Donald Trump's Stratospheric Ambitions by Stan Chow and Jamie Chung for The New York Times Magazine
Donald Trump has captivated the political sphere as we've watched this real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-star turn into something that looks like a politician. His rise has been quick and high but almost two months into this strange story his future seems unknown. The New York Times Magazine needed to encapsulate the entire essence of this remarkable story in a visual metaphor for this week's issue. They came up with a balloon and in a bit of artistic serendipity had illustrator Stan Chow and photographer Jamie Chung collaborate on the final image, but not directly.
The first step was to get Stan's take on Donald Trump. Stan has an unofficial policy that he won't immortalize anyone in portrait unless he likes them, and he doesn't like Donald Trump. But considering the man has become a national phenomenon (and international phenomenon, as Stan is from the UK), it was just a matter of time before Stan had to put pen to paper. Fitting the image on the balloon presented a challenge, but with a bunch of testing, and communication with the magazine’s Deputy Art Director Jason Sfetko, they were able to get a perfect fit. For Stan, this project was liberating and inspiring because his work is usually needed in 2D. “It gave me more ideas of what I can do in the future,” Stan says. “I’ve never thought out of the box like that, and to actually see that done makes me think about more possibilities of how I can actually use my work.”
Once they solved how Stan's illustration was going to fit on the balloon the challenge went to Jaime Chung to capture the final image. The problem with these balloons, as Jamie tells it, was buoyancy. Helium is a finite resource and so providers have to mix it with other gasses that are not as strong. The illustration decal on the balloon affected the helium's ability to hold the balloon aloft with added weight so Jamie had to simulate the floating. It ended up being to their benefit because it offered the control Jamie needed to show off the balloon’s major asset. “It’s kind of really about showcasing the illustration,” Jamie explains. “I’m just trying to give it a little more dimensionality.”
“It’s funny how such subtle things can change the meaning of something,” says Gail Bichler, Design Director of The New York Times Magazine, discussing how they framed the balloon for the cover. “We tried a lot of different positions, whether it would be cropped off the page, or sinking down a little bit, or rising up… All these things have a subtle meaning, so we experimented a lot.” They finally arrived at the image on the cover that Gail says they chose because it’s pretty open to interpretation.
What do you see?