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Throughout history the most memorable magazine covers have been those that have the human face as their subject, whether film star, musician, politician, or your typical woman or typical man. As magazine publishing has become more competitive, the design of magazine covers has become about reflecting the right face to the right people. In recent years magazine covers have become somewhat formulaic, a headshot surrounded to an often claustrophobic extent by cover lines, enticing the reader.
This is particularly the case with fashion and lifestyle magazines because the formula works. Publishers don't want to mess with it But there is a world beyond fashion magazines, and not all magazine covers have to have a glamorous headshot. Technical and consumer magazines might show a product shot or a picture of what can be achieved with the type of product they're addressing, a photography magazine, for example. An outdoor or travel magazine might feature a shot of one of the destinations featured in their articles.
A science magazine might have a more abstract conceptual or text-based approach. A current affairs or satirical magazine might use a photo montage to recontextualize a photo or to create a juxtaposition that wouldn't be possible with straight photography. In the UK, the satirical magazine Private Eye has a long history of combining topical news photos with carefully crafted speech bubbles. So while the headshot or body shot might dominate magazine covers, they are not the only solution.
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