If only magazines were still this cheeky! London-based publication NOVA broke editorial boundaries in their short, yet highly influential, ten years in circulation. Launching in March 1965, the British magazine released iconic covers – still referenced today – appealing to the youthquake consumers of the 1960s, and published stories documenting social changes of the era. Nova’s editorial content often reported on avant-garde social and artistic movements and frequently put forth stories on controversial topics; none more contentious than their July 1968 cover, ‘What Paris Could Do for the Queen’.
The feature story, written by Journalist Brigid Keenan, with art direction by esteemed British graphic designer Derek Birdsall, included a cover with Her Majesty’s face, obtained from Madame Tussauds, marked up with pen, highlighting suggestions of cosmetic changes written in French. Nova worked closely with French fashion designer André Courrèges, who lays claim to the invention of the miniskirt, on the editorial content. Images inside the magazine feature a model with the same measurements as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II dressed entirely in Courrèges, with side-by-side stylized images titled ‘The Queen as She Is’ and, ‘The Queen as She Could Be’. The article pokes fun at the Queen’s demure aesthetic, suggesting with a few minor superficial adjustments and a wardrobe of clothing embodying the spirit of the 1960s, she could adapt a far more youthful appearance.
While the initial images were promptly retouched in New York City, they were impounded by British customs on their return to England. After a second round of retouching to lower the ‘would-be’ hemlines and the sanction of Buckingham Palace, they were finally released in July 1968.
Although Nova had a fruitful seven-year run to follow, praised for its radical approach to editorial content focused on female liberation, the magazine released its final issue in October 1975, shutting its doors due to financial decline and lack of funding during the economic crisis of the 1970s.
At further examination, Nova’s cover of Queen Elizabeth II as depicted by Madame Tussauds brings to mind the work of minimalist Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. Amongst Sugimoto’s photographic works of seascapes, theaters, architecture, museum dioramas and Buddhist sanctuaries, is a robust series of portraiture. In Portraits, a body of work from the 1990s, Sugimoto photographs iconic wax figures from Madame Tussauds in larger-than-life-size proportion. These black and white portraits set against plain black backdrops depict historical figures of the past and present, ranging from Henry VII and Napoleon Bonaparte, to Fidel Castro, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II. In photographing reproductions of historical figures, Sugimoto awakens a deep-rooted dialogue between painting and photograph, as well as the camera’s role as a mode of mechanical reproduction. Sugimoto blurs the lines of representation and reality through these historical portraits grounded in the photographer’s paradoxal play of artifice.