Why Is This Man Laughing?

The New York Times Magazine cover is the Charlize Theron of magazine publishing: Famous people become ugly in the name of art.

Former Virginia governor and centrist Democratic Presidential hopeful Mark Warner learned the dangers of posing for The Times Magazine this week when he landed on the cover, photographed by Alexei Hay.

A sallow Mr. Warner, his face ominously shadowed, was grinning, baring ivory-tinged, domino-sized chompers. He appeared to be wearing a maroon suit coat and a violet shirt for the occasion.

It was not the kind of national debut Mr. Warner’s political supporters were looking for—particularly not in the hometown paper of Hillary Clinton voters.

“His hair isn’t that dark. His eyes aren’t brown, and his shirt wasn’t purple,” said Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls.

Reached by phone the afternoon of March 14, Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati said he hadn’t heard any complaints about the image. Shortly after, however, Mr. Marzorati called back to say that he’d learned that the colors changed during film processing. According to Times Magazine photo editor Kathy Ryan, Mr. Hay used an infrared chrome film, originally designed for 70-millimeter movie cameras, that changes hues when processed in the darkroom.

“I was aware things had a stylized color, but I didn’t think it would change the color of the shirt,” Ms. Ryan said. “When you look overall, it’s a stylized, posterized color.”

“There’s no manipulation of the image,” Mr. Hay said when reached by phone March 14. “It’s the furthest thing from manipulation.”

Mr. Marzorati said the paper would run an editor’s note explaining the color change, possibly as early as March 15.

(On March 15, the Times ran an editors’ note saying that the photo had "rendered colors incorrectly" and describing the actual colors of Mr. Warner’s clothing and saying that "The Times‘s policy rules out alteration of photographs….[T]he change escaped notice because of a misunderstanding by the editors.")

“When these photos were shown to me, this was the most striking and the most original,” Mr. Marzorati said. “I feel like my job is to use the cover to get people inside the magazine to read things.”

But what opens magazines doesn’t often please politicians. Last Friday, Mr. Warner’s Forward Together P.A.C. sent an e-mail to 12,000 supporters carrying alternate images shot by Mr. Hay with a digital camera. In a series of three thumbnail photos, Mr. Warner appears with a blue shirt and navy blazer, his face an ordinary pink. (His facial expressions, however, could be seen as goofy in their own right; the Warner camp declined to provide higher-resolution versions, referring requests to Mr. Hay. Mr. Hay also declined to share them, saying the photos were Times property.)

“I don’t know how widely the magazine is seen, but if that’s people’s first impression of Mark Warner, I just wanted them to see the good shots from the photo shoot,” Ms. Qualls said.

The news of the Warner camp’s unhappiness surfaced on the National Journal’s Hotline blog on March 10. One blog reader, upon seeing the Times Magazine cover, wrote: “O.K., Mark Warner, your teeth is [sic] scaring the hell out of me. This is not the best picture.”

If history is a guide, Mr. Marzorati may be hearing from Times Magazine readers soon. In March 2001, Lisa Feder Eichenblatt of Maitland, Fla., wrote in about the cover of Jonathan Lebed: “You might have put a better photo of Jonathan on your cover so that this ‘almost millionaire’ could get a date to the prom.”

Michael Kearns of Los Angeles likened Mike Ovitz’s May 1999 appearance on the cover of the magazine to Hannibal Lecter.

“For someone who believes that ‘perception is everything,’ Ovitz ought to have demanded photo approval. That cover shot looks like a publicity still from the sequel to ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ Of course, maybe that’s the point?”

Chicago resident Joan Bjorklund responded to the July 1997 cover of then–Attorney General Janet Reno: “Your ‘warts and all’ cover photo of Janet Reno by Ralph Mecke reflects the bias against powerful women who accept themselves as they are, even if they happen to be 6 feet 2 inches and have never been married.” Why Is This Man Laughing?