Toronto photographer Graham Kennedy is more responsible for the look and vibe of early Exclaim! than anyone. He was one of the original contributors (with publisher Ian Danzig, co-founder Ron Anicich and designer Geoff Marshall) that started the magazine in 1992, and shot most of the cover images for several years.
"I was always fighting to try and do something different with covers," Kennedy says now. "A way of eliminating all the type and design elements that went on top of photographs and incorporate those into the photo itself — that photo could be the whole cover. I kept finding ways to do covers without a designer."
Before the November 1995 cover, there were a couple of other attempts at incorporating necessary design elements into a photograph ahead of time. One was a July 1993 cover featuring folk singer Anhai. "I said 'Let's paint the logo on a tarp and we'll put it in the woods behind Anhai and that will be the cover,'" Kennedy recalls.
"I did another one" — December 1994, featuring electronic act Deepspace — "where I took all the names of the features and typed them out and put that on an acetate so the letters were reversed. They were white. I printed the photo in the darkroom and put the acetate on top of it — that knocked out all the names of the bands, so it was one photograph done in the darkroom."
While Anhai still required post-production design and the Deepspace cover helped them maintain de rigueur electronic anonymity, the November 1995 Bob Wiseman cover was when the idea's potential was fully realized.
"I think my worry at the time was 'Who's gonna let me paint their face so that when they finally get on the cover of Exclaim!, who's gonna see them?'" Kennedy relates. "When it was Bob Wiseman, I was like, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"
Wiseman is a longtime stalwart of the Canadian music scene, having first emerged as the keyboardist for Blue Rodeo before establishing his own eccentric solo career. He and Kennedy had done some photographic exploration together before — Kennedy shot an image for Toronto alt-weekly Eye Weekly of Wiseman nude, embracing his keyboard, in the style of the famous Lennon/Oko pose.
"You can have certain kinds of fun in life, or in artistic life, if you're willing to go along with things," Wiseman says now. "Some people will try to control or protect everything — and that's fine I guess — but it limits your capacity to have a wide range of experiences."
Once the issue was on the street, Wiseman says "I might have grasped when I saw it [that] 'Oh, you can't even tell that it's me.' I don't think I gave a shit about that. You're still on the cover — it's still a big deal. Even if you're camouflaged."
Wiseman submitted to about five hours in the makeup chair to get the cover painted on his face — with regular stops to check both spelling and legibility — for a photo that took less than five minutes to capture. "There wasn't much else to do," Kennedy says.
Graham Kennedy now lives and works as a photographer in Kitchener, ON; Bob Wiseman is in Toronto, teaching, scoring films and producing other artists while still working on solo recordings and videos.