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Fantastic Man’s eight cover stars act as a cross-generational portrait story

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Over the last couple of days Fantastic Man has been teasing its readers by gradually releasing the eight cover stars of its 27th issue. The people featured aren’t those you would recognise in the context of a magazine cover, but boys and men you’ll identify with from everyday life. It could be the teenage boy who grew up next door or an older relative, or as creative director Jop van Bennekom tells It’s Nice That they’re “boys who were about to discover life and older guys, let’s say the grandpas, who have a little more life behind them already”.

Each issue of Fantastic Man is a built around a subtle theme, not always immediately visible in the magazine, but a factor of its personality which the team has recently “brought more into the foreground,” says Jop. “Communicating more things that allow us to think in a different way and to do different things, to tell a different story.”

The story for the publication’s 27th issue explores the roles of men at different ages, and its covers do so using the device of contrast. Under the title of For Young and Old, the cover stars are either young, 14, 15 or 18 year olds, or much older, aged 71 and 78. In turn the image-led covers are “a portrait story of a dialogue between those generations,” Jop explains.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of doing a photoshoot that plays out in public on the cover,” the creative director explains of this issue’s beginnings. “There are many different ways of approaching the cover and a lot of magazines are doing different covers these days so I was like oh, we’re not going to do that. But, at the same time, I quite like the idea of having pictures that are very similar on various covers. In this case, it’s the core idea of the story.”

Each is shot by photographer Mark Peckmezian, and once you see the covers together their similarity is heightened. “It’s been shot on film so when printed it feels almost out of focus because of the quality of the film. What you see on your computer screen might be a little hard, but then in real life it’s really soft and lovely,” describes Jop. “This is the kind of dialogue i had with Mark about this shoot endlessly,” he continues. Questions such as “what’s the right direction?” or “how much should it be about the models and how objectified should it be?” were all answered on the actual shoot day, as “once we got the casting together it made sense,” he explains.

Styled by Carlos Nazario and cast by Jess Hallett – “one of the best in the industry” – having the right casting director was key to the covers’ success. “She’s very good at finding real people, but making them exist in a fashion context,” says Jop. The selection of boys and men chosen include Jess’ own son, 14-year-old Luca, the star of the first cover to be released. “A lot of the other boys are from the same school so they knew each other. They did what all 14-, 15-year-old boys do, kind of playing and a bit of fighting, all excited but really nervous, really sweet,” the creative director describes. “The older guys were just sort of thrilled to be in the spotlight and not so nervous. It was a really fun day.”

The decision to have eight on the cover stemmed from the joy that surrounded the shoot day. “We went into the shoot thinking that we would do less,” says Jop. “Then, when we were actually shooting it, chatting to all the guys, everyone was having a really good time and we thought we’ve got the whole thing, we’re not going to make a selection.”

The result is a cover story that spans genres of photography, not quite fashion but “between portraiture and maybe fashion, maybe art photography in a way and it plays with stock photography,” explains Jop. The concept of having someone unrecognisable on the cover is a brave move for Fantastic Man. “I was thinking, is it weird to buy the cover of a magazine of people you don’t know, but actually you do it all the time right?” Jop is right, particularly in the context of fashion magazines posting models on their covers. Instead Fantastic Man’s cover stars aren’t recognisable but relatable to all sorts of people, depending on who picks up a copy.

Fantastic Man No.27 will be available to buy on 29 March, and inside the magazine it’s generational theme continues. From who they feature to the creatives it works with in this issue, each differs in age. From a shoot with teenagers in Rio de Janeiro, to 71-year-old photographer Brian Griffin shooting middle-aged men in London’s Canary Wharf, or a fashion shoot with grandads in Galway, Ireland, age in all its greatness, runs throughout.

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Fantastic Man: No. 27

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Fantastic Man: No. 27