They designed H Bomb Magazine, they said, not as a pornographic outlet, but to start a dialogue on campus about issues of sexuality, with a special focus on literature and art with a sexual bent.
But for better or worse, H Bomb Magazine made national headlines in February for its concept.
“We had one line about nude photographs, and everyone assumed that would be the sole goal and purpose of the magazine—to parade Harvard’s sexuality around,” Cieplak-von Baldegg, also editor-in-chief of the magazine, said of the original proposal for the publication. “The real purpose was to have a verbal discussion of sex, because basically any intelligent discussion about it is really lacking from campus.”
The long-awaited magazine was released on May 26, replete with a total of about 28 full pages of text and 15 photographs of full or partially nude students.
In February, the media caught wind of the idea, Cieplak-von Baldegg and Hrdy said, not because the magazine was any different from publications that already existed at campuses around the country, but because of a fascination with the Harvard label.
“There are so many people doing amazing things at Harvard, and this is the story they choose to report,” said Hrdy, also H Bomb Magazine’s editor-at-large. “As Newsweek so generously points out, our magazine isn’t groundbreaking.”
“It was only because the idea of Harvard students naked is so intriguing,” added Cieplak-von Baldegg, a visual and environmental studies concentrator in Quincy House.
The co-founders said the misplaced attention hindered them from creating the magazine they originally envisioned.
“We had to really consider the attention we were going to get,” said Hrdy, a history of science concentrator in Adams House. “We did what we wanted to as far as we could, but we had to think about how it was going to be construed because, no matter our intentions, people were going to look for porn.”
The final product was somewhat “subdued,” Cieplak-von Baldegg said, and the co-founders had to pay particular attention to obscuring the identities of the models.
They said the Harvard Lampoon’s parody of the magazine, released on April 12, made some potential contributors reluctant to have their names attached to H Bomb.
“[The spoof] was good because it put the joke out there, but it did turn models off,” Hrdy said. “I had models lined up, and they were like, ‘I saw the Lampoon spoof, and I don’t want to be in this.’”
“We had to convince them it was good, and worth their time,” Cieplak-von Baldegg said. “It was totally possible that [our] magazine would have been a total joke—we had to show that it wasn’t.”
The initial media attention began with a Crimson article published in February after the magazine was approved by the Committee on College Life, a College student-Faculty group that oversees student extracurricular organizations.