shot is beautifully shot and un-real in the sense it is unfamiliar. The reader recognises a fleshy orifice and more through a process of elimination identifies it (the scale helps the confusion – the small images with this post are far less ambiguous than the actual covers).
So how do you shoot an arsehole? ‘First, you need to find a generous and willing volunteer. An unnamed editor stepped up, and another editor acted as asshole assistant – using Vaseline and generally trying to make it look beautiful,’ explained Kitty.
‘We’re all really good friends so it all felt comfortable. Anton had a head torch on and used an old dental camera to get literally millimetres away from the area, to get the most possible light. If you’d walked in at any particular moment it would have looked absolutely mad.’ At one stage they even tried lipstick on the hole, ‘ That didn’t work out that well.’
As with all split cover runs, it’ll be fascinating to see which one sells better. Shops have readily accepted both covers so far, while readers are split. ‘At last weekend’s launch party it was interesting offering the two magazines to people and seeing what they would choose. One buyer refused the bum cover; but the panellists on the night were split 50-50.’