Alex Morrison is co-editor at Contra Journal, the London-based annual publication that works with artists and photographers addressing themes of conflict; issue one dealt with Displacement and issue two Protest. He’ll be speaking about the magazine and their events programme at magCulture Live on 7 November.
What are you doing today?
Today I’m at Cultureshock, the creative media agency where I work during the week. As part of this job I am the deputy editor of Sotheby’s magazine, and today I am doing some preparation and editing for the next issue.
Tonight I am heading over to the Contra studio to help derig the exhibition we have been holding on the work of artist Vinita Khanna (above), which is part of our ongoing collaboration with fellow indie magazine It’s Freezing in LA!. I’m also confirming content for Contra’s third issue and arranging interviews for a freelance article I am writing. It’s a very busy time but I’m enjoying the variety!
Who/what inspired you to work in magazine publishing?
Both of my parents were journalists, which definitely made a difference – they both inspired me to pursue what can be a challenging and unpredictable career. Then working on the student newspaper while at university in Manchester really gave me a hands-on, practical insight into journalism and publishing; I wrote several articles for different sections and worked for a time as a sub-editor.
Several internships and an MA later I ended up at Cultureshock, and later got involved with Contra, and haven’t looked back since.
Contra has a large collaborative team behind it; describe how you work together and allocate jobs.
While we have a growing network of connections and collaborators, we remain a small but dedicated team of five (me, Ben Bohm-Duchen, George Brodie, Lucas Giles and Shivani Hassard). This means that while each of us has certain responsibilities, we all get stuck into the various jobs that need to be done, and everyone has contributed to the magazine content in one way or another across the two issues.
Recently, as our ambitions have grown to comprise large-scale events such as those included as part of the IFLA! collaboration, we’re looking at ways of restructuring slightly to make these roles a little more rigid and to ensure we are working in the most efficient way possible. We are still in the process of hashing these out, but even when they are in place, we will still have group meetings where we discuss everything that we are up to – and all of us will have a say.
Please share a single story/page the magazine that sums up Contra.
It’s tough to pick just one – but I would say the extract we ran of Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy’s book ‘I Am the Beggar of the World’ in issue two (above) really summarises what we are trying to do with the magazine. It features short, two-line landay poems by Pashtun women in Afghanistan, whose voices have long been violently repressed.
These poems – which are divided into the categories of Love, Grief/Separation and War/Homeland – are incredibly poignant examples of resistance, and together with Griswold’s commentary and Seamus Murphy’s remarkable photography they capture the spirit of the issue, and the magazine as a whole.
How can magazines make a difference in 2019?
I think one of the most valuable things a magazine can do is offer a platform for stories and voices that might otherwise not be heard, and spur fresh and engaging conversations around the many pertinent issues we face today. This is something we strive to do with Contra: whether it’s through our magazine or our events, we aim to be a space for marginalised voices, for new and multifarious perspectives, and for artists to share their work outside of a commercial context.
We are learning all the time, and while we’ve been so pleased with the discussions and interest our work has generated, we want to do more to reach out to the London community and others around the world. We have to acknowledge that the magazine and publishing sector has its limits, and that in order to make a tangible difference to society we have to think beyond the pages of our own publication.
With this in mind, we will be expanding our events programme over the coming months, and thinking carefully about the kinds of community partnerships and programmes that we can run to make good things happen.
Who are you looking forward to hearing/meeting at magCulture live London 2019?
Honestly, everyone – there are so many amazing speakers this year. But on a personal level, I’m looking forward to our friend and colleague Martha Dillon’s talk about IFLA!, as though we’ve worked together for a while I’m keen to hear more about the magazine in the context of the ‘Making a Difference’ theme. I’m also a massive admirer of gal-dem’s work, so am excited to hear from Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff.
Matt Willey, meanwhile, is another true great in his field, and a name that I was delighted to see on the lineup.
Hear more from Alex at magCulture Live on 7 November. Check the Eventbrite page for the complete line-up and details.