Cover story: NYTimes Magazine, Olympics Issue

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Last weekend’s New York Times Magazine was their regular Olympics Issue, marking the imminent Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics. The edition led with this stunning photo illustration, one of a series by British artist Idris Khan. I spoke to art director Matt Willey and director of photography Kathy Ryan about the cover.

‘I always find it incredibly exciting to work on an Olympics issue because sports are so photogenic. There are endless possibilities for making photographs that are poetic as well as high impact,’ Ryan told me. ‘The Olympics come around every two years, so you have to reinvent them visually each time – that is where an artist like Idris comes in.’

Khan had already done the London 2012 cover of the magazine (above), and along with other photographic contributors to this issue he worked closely with contributing photo editor Kristen Geisler. ‘It doesn’t matter how good the idea is if you can’t pull it off,’ Ryan told me, ‘Kristen got the most out of each project, wherever it was getting access to the athletes, having the speed skaters shot by Melissa Majchrzak so Idris would have great skating images to work with, or having the goalie’s gear shipped to Nick Veasey for his x-ray images [also in the issue].’

For Ryan, the speed skating image was always destined to be the cover image, but Matt Willey tried several before settling on that one. ‘I was pretty convinced it ought to be the cover and in the end it was a unanimous decision.’ Willey spent about two and a half weeks on the issue. Once the cover was decided, he was able to experiment with print techniques to get the best out of the image. ‘I had a fixed idea of it being printed black and silver duotone, and we tried that but it didn’t work, the image was too delicate. It looked far better in black and white.’

Willey also enlarged the magazine logo so it fills the entire width of the magazine. ‘The image could take it and I felt like it made sense. We were using this very wide typeface inside, and I had reworked the grid to make the text go wider on the page (smaller outer margins). The whole issue felt like it was pushing its elbows out.’

That wide typeface was a bespoke alphabet designed with longterm collaborator Henrik Kubel (above). Other type commissions for the magazine have featured on the front cover as well inside. Did Willey try that this time? ‘I actually didn’t. I originally suggested no cover lines, just the logo, the date and ‘The Olympics Issue’ very small (7pt) above it. I thought the image was intriquing and arresting enough without any further explanation, but Jake (Silverstein, editor-in-chief) felt it needed the headline and – of course – he was right.’

The result is a typically strong NYTimes Magazine cover, the image given primacy and topped and tailed by the two lines of white type. The widened logo gives a retro effect that suits the Olympics.

The team make it look and sound simple; I hope the description here give a sense of the work that goes into such simplicity.

Editor in chief: Jake Silverstein
Design director: Gail Bichler
Art director: Matt Willey
Director of photography: Kathy Ryan
Contributing Photo Editor: Kristen Geisler

nytimes.com/section/magazine

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