Last Sunday's cover of The New York Times Magazine featured a contemplative image of President Obama. We know he is deep in thought because of his posture.
To indicate thought, one must have some part of the hand pressed against the face, or, preferably the head. Think of Rodin's The Thinker.
Think also of Walter Benjamin. No one's author photos are more about thought than his. In fact, in one of the photos, he seems to be in pain he's thinking so hard.
So, the semiotics of this cover place Obama in the line of people who have been known to be driven more by thought than anger, more by reflection than reaction. The Benjamin photo on the right makes him look like he's debating about which wedge of cheese to put on his cracker, whereas the image of Obama creates an aura of deep thought. It takes his entire left hand to hold up his head there are so many ideas in there.
What does this mean? Well, it may tell us more about Obama than the cover itself. That is, it tells us what we think about Obama. We replicate what we already believe.
I believe I like this cover. It wavers between illustration and photorealism. Its color palette is almost washed out, and that flatness contrasts against the depth of Obama's visage. The effect is essentially positive.
Ultimately, this cover evokes a dignified, reflective, intelligent president, who may or may not be thinking about his post move.