Behind the classic Angry Kitty snapshot on this week’s Times magazine cover

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A cat was a must-have for the cover of this week’s special technology issue of The New York Times Magazine. After all, cats are “the most popular thing on the internet,” said Pierpaolo Ferrari, one of the artists who created the cover image.

This image – a wet, white feline with its back arched, beaming with contempt – appears on a single line on the cover: “So the internet didn’t go the way we hoped.”

In addition to the cover, the interior photos that illustrate each of this week’s tech and design stories are the work of Maurizio Cattelan and M. Ferrari, a mischievous artist couple widely known as the duo behind Toiletpaper, a photography magazine. They had previously worked with The Times Magazine on several projects, including a photographic rendition of the 1971 Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library.

The photos are unmistakably in keeping with Mr. Cattelan’s and Mr. Ferrari’s signature style: witty, vibrant, meticulously composed and just that surreal edge. As an introductory essay by Bill Wasik explains, the issue’s articles “question the future of the Internet at a time when that future has never been more unstable” and cheerful and colorful works of art leaven texts that might otherwise seem disturbing. A story about censorship in Turkey, for example, is illustrated with a photograph of a man’s face whose eyes are covered by a woman’s fingertips; cartoon eyes are painted on her fingernails.

“They just have their own wild, futuristic, internet-like imagery playing out in their universe,” said Kathy Ryan, director of photography for the magazine. “There is a big wedding incredibly playful and loose and creative, and extraordinarily precise and efficient.

The precision of the images is particularly remarkable considering how quickly they came together. After the magazine’s deputy art director, Ben Grandgenett, offered to commission Mr. Cattelan and Mr. Ferrari for the issue, Ms. Ryan contacted Mr. Cattelan and Mr. Ferrari in mid-October with brief descriptions of each of the items. They sent back a set of ideas and sketches – up to five or six per invite – just over a week later, and Ms Ryan, Mr Grandgenett and design director Gail Bichler worked to develop them. .

“When the NYT calls, your spine shivers and all your limbs freeze!” Mr. Cattelan said in an email. He called the commissioning process for The Times Magazine “an exam that tests your limits, your ability to produce an original image, simple but complex, eye-catching but not so obvious”.

Mr. Cattelan and Mr. Ferrari were in the studio in Milan a few days later to take the photos. Among them: a tree bearing many species of fruit, from bananas and grapes to pineapples and lemons (for an article on WeChat, the Chinese “app that does everything”); a woman’s mouth, with chipped front teeth, having just taken a bite out of an iPhone (for Mr. Wasik’s introductory essay); Korean artist Dain Yoonwho made up several times to paint her own face a top her own face (for an article on teenage individuality online). All of the photos appear against color-saturated backgrounds that add to the sense of goofy sensory overload.

The artists also enlisted the services of Giulia Pasqualetti, an animal trainer with whom they have worked for more than a decade. “If we need a zebra, she knows where to get it,” Mr Ferrari said.

Ms. Pasqualetti provided them with Aisha, a turtle whose shell they covered with emoji stickers to illustrate a story about online fandom. Aisha is particularly friendly, Mr Ferrari said, and is a fast walker, which was ideal for a video the artists hoped to produce of her walking across the screen. (“She’s the Linda Evangelista of turtles,” Mr. Ferrari said dryly.)

“We work quickly with the animals, always, because they can’t stay too long,” Mr Ferrari said. “We’re always super ready when they come on set — everything has to be ready; these are the superstars.

As well as the glowing blanket kitten, Mr Ferrari and Mr Cattelan photographed a series of adorable meme-ready cats for one of the features: three of them have muddy fur, while a Persian fluffy white stands out, unblemished and sporty. an elegant crystal necklace. The accompanying article, by Kevin Roose, explores the chasm between the internet as most of us experience it and the cleaner, faster, ad-free “luxury” experience available to those who are ready. to pay for it.

Mr. Ferrari and Mr. Cattelan needed to get all of their feline vaccines within 5-10 minutes, so as not to stress the animals too much, including the shampooed cover cat. “It’s super fast,” said Mr Ferrari – and a bit unpredictable. “We wanted the different positions and expressions, and you know, you can’t control the way she moves.”

Although photography came together quickly in a literal sense, Mr. Cattelan and Mr. Ferrari view the time it takes to create their work more expansively. “Playing video games, having an espresso or going for a bike ride are important times to prepare for the difficult task of producing an image,” Cattelan wrote.

That said, it is important for them to act quickly on good momentum. Mr. Cattelan quoted an old chestnut tree: “The guest is like a fish, after three days it stinks,” he wrote. “The same goes for ideas: we like the ones that are very fresh.”

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