Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

O. J. Simpson Cover | Matt Mahurin

with 12 comments


If you were not living under a rock in the 90s, you probably have heard of O.J. Simpson and his murder trial. In short, the former football star (and actor manqué) was charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. On June 17th 1994, Simpson fled the police in what was the television event for a generation, but was finally taken into custody. A week later, the LAPD released Simpson’s mugshot which ran on both Time and Newsweek’s covers on June 27th.

The trouble was Time’s version was a darker edited version courtesy of its photoillustrator Matt Mahurin (an unaltered photo appeared inside). Many observed that by darkening Simpson’s face, Time had emphasized his skin color (and therefore his race), gave him a more “menacing” appearance and feral look. In an echo of things to come, Time defended its decision firstly online – on a computer bulletin board then used by less than a million subscribers called America Online – and later on the next week’s issue, but also quietly substituted the cover with another (something it had never done before or since).

I have recently been gifted an excellent coffee-table-book called, Time: The Illustrated History of The World’s Most Influential Magazine; inside, alongside the publishers’ recollections of the entire saga, Matt Mahurin remembers:

This was a fascinating, maddening, challenging and ultimately expanding experience. As an image-maker, I work in a dark palette. Whether it was my Time cover on domestic violence, nuclear terrorism—or a former football hero who is suspected of murder—much like a stage director would lower the lights on a somber scene, I used my long-established style to give the image a dramatic tone. Also, the raw image I was given was washed out—therefore from a pure design consideration, by making the image more graphic, I hoped to give it more visual impact to catch the reader’s eye as they passed the newsstand.

For me, the controversy was as much about power as it is about racism. Time magazine had the circulation power to reach millions of readers—and I had the power to make the image that they would see. In hindsight. the misfortune was that there was not a person in a position of power or perception able to be sensitive as to how this image could be perceived by the various interests each pushing their own agendas on race, power and the media. I also believe it was possible there was no one who could have anticipated the fallout. In the end, my career has been in pursuit of the power of the image and it is through this power of the image that we become educated and in the end, this is what we should hold on to; that we have been educated as to how images can he perceived.

As both a professional and personal experience, it is not one I would wish on anyone, nor would I have ever traded it away, because despite all the conflict that came from this controversy, it is yet one more testament that one image is worth a thousand words.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Wow, that’s some non-apology!

    Joseph Holmes

    July 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    • it wasnt meant as an apology.

      it was meant as an explanation, & as an explanation, it was pretty good.


      July 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm

  2. Excellent post and a story that’s still so very relevant for today. The making and treatment of an image such as this, is a powerful thing that must be treated with care, currency, intelligence and sympathy. No easy task!


    July 22, 2013 at 12:11 am

  3. “—much like a stage director would lower the lights on a somber scene, I used my long-established style to give the image a dramatic tone.”

    What a Crock of shit.

    His Self Commentary is as sincere as the BATFE investigating itself over “Fast ans Furious”.

    Your Obt. Svt.
    Col Korn,
    Chief O’ Mayhem in the Great WW-2 (And the Cold War)
    Now Chief O’ Security, Sanitation (And the Complaint Dept.)
    OXOjamm Studios.

    Col. Korn

    July 22, 2013 at 2:49 am

    • Loony alert.

      Loony Detector

      July 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm

  4. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. I am a photographer and ALSO like dramatic, contrasty, low-key images.

    However — leaving the racism aside for a minute — on a purely technical level, that was one lousy print job. Murky, not dramatic. No detail in his face.

    Was it racist? I can’t read your mind, but it seems to be at least meant to be prejudicial — Simpson looks like he’s in a police line-up.

    I am NOT an OJ fan– in any way shape or form. I think he was guilty of premeditated murder in the case of his ex-wife, and non-premeditated murder (2nd degree?) in the case of Ron Goldman. The trial and verdict were as unjust and outrageous as the Zimmerman trial. Both got away with cold-blooded murder.


    July 22, 2013 at 10:14 am

  5. “much like a stage director would lower the lights on a somber scene, I used my long-established style to give the image a dramatic tone. ”

    It’s a news magazine. He shouldn’t be thinking he’s a stage director. People need to think for themselves especially in the PJ world. I think the guy screwed up and now he’s passing it off as art.


    July 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

  6. Suffer from kidney disease? aussie naturopath tells all – how his patients avoid dialysis
    check this site out https://twitter.com/soniaw17/status/353268126143623168

    check this site out

    July 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

  7. The media effect of the OJ Simpson trial is a perfect demonstration of how an innocent man can prove in open criminal court their innocence and yet most Americans ignore that FACT because their whipped into a Fascist minded frenzy by the media propaganda!

    Simple flat out fact the police and crime labs and prosecutors backed up that glove as used in the murders and the gloves do NOT fit OJ Simpson, so HE’S INNOCENT!

    The Fascist news media tries to DISTRACT the Americans from the fact that POLICE planted that glove by using their power of propaganda to CHANGE THE SUBJECT into a race issue to COVER FOR THE POLICE!

    The LA police were using DOUBLES around the time of the so-called murders and news media was mums the word about that, and police cover up their use of doubles by claiming they use them as decoys!

    YES the LA police use doubles, they are also known to recruit civilians into sting operations and are also known to stage deaths in sting operations and are known to do so with civilians that join into their sting operations!

    I do not even believe that OJ Simpson’s wife and her lover the sting operative are dead, their just using new identity’s given to them by FBI and are full time operatives for law enforcement!

    Kato is also a sting operative, and it is common practice for police to surround their target with sting operatives which is WHY they TOLD Nicole Simpson to rent out that guest house to Kato on a lease so OJ Simpson could not kick him off the property!

    Go here and learn about how our police use doubles and how they try to hide it by calling them “Decoys” and wake up to the fact our news reporters know damn well police use doubles and are mums the word about it!


  8. […] famous example was of TIME magazine’s coverage on OJ Simpson’s trial. By manipulating the brightness and contrast, TIME’s cover has shown OJ in a different light and […]

  9. Get real. Time on trial? Narcissistic sociopath who brutally murdered his wife and innocent bystander. A proven batterer. He is evil personified. Let him burn in hell. Apologists need to grab a clue!


    October 6, 2015 at 5:58 am

  10. […] The photo-illustrator behind the manipulation of the Times cover, Matt Mahurin, states “For me, the controversy was as much about power as it is about racism. despite all the conflict t… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: