“What makes a good cover? It has to engage the viewer. It has to make them want to pick up the magazine,” says Todd Franson. “It’s also about balance. The image has to be strong enough to grab attention, but also hold up visually with text and a logo on it.”
And if anyone should know, it’s Franson, who has been photographing covers for Metro Weekly since 1995 (his first was a shot of empty pie-shells awaiting filling at Food & Friends). As art director, Franson has photographed “at least 500” covers for the magazine, an astonishing amount by any measure.
For the next six weeks, the Anacostia Arts Center will showcase a dozen of Franson’s favorite Metro Weekly cover photos, sans logo and text, in “Uncovered.” The exhibit, which opens on Saturday, June 4 with a public reception, also features ten richly detailed works by Scott G. Brooks, a world-class artist who has been illustrating covers for the magazine since 2011.
“I think the simpler covers are usually the best,” Brooks says of his work, which has depicted everything from issues of pot legalization to marriage equality at the Supreme Court. “It really does sum up the recent gay and lesbian history of D.C. That’s the luxury of illustration as opposed to photography. I can put in anything I want.
“I do a lot of shows and this is a different way to get my work out there and express myself,” he points out. “I’ve had a really long relationship with Metro Weekly — it’s an honor to work on these covers.”
“Diversity has always been very important at Metro Weekly,” Franson says. “In choosing the images for this show, I wanted to reflect that, as well as the wide variety of tones and styles of my images. I have fond memories from all these shoots.” — Doug Rule
When it was published in 2004, the popular drag king’s photo was cropped at the waist with readers unaware that there was more to it. “I remember thinking, ‘We’ll never use this, but we might as well just shoot it,'” laughs Franson. “It was shot to be cropped in the first place, but now it’ll finally be seen in full.”
“DJ Mandrill is an early conceptual color cover and possibly the first where I used Photoshop,” Franson says. “I hadn’t conceived the shot before I arrived at his house. He had these colored vinyl records and a pedestal. I wasn’t sure of my naive Photoshop skills at this time, but it came together effortlessly — you’d never know he was sitting on a plaster pedestal in his kitchen.”
“Bob and I thought it would be cool to pose him in front of handwritten lyrics,” Franson says. “He used chalkboard paint on a wall of his home studio and wrote out the lyrics. I had often used long exposures with a flashlight in my personal work, and thought it would be cool to have Bob write his name in light. After a few tests, we realized that to have his hand land in the right spot, he would have to write his name backwards, and from bottom to top of the last ‘B.’ Getting a nice portrait of him and right light effect in the same exposure took many, many tries. But Bob was very patient and eager to make it work.”
“The Pot Issue was fun to do,” Brooks recalls. “I’m certainly an advocate of legalization. To sneak in the Alice in Wonderland motif was fun, too.”
“This was based on the Schoolhouse Rock video I’m Just a Bill,” Brooks says. “I initially thought it would be easy to draw Clinton but it was actually very difficult. It’s one of the simpler designs I’ve done, which helps make it work.”
“The pink elephant is one of the first covers I did, and you get the message right away,” says Brooks. “I tried to treat [Chris Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia] from GOProud with respect and dignity, despite our political differences. It was a fun way to do it.”
The opening reception for Uncovered is Saturday, June 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibit runs to July 16 at Vivid Solutions Gallery in the Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE. Call 202-631-6291 or visit anacostiaartscenter.com.
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