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Mapping Time

Jeremy Douglass and Lev Manovich, 2009.





The covers of every issue of Time magazine published from 1923 to summer 2009.


Total number of covers: 4535.


The large percentage of the covers included red borders. We cropped these borders and scaled all images to the same size to allow a user see more clearly the temporal patterns across all covers.










Time covers appear in order of publication (i.e., from 1923 to 2009), arranged in a grid layout (left to right and top to bottom).



Mapping 4535 Time covers into a grid organized by publicatoon date reveals a number of historical patterns. Here are some of them:


Medium: In the 1920s and 1930s Time covers use mostly photography. After 1941, the magazine switches to paintings. In the later decades the photography gradually comes to dominate again. In the 1990s we see emergence of the contemporary software-based visual language which combines manipulated photography, graphic and typographic elements.


Color vs. black and white: The shift from early black and white to full color covers happens gradually, with both types coexisting for many years.


Hue: Distinct “color periods” appear in bands: green, yellow/brown, red/blue, yellow/brown again, yellow, and a lighter yellow/blue in the 2000s.


Brightness: The changes in brightness (the mean of all pixels’ grayscale values for each cover) follow a similar cyclical pattern.


Contrast and Saturation: Both gradually increase throughout the 20th century. However, since the end of the 1990s, this trend is reversed: recent covers have less contrast and less saturation.


Content: Initially most covers are portraits of individuals set against neutral backgrounds. Over time, portrait backgrounds change to feature compositions representing concepts. Later, these two different strategies come to co-exist: portraits return to neutral backgrounds, while concepts are now represented by compositions which may include both objects and people – but not particular individuals.


The visualization also reveals an important “metapattern”: almost all changes are gradual. Each of the new communication strategies emerges slowly over a number of months, years or even decades.


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Taken on October 23, 2009