National Geographic, February 2018

The latest edition of National Geographic magazine explores the increasing ubiquity of surveillance in contemporary society, what makes birds intelligent, and the wild utopia of The Falklands. So far, to form. There is, however, a twist.

The issue is guest-edited by model, entrepreneur and environmental activist Lily Cole. Cole is the second of 12 British guest editors who have been invited to put their stamp on the magazine in 2018. She joins the likes of Mo Farah, Brian Cox and Ranulph Fiennes in celebrating the 130th years that the magazine has been in print.

Cole is both a worthy and topical choice. Just last month, in January 2018, a petty yet well-publicised row erupted when she was made a patron of the Brontë Society. Writer and society member Nick Holland snubbed Cole’s appointment on account of her supermodel credentials which was met by Cole asking that her work be “judged on its own merits.” Thankfully Holland’s comments were widely denounced as snobbery. 

The merits of Cole’s work make her a good fit for National Geographic. In recent years she has weaned herself away from the bubble of fashion, and today tends to use her public profile to raise awareness for social and environmental causes. The demands of National Geographic’s guest editorship, however, is not entirely clear. Beyond a three-question interview and a brief guest editor’s letter, Cole’s influence on the issue is uncertain. This seems a missed opportunity. 

The issue’s lead article is an in-depth discussion of public surveillance in society (above). A massive 25 pages are dedicated to the feature, ample room to weigh up the complexity and delicacy of the divisive, moot subject. Strong visual research backs up the text, with strong infographics and real examples of CCTV imagery from London’s streets bringing often abstract inforamtion to life.

Other stand-out pieces include a Q&A in which New York’s former city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, discusses sustainable urban living; and an examination of how China’s rapidly changing eating habits are reshaping agricultural systems.  

While some long-running publications rely too heavily on heritage and reputation, and too lightly on innovation, National Geographic proves itself as a magazine with vision and history.

This Way Up #1

“I wanted to create a place where no one would tell you ‘no’”, This Way Up editor Adam Hunt explains, “the magazine is a creative, experimental space for the contributors and myself.” Cue a debut issue that is intentionally energetic and expressive in design, exploring artistic pursuits in their many forms. This Way Up showcases the curiosity, desire and fulfilment of self-initiated side projects.

The theme for the first issue is Love & Happiness, and it invites readers to forage through its bright pages; trans-American photographic and art direction duo Kelsey McClellan and Michelle Maguire discuss their delightful series ‘Wardrobe Snacks’, in which diners balance food on colour co-ordinated laps (above). Elsewhere, dreamlike works from Ana Montiel’s project ‘Hidden Realities’ fill the page (below).

The magazine is designer Adam’s first endeavour into publishing, and the outcome is a publication that seamlessly marries both aspects. Among headlines that shift upside down (even the title on the cover is inverted) and images that run off the page, are interviews with The Rodina, an art and design studio in Amsterdam (above), Ben Smithm the man behind magCulture fave Shelf Heroes (below) and Karl Toomey, former head of creative at Anyways (It’s Nice That’s creative agency), who fittingly left to pursue his own creative projects (also below).

There is a focus on all forms of creativity, from art and fashion, to independent magazines; “Side projects can be anything, a piece of music, a poem, a painting, a poster, an app, a sketch, a sculpture or a new idea for a company,” says Adam, “they’re all just things people do for the love of doing them and I’d like to reward them for doing just that.” The outcome is a collection of work that leaves you bursting to find your own side project.

Antonia Case, Womankind

We start the new week with Antonia Case, editor of Womankind. This Australian women’s magazine is a leading example of the new women’s publications, aiming to challenge contemporary thought about what it is to be a woman. This ethos is reinforced by its no advertising policy. We join Antonia as issue 15 arrives in Europe.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
My office is located three minutes from my home in Hobart, Tasmania – it’s literally down the road. The office is at the back of organic tea atelier, poet (above).

When we set up the business the last thing we wanted to do was to work from a lifeless corporate office, so we decided to also set up a tea atelier with a curated selection of books for sale. It means that tea is plentiful, ideas are flowing, and interesting people are always floating about.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
I work from an antique desk that’s always toppling with books. My chair is quite rickety. Those workplace safety people would have a heart attack if they spotted my work setup but I wouldn’t feel right strapped into an ergonomic chair; I’d feel like I was permanently seated at the dentist.

From our tea atelier, we face the daily commuter traffic in Hobart. Customers come in and out of the store, taste tea, read books, and chat, while staff answer subscriber emails and pack boxes of magazines that are sent all over the world.

Which magazine do you first remember?
The first magazine I remember was Dolly. It was a magazine for young girls in Australia, but it ceased print publication just under two years ago. I bought it while staying at my grandparents’ house in the country.

An article I remember clearly was about decorating your bedroom, and it showcased a series of meticulously-designed bedrooms. The images made me instantly dissatisfied with the look of my bedroom and set me on a desperate quest to make it ‘fancy’ like the photographs in the story.

It was my first experience of ‘consumer dissatisfaction’ – the experience of a gap between my present environment, or reality, and some ‘fantasy land’ presented by the media. Suffice to say, the magazine did not leave me feeling happier for having read it.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I always enjoy looking through French design magazine étapes, which is so beautifully designed and showcases some of the best examples of graphic design and typography. It’s a visual feast.

What led you to launch an alternative type of women’s magazine?
I’d been personally offended by women’s magazines for too many years, so I had to create a magazine for women and girls to read that reflected the fact that we are innately intelligent, creative beings, who are interested and are capable of reading material beyond diet tips, cooking recipes, and celebrities.

Why did you choose to be advertising-free?
I don’t have a problem with advertising per se, but I do have a problem when advertisements demean women in order to sell products.

How have your readers react to the lack of advertising?
Every image in Womankind magazine is empowering, and our readers regularly comment on this. Women are typically looking front on – they’re not pouting, or looking submissively down or away from the camera; they don’t have stilettos between their teeth or any of that ridiculous imagery you see in fashion advertising. I mean, if you made your pet dog behave like that for a photo shoot you’d call it ‘cruel’. But it’s OK for women?

Do you have any exciting prospects on the horizon for 2018 and beyond?
Each issue of Womankind is themed around a country and animal – which governs design, colour, and writers to a certain extent. So we’re always on an adventure to some new part of the world.

We don’t plan out future issues of the magazine too far in advance. I think if you plan too far out you lose spontaneity and creativity, and that’s not just limited to magazines either, but to all creative endeavours. There’s a nice quote that we included in the recent issue by American dancer Agnes de Mille, which reads: “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what, next, or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

What are you worrying about at work this week?
This week I’ve been negotiating with the printer to change the paper stock of Womankind to matt from silk but the they’ve already ordered silk for this issue. I really wanted matt as the concept of this particular issue of the magazine especially suits matt paper, so I’m discussing further with the printer. The other issue I have to be conscious of is weight. If the magazine gets too heavy then postage costs increase. It’s annoying when business matters get in the way of design.

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Well, normally it’d be buying a new computer – my last one died and I’ve been working on a laptop ever since. But the fact that my new computer is still sitting in its box unpacked can’t count as a highlight of the week, can it? The computer store person emailed this week asking me how my new computer was faring. I was thinking of replying to her that it has been a little disappointing so far, but I’m patiently waiting. However, I must say that keeping it in the box has certainly has been less distracting.

What will you be doing after this chat?
I’m going to chat to staff about a strange incidence of book breeding in the store. From last count, we had fifteen copies of Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’. It’s a good book, but I doubt we need fifteen copies. It’s hardly on the top sellers’ list. Patrick White’s ‘Happy Valley’ is another concern. Last count we had at least ten copies of his book, which I don’t think anyone in the store has ever read.

Tea, on the other hand, continuously needs replenishing. Must be due to the hot summer weather.

Simon Kanter, editorial director

Simon Kanter is editorial director at Haymarket Media, where he has launched many successful customer magazines including Army and Camouflage. Recently he reinvented FS (Forever Sports), a men’s sport and fitness magazine which is the second highest sold men’s lifestyle magazine in the UK.

As usual, we asked him to select a new issue, and old issue and one other thing…

A new issue
Got to be New York. Not The New Yorker but the brilliant, fortnightly news, views, loose screws and everything on a short fuse in the world’s greatest city. Brilliantly crafted, wonderfully eclectic, tonally never missing a beat, New York does what all good mags should do; it loves its audience, it loves its subject matter and it achieves what Gill Hudson, in her heyday as editor of the Radio Times, described as a new surprise on every page and a small treat for every reader.

New York is serious and measured, it is frivolous and fun, it is opinionated and loud. In recent issues, it has venerated its community (My New York), it has done heart rending journalism in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, has celebrated Ashley Graham, ‘the only supermodel with clothing tags bearing numbers like 14 and 16’ and has asked some really awkward questions of Mark Zuckerberg. It is quite simply an old school tour de force.

An old issue
So much to choose from; the peerless James Brown’s Loaded, Mark Ellen and David Hepworth’s Mojo and Q, the certainty and permanence of National Geographic, Marvin Scott Jarrett’s dazzling Raygun, the sheer exuberance of Smash Hits from which was born Nick Logan’s arrogant fashion icon The Face. But my choice, from the late 1990s, is the UK edition of Marie Claire.

Surprising maybe? Just another big fat glossy stuffed to the gunnels with fashion and lifestyle, beauty and celebrity, frocks and shoes and smellies? Yes – to all the above but Marie Claire was also original, shocking, prurient and unique. It did an extraordinary clever thing and took sordid real-life stories, dressed them up as ‘investigations’ and ‘campaigns’, gave them thousands of well written words set in sober, prosaic layouts and turned a ‘red top’ agenda into intellectual indulgence.

Here, from one single issue, the 10th birthday special edition in September 1998, is a sample menu from the feast:

The home of stripping: expert showgirls share their secrets.

What I wore when I fell in love – from glam rock gear to police uniforms six couples dress up for a rerun of their first encounters.

The men who are licensed to rape – convicted rapists and murderers are operating as legitimate minicab drivers to prey on their female passengers.

‘I fell in love with the man who was hired to kill me’.

‘Cuba: Healing Chernobyl’s children – why have the beaches of the Caribbean become a refuge for hundreds of young disaster victims from the Ukraine?’

Exchanging lives with a stranger – have you ever wondered what it would be like to live someone else’s life for a day?

And something else…
From New York magazine again, a picture of rare power from the aforementioned Hurricane Maria story – ‘100 days of darkness’ – and its chilling aftermath in Puerto Rico. The picture fills one spread of an eight-page punctuation of black and white shots by photographer Matt Black. It features the backs of four identical, refrigerated trucks and, in the foreground, a man with a ladder dressed in a protective white suit. The caption to the picture reads simply: ‘Trailers full of bodies’. It is a gob smacking moment. One of those haunting, ordinary yet extraordinarily chilling images you return to time and again. And each time, it feels like you’ve been punched in the gut.

magCulture Meets MacGuffin

MacGuffin was the very first magazine we invited to speak at our magCulture Meets series when we launched it back in January 2016. Although then only on its second issue, the magazine had already cemented itself as a firm favourite here at magCulture for its truly original concept, stories and design.

Each biannual edition takes an object and explores the manifold stories it generates. Like the MacGuffins in Hitchcock films, these things are not the main characters, but the plot devices that set the story in motion.

Since that first event, MacGuffin has gone on to win several awards including the Stack Awards Magazine of the Year in 2016 and Editor of the Year and Art Director of the Year in 2017. We’re delighted to have co-founders Kirsten Algera and Ernst Van der Hoeven travelling in from Amsterdam to talk about how the publication has progressed and about the making of the most recent issue.

That fifth issue throws open The Cabinet to reveal icons of post-modernism, immaculate celebrity closets, whimsical cocktail bars, socialist kiosks and even a cabinet to marry. It’s another excellent issue and we look forward to hosting Kirsten and hearing more about this leading example of indie publishing.

As ever, the evening will see an illustrated talk followed by an audience Q&A.

Thursday 1 March
Doors opens at 6.30pm and the talk will kick off at 7pm

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We’re grateful to Park Communications and the Five Points Brewing Company for their support of magCulture Meets.

magCulture Meets… is our monthly talk series. Each evening will provide the opportunity to share a beer with fellow magCulturalists and hear a magazine-maker discuss their project in an informal, relaxed atmosphere.

Please note: we are unable to provide refunds or transfer tickets for talks.