Behind the May Boston Magazine Cover
We have been humbled by the reception our May cover has received since we released it this morning. A number of people have asked about the story behind the cover, how it came to be, so I thought I’d take a moment to provide a little background.
When we got news of the explosions on Marathon Monday—our offices are located only a few blocks away, and we had staffers in the area at the time, so it didn’t take long—we were just days away from shipping the May issue. At that stage in the production cycle, we’re typically in the polishing phase, meaning we’re simply looking for typos, art imperfections, and the like. We quickly realized that we were going to have to scrap the cover that we’d already finished and start over. We were also going to have to replace one of the feature stories in the issue with something about the bombings. And we were going to have to pull that off in about three days.
We initially settled on the idea of commissioning Marathon-related essays from a number of Boston writers, and then set about brainstorming ideas for illustrating that package of stories. Should we create a photo illustration of a runner’s bib in the shape of a heart? 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. For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I knew as soon as I heard the idea that we had our concept—not just for the collection of essays, but also for the cover. In fact, I quickly realized that the stories of the runners who wore those shoes would be even more powerful than the essays we’d commissioned. We quickly changed course and settled on the cover concept and the outlines of a feature package: We’d shoot the shoes collectively to form the heart, but we’d also photograph them as individual pairs to illustrate the stories told by the runners in the package (which we called “The Shoes We Wore,” and which you’ll find in the May issue).
Great idea! But how in the world were we going to execute it in time? We figured we’d need about 100 or so shoes, and we had very little time to get them. We were also going to have to interview every person who submitted a pair of shoes so we could tell his or her story. We immediately sent out tweets and Facebook posts asking runners to submit their shoes. At the same time, people from every department here at Boston magazine started reaching out to friends and family members asking for shoes. Every pair became precious. Every new email from someone on staff announcing that a cousin or an old school buddy had promised to drive their shoes to the office by the next morning was met with unrestrained enthusiasm.
As the shoes started to filter in, we divvied up the names of the people who’d dropped them off and began calling them for interviews. Everyone on staff contributed. We had room for just 15 pairs in the magazine, so the rest would go online. We then decided to add an additional wrinkle of complexity to the whole thing: We would create a special page on the site where the overflow photos and stories would live, and where people from around the world could submit their own stories and photographs of their shoes. (That page—bostonmagazine.com/shoes—will go live starting Tuesday, April 30.)
On Thursday morning, Struble loaded up his car with 120 shoes and drove them down to New York, to be shot by the renowned photographer Mitchell Feinberg. The shoot captured perfectly what had drawn me to the concept in the first place.
To me the cover is about two things: perseverance and unity. By itself, each shoe in the photograph is tiny, battered, and ordinary. Together, though, they create something beautiful, powerful, and inspirational. Remove just one shoe and you begin to diminish, in some small way, the overall effect. Collectively, they are the perfect symbol for Boston, and for our response to the bombings.
This city is my home. I live in it because I choose to. My love for it is boundless and, at times, irrational. This staff is filled with people who feel the same way. Our home is hurting right now, and our hope, together, was to produce something that reflects the intensity of affection and pride that all of us here in the region feel for Boston.
So many of you have asked when the magazine will be available on newsstands and whether we’ll be commissioning posters of the cover image. Copies will start showing up on newsstands on Friday, and will be widely available starting Tuesday.
Update, April 26, 5:25 p.m.: We have received numerous inquiries from readers who live outside of Boston who want to purchase the issue. Please visit this page for more information on ordering a single copy. Thank you for your interest.