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ESPN The Magazine_Ronda Rousey

ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue and the Difference Between Good and Great Photos

ESPN The Magazine Body Issue cover

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista is featured on one of six different Body Issue covers.

When 27 athletes strip down for a magazine, tongues usually wag. But four years later and shock value gone, let’s just say there’s a difference between good and great photos.

Whenever the clothes come off, the controversy piles on, so expect to hear some murmurings when ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue hits newsstands on Friday. Or maybe not.

By the fourth installment of this annual celebration of the human body, maybe we’re over the shock value of seeing athletes in their very chiseled—but very buff, save for the strategically placed hand, shadow or sporting apparatus—form.

Already, slideshows and galleries of the 27 athletes with the “bodies we want,” so labeled by the magazine, are making their rounds on the Internet. Were it so controversial, the Twitter-verse should have alerted us by now.

This year’s expanded crop is no doubt thanks to the upcoming Summer Olympic Games that begin later this month in London. We’ll be seeing some of these athletes from the national soccer, rowing, track and field, and volleyball teams compete in just a few short weeks—albeit with some clothing on.

While not every photo is of the most compelling artistic quality, many are. The most captivating are the black-and-whites and muted tones of athletes featured with a discus or a soccer ball, or in mid-kick, mid-leap or mid-sprint. Some will even make you wonder how many takes it took to capture the photo just right.

Others, like the ones featuring New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, seem a little out of place. At least it’s hard to take them seriously next to the focused emotion of nearly all of the rest, including two particularly memorable of Paralympic rower Oksana Masters—with and without her artificial legs.

Still others, while tastefully done, are merely just pretty athletes posed with a strategic turn or arm placement, like tennis player Daniela Hantuchova who was photographed without a racquet. Sometimes their setting has something to do with their sport of choice, like U.S. men’s national soccer team defender Carlos Bocanegra who was captured with a net behind him. Sometimes it doesn’t, like New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler, who is pictured on a beach holding a basketball.

Perhaps if there were any controversy, this would be it. It’s one thing to celebrate the years of hard work and training necessary to carve out the perfect athletic form against the backdrop of the setting in which its meant to excel. It’s another to celebrate the human form for the sake of doing it or without the proper context.

That’s not to go so far as to say the difference is as egregious as being exploitative of women or pandering to sell more magazines or create any buzz. It’s just merely the difference between a good photo and a great one.