So many people have asked my opinion of the new Playboy that I thought it worth devoting a blog to the subject. Admittedly, I am an old school Playboy guy, having worked there first in the late Sixties as a book editor and then in 1970 as a Photo Editor. In 1975, I was promoted to Photography Director, responsible for the acquisition of all photography for Playboy Magazine. I remained in that position until I resigned in 2009 and then continued on at Playboy’s request as a consultant until the end of 2011. Many of you know me from my association with Shoot the Centerfold, both through attending STC seminars and through my STC blog, now in its 46th incarnation.
I’d like to point out that I am not a bitter ex-employee who wishes nothing good for the company I worked for so long.
On the contrary, I will always be grateful for the incredible time I had working for the magazine, the chance to work directly with Hugh Hefner, one of the great magazine editors ever, and with Art Paul, founding Art Director, his successor, Tom Staebler, who remains one of my very best friends, and Arthur Kretchmer, the brilliant editor who headed the magazine’s editorial staff for many years.
I have every reason to hope that Playboy, even with Hef not at the controls, continues to prosper in both its print and online editions.
And I understand very well the reasons why the people now in charge of the magazine felt they needed to make drastic changes in the magazine’s format and approach. The old Playboy had been suffering for years from a loss in newsstand distribution. First of all, there were fewer newsstands as the mom and pop stores and corner newsstands disappeared.
Corporate entities such as Walmart and 7-11, under pressure from certain evangelical groups, most notably that led by Donald Wildman, decided it was bad for their “family” image to carry the magazine. Cigarette advertising, always a major ad category for Playboy, was restricted from all print publications. Other, much more graphic competitors appeared on the scene, and tainted the media and public perception of Playboy, a case of guilt by association.
“And, as we all do, Hef aged. His perceptions and tastes were less in tune with young what are now referred to as new millennials.”And, as we all do, Hef aged. His perceptions and tastes were less in tune with young what are now referred to as new millennials. Those of us on the staff sensed it was happening and tried, unsuccessfully, to suggest changes in our photographic approach to the Playmate and to our pictorials in general. He resisted any meaningful change in approach. In fact, when I resigned, a young man named Matt Doyle was hired as my replacement. He had been a New York based photographer very tied in to the new music scene, a hip guy to use an old descriptive word.
Matt immediately saw the problems and began thinking about how the magazine might change the way it photographed Playmates. I had left the scene by then. In fact, I was on vacation in Montana when I got a phone call asking if I would come back to Chicago and help Matt out. It seemed that he had been brave or foolish enough, however one sees it, to disagree with Hef about Playboy’s approach to girl photography. Matt lost his credibility with Hef and not long after left Playboy to return to his life as a photographer.
“The old Playboy called upon the very best photographers to interpret the female form in ways that would appeal to its male audience”With that long preface, here is what I think of the new Playboy. I don’t think this first issue shows much promise. First of all, it’s not only missing nudity, it’s missing anything approaching sexy. Somewhere along the line, the new Playboy came to the conclusion that nudity and pornography were one and the same. Those of us at STC, and I think most perceptive people and lovers of good girl photography, realize that’s not true. The old Playboy called upon the very best photographers to interpret the female form in ways that would appeal to its male audience, an audience that also contained a fair number of women readers.
The new Playboy seems content with an almost selfie approach to its photography. There’s not a single memorable image in the entire issue. The latest swimsuit catalog I received from Victoria’s Secret is so much better than anything in the new Playboy (plus the VS catalog is free) that it makes one wonder why someone would pay $7.99 to buy an issue other than the initial curiosity factor. And the new SI swimsuit issue promises to be a killer in terms of quality of photography and models.
Gary Cole was the Director of Photography and Senior VP of Playboy Enterprises for over 30 years. During that time he managed the acquisition of all photography for Playboy and supervised photographers and production staff, studios (Chicago and Los Angeles), film and digital labs and photo archives. He has established and continues to maintain relationships with leading photographers from around the world as well as Playboy’s numerous international editions. He has extensive experience in approaching and negotiating agreements with celebrity talent from movies and TV and was involved in all creative aspects of the magazine. In addition, Gary served as Editorial Director of playboy.com in its formative years. He has twice been included in American Photo’s list of the 100 Most Important People in Photography.
Gary also served as Playboy’s Sports Editor for nearly 25 years and has written over 50 major articles for the magazine on college football and basketball as well as pro football. He selected Playboy’s prestigious Playboy All-America teams and has acted as on-camera expert on numerous College Football Preview television shows, all nationally syndicated on major networks. He continues to be an accredited voter for the annual Heisman Trophy Award and was the 2002 recipient of the Jim Murray Outstanding Sportswriter Award by the All-American Football Foundation.
Gary continues to write sports and travel articles for various media as well as his on-going blog “The Business of Photography” for STC. He also mentors photographers, reviews portfolios and websites and makes appearances at STC seminars and workshops and is happy to serve STC as its Photo Editor Emeritus.
However, the problems with the new Playboy’s photographic approach to women is far from the only problem with this first issue. For some reason, they’ve also decided to take out the cartoons, one of the staples of the old Playboy. In fact, there’s nothing humorous in the entire issue.
The old Playboy always provided a smile or a laugh somewhere in its pages, whether a humor piece by Woody Allen or Jean Shepherd, a wisecrack answer in The Playboy Advisor, a joke on the Party Jokes page or from one of the full page or spot cartoons in the back of the book, an art form being kept alive by Playboy and The New Yorker. Don’t look for any of these features in the new Playboy. They’re not there.
I won’t bore you with my assessment of the editorial content other than to say they have to do better than a six page interview with Rachel Maddow. The typography and overall design of the magazine is less than inspired and closer to a magazine I edited in college rather than the successor of one of the most graphically innovative magazines ever. Whether in an effort to save money on color ink or an assessment that the new generation reader doesn’t need color to be entertained, thirty-three pages in this super slim magazine are columns of black type and there are a substantial number of additional pages that have only one or two small color graphics surrounded by black type.
It’s a little more than ironic considering that Hef always had a bias against pages of black type feeling that the lack of color was dull and meant the publisher didn’t want to spend the money for color. Needless to say, I am disappointed, even a little depressed, by what I see.
The good news is that the new Playboy has seemingly achieved better distribution and more visibility on the newsstand, albeit often being displayed between women’s titles. And the new Playboy has the opportunity to attract advertisers previously gun shy of advertising in a “girlie” book.
“Let’s not give up on Playboy yet. While the old loyalists like me may not be happy with the new book, perhaps those millennials will see something that I don’t see”Unfortunately for me, buying the new Playboy is a little like going to a Starbucks that doesn’t serve coffee. However, let’s not give up on Playboy yet. While the old loyalists like me may not be happy with the new book, perhaps those millennials will see something that I don’t see. And I think it’s not fair to judge the new Playboy by one issue. As with TV shows, sometimes it takes a bit of time to iron out the bugs and figure out what does and doesn’t work.
In the meantime, those of us at STC are left to carry on the task of photographing women beautifully, whether clad or unclad. I haven’t gotten tired of looking at good photography of pretty girls and I’ll guess that I’ve looked at quite a bit more of it than most of you. Our challenge is to keep forging ahead, creating new and exciting images with the certainty that there will be a market for them in one form or another.
If you haven’t signed up for the next STC seminar in early April, what are you waiting for? We’ll have some of the most beautiful models imaginable (or perhaps beyond imagination), several master photographers willing to share all their secrets of creating great photography, and all in a glorious setting in Miami, Florida. And I will be there to offer insights into your photography, the business of photography and share more stories about the new and the good old days at Playboy Magazine.
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