Great visual journalism helps us understand the world and ourselves a little better. This powerful conceptual cover helped the public imagine what it was like to walk in another’s shoes
“To me the cover is about two things: perseverance and unity,” writes John Wolfson, Editor-In-Chief of Boston Magazine about the Boston Marathon bombing cover. “By itself, each shoe in the photograph is tiny, battered, and ordinary. Together, though, they create something beautiful, powerful, and inspirational.” The great conceptual magazine cover more than skilled visual communication. It gives visual form to a feeling, to some vague impression out there in the world, to something we can’t give a name to. At moments when we collectively share some tragic event, the great Art Director, photographer or illustrator can help explain to us something of how we feel.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston Magazine produced this cover – a photograph comprised of shoes of runners who had participated in the race. It was not only a great visual idea, but it lead to the editorial idea of featuring the stories of the owner of each pair of shoes.
“Should we create a photo illustration of a runner’s bib in the shape of a heart?” asks Woflson in his account of the making of the cover. “Should we photograph a tattered marathon olive wreath on a black background? Then our design director, Brian Struble, and deputy design director, Liz Noftle, came up with the concept of taking shoes worn during the marathon and arranging them so that the negative space is in the shape of a heart.”
Sometimes illustration can deliver the nuances of an idea more easily than photography. In this instance it’s the fact of the shoes, shoes as physical testimony, what John Wolfson refers to as ‘Perserverance’. The fact these shoes really do belong to people also makes it a narrative image, we imagine the backstory to these shoes – what was it like to walk in these shoes? The cover creates an itch with that heart-shaped hole in the centre which we want the magazine to fill for us. In that sense it has the impact of a powerful advertising image.
Visually, though incredibly simple and reductive as all idea-based images need to be, the team worked the palette as much as they could, arranging the shoes by colour.
Most of all, in situations of public grief, we often don’t quite know how to measure our feelings, what the event means for us and the society we are a part of. Are we too sceptical of the 24/7 media overkill? Can we really empathise with the victims? The media aftermath, the talkshows, the outpouring of grief acts as release but doesn’t necessarily lead to empathy – empathy is about imagination.
The Boston Magazine cover touched a nerve among the public because the Designers and Photographer gave people an imaginative framework with which they could begin to understand what had happened – to themselves and to the collective. Which is a definition of great visual journalism, and the power of creative imagination.