‘W’: 40 years of gossip, design & innovative photography

I’m a magazine junkie, but I am sorry to say I have only seen the Woman’s Wear Daily offshoot W from time to time since it was launched as a broadsheet glossy in 1972.

Like Rolling Stone, the publication eventually shifted over to the more traditional (albeit oversized) magazine format that is still sold on newstands.

As the Abrams book, “W: The First 40 Years” demonstrates, the magazine has sought out and given free rein to some of the most creative photographers of our time.

While most of these spreads are — technically — fashion layouts, they have become magazine movies, with narratives spread out page after page.

Steven Klein has been one of the most innovative participants in this photo/graphic novel-style addition to the magazine, with two much talked-about collaborations with Brad Pitt — a gritty, urban homage to the actor’s film “Fight Club” in 1999 (below) and then a beautiful but slightly chilly look back at the early 1960s “Mad Men” era in suburbia, tied in with the 2005 release of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (with Angelina Jolie as the Kennedy era wife).

Klein has a way of guiding celebrities through sexually explicit situations without ever descending into Terry Richardson-style skeeviness. Madonna has been a longtime collaborator and the book includes the sexy spread ashe did in Brazil (above) that added a new boy toy (Jesus Luz) to her stable.

The 2005 Pitt lay-out seems to anticipate the 2011 Terrence Malick film “The Tree of Life” in which the actor also explored the underbelly of American family life.

Pitt’s relationship with the magazine resulted in a spread on his interest in architecture, several pages of which are included in “The First 40 Years.”

The book includes a wonderful 2007 photo spread by Stephen Shore that shows us Ingmar Bergman’s austere retreat on the Swedish island of Faro where he wrote most of his great films.  

W has nurtured one of my favorite photographers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, whose use of oddly lit urban spaces and slightly off-center compositions are reminiscent of the films of master of  alienation Michelangelo Antonioni (especially the ones with Monica Vitti).

The Abrams book doesn’t just reproduce the pictures, it shows them as they were laid out in W giving us a real sense of the narrative flow they had when they were originally published.

Book designer Joseph Logan uses the large format to pay tribute to the visual wonders of the glossy magazine — he wants us to see how the pictures were used as well as how they hold up as examples of photographic art.

Logan breaks up the giant, slick pages of “The First 40 Years” with smaller inserts — printed on different stock — that are designed to give us a taste of the magazine’s gossip columns and the journalistic photo coverage of notable parties and movie premieres over the past four decades.

Columnist Suzy Menkes tells us the story behind Elizabeth Hurley’s satisfied look in 2003: “There’s her bouncing baby boy, of course, but then there’s that other bouncing boy, her boyfriend, Arun Nayar…with a reputation as one of the best lovers on the Euro/Asian social circuit…notorious for keeping a copy of the ‘Kama Sutra’ next to his bed in Saint Moritz.’  

We get glimpses of Alan Carr’s 1975 fete/extravaganza for the Ken Russell film “Tommy” on the mezzanine level of the 57th St. subway station in Manhattan, the launch of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume three years later, and, of course, many scenes from Studio 54 in its heyday.

“The First 40 Years” works both as art object and pop culture history.

Joe Meyers