magCulture Live, London 2019, part one
We returned to Conway Hall a couple of weeks ago for the seventh London edition of our annual conference, renamed magCulture Live. A crowd of over 250 gathered to enjoy another stellar line-up of speakers. Here are our notes from the day.
Following a brief introduction to the day and its theme, Making a Difference, from Jeremy Leslie, our first speaker Ariane Spanier took to the stage to share her magazine Fukt. Structuring her thoughts about her magazine in the form of an A-Z, Ariane described the purpose and history of the magazine – 18 issues old – while adding plenty of personal asides to do with her broader work and family life.
As with the magazine itself, the fun that she and partner Bjorn have was communicated beautifully; as well as magazine pages we saw videos of how their front covers were created, many of which featured live mice.
Her talk was rich with the creative nitty gritty of making magazines, but also strong on the practical realities of self-publishing, offering a meditation on dealing with the business of distribution and a reminder how heavy and awkward a complete print run of magazines is when it arrives in boxes at your home address.
One image showed her magazine being walked in the park as if it were a dog, a neat visual metaphor for the joy and hassle of publishing.
It was an inspiring and honest start to the day.
Our next speaker was a very deliberate shift of pace, and a bit of an experiment. James Hewes is the CEO of international media research association FIPP, and he more usually speaks at the type of traditional publishing event where many delegates have already turned their attention away from print to events and digital,. His relief at appearing among print lovers gave him a strong opening – he was even wearing a magCulture ‘I Love Print’ T-shirt.
Sharing data about magazine publishing in the context of other media, he demonstrated much that we instinctively feel to be the case but never had the proof: the shift from ad-funded to reader-funded media; the influence of the indies on the mainstream; the multi-channel income streams required today. Difficult to summarise, but James offered to share a copy of his slides by PDF and we’ll get that sorted for anyone interested.
The feedback on his talk was such that we’ll be looking to continue with this type of presentation at future editions of magCulture Live.
Jeremy had described the day as being planned like a magazine in his intro to the day, and this extended to including a couple of quickfire extra talks that provided the type of flash of information an advertising page does in print.
The first of these saw Jana Labaki from D&AD run through some of the magazines that have won their Yellow Pencil award over the last 58 years. This was a visually rich intervention and an excuse to be reminded of classics like Nova and the early days of the Sunday Times Magazine as well a satisfying number of magCulture Live participants: Fantastic Man, New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine all appeared as did previous guests like Apartamento, The Gentlewoman, Bloomberg Businessweek.
It was also great to see Carl’s Cars, an almost forgotten indie classic included. This magazine was one of the first to define the shift from a magazine about a subject to being about the culture of that subject.
After a coffee break, our focus for the day on Making a Difference was brought into sharp relief with a run of speakers from three indie mags showing their work and discussing how they hoped to change society.
Alex Morrison is one of the team behind Contra Journal, launched last year to examine the cultural responses to conflict.
Opening with a series of infamous press images ranging from Nick Ut’s 1972 photograph of Vietnamese children fleeing a napalm attack to the more recent recovery of dead toddler Alan Kurdi on a Mediterranean beach, he questioned their use by institutions to consolidate their power.
He explained how they become a visual shorthand, telling only part of the stories their creators intend as their purpose is distorted.
Alex listed an impressive selection of contributions from artists, essays by organisations such as Forensic Architecture and extracts from books that all express resistance, and described the team’s desire to reach beyond the pages of the magazine. They’ve been organising a series of events ranging from film screenings to panel discussions and art exhibitions, distributing pamphlets that direct the visitor back to the magazine which remains at the core of their activities.
The very opposite of the cut and paste zine of resistance, Contra’s calm glossy pages belie its powerful message.
Next, Martha Dillon, founder of It’s Freezing in LA!, described how she launched her magazine about climate change with illustrator Nina Carter. As an engineer (she works in flood risk management) she described how climate change is typical of the problems that are dealt with, ie, solvable by logic: ‘If we use too much stuff, we use too much energy, if you do that in an unclean way you produce greenhouse gases, which capture heat from the sun and the planet warms up.’
Compelling though that chain of events is, she found people had other reasons why they cared about the subject: they had stories, ideas and imagination. She described the magazine format as brilliant for this: readers expect multiple views and stories on every spread. They also expect it to be well-edited and fact-checked properly, essential considerations when covering a topic as apparently controversial as climate change.
She wants her mag to go beyond the basics – how climate change began – to examine the detail; a fascinating example she described was an essay about how storytellers might help us develop a better future for the world.
Design of course is an essential part of the IFLA! Not just a sutainable production process, but also using hand-drawn illustrations as a contrast to the usual scientific diagrams; visual motifs running through each issue based on climate change data; and a packed layout that squeezes as much content onto every page.
The third speaker publishes the most established magazine of the three. Felicia Pennant founded Season Zine to celebrate women’s football – players and fans – in 2016 and has now produced six issues. In that time her subject has grown exponentially in popularity but she remains commited to dispelling stereotypes, ‘Countering the male, pale and sometimes stale state of modern football culture’.
Her opening slides summed up her battle; first a series of sexualised images of women in skimpy player kits and then a laddish set of male TV commentators – ‘laddy banter’ and the longstanding clichés of football. This was the story at the start of her magazine; she countered this with more balanced recent imagery, such as Chelsea FC’s recent kit ad with a mixed group of male and female players in the same shot.
Season Zine is a great case study in how to develop a community around a magazine, using football to enable broader discussions of equality.
Following the three talks we welcomes all three speakers back to take audience questions; we heard about reader response and the use of directory listings to advance your community; the power of social media as a starting point for finding your audience ahead of your first issue; the further uses of social media – highlighting themes, using it to source collaborators, not using it just to sell issues, rather establish tone and voice.
The final talk of the morning session was by Gert Jonkers, editor-in-chief of Fantastic Man, a magazine we’ve wanted to feature for some time. This was the perfect moment to host Gert, so soon after their bold relaunch. His talk was a balance of seriousness and humour, neatly reflecting the character of the magazine itself.
Gert opened with two front covers that mimicked his magazine; one a music industry homage that suggested musician William Onyeabor had appeared on the launch issue cover back in 1979, ie 26 years before the magazine actually launched (above) ‘he does have a song called Fantatsic Man, which is quite fun’; and the other the recent Buffalo Zine pastiche. Together these emphasised the influence, reach and import of FM.
He went on to jokingly criticise the precise crop of the Buffalo cover image, laughing while at the same time establishing the fastidiousness he and the FM team apply to their work. This was a theme of the talk, with detailed examinations of the captioning of fashion shoots in Men’s Vogue which led tidily on to FM’s project ‘What Men Wear and Why’, a printed compilation of online questionaires about mens’s favourite items of clothing presented without a single image.
This spun into the best thing about his talk, the influences he shared. I was unaware of International Male, an early noughties menswear catalogue that featured stylised male models showing off the clothes with equally highly stylised captions.
It’s always fascinating to hear people from successful projects highlight their obscure inspirations but even better was to come, when Gert revealed his collection of denim shorts. This was a highlight of the day, again spotlighting the humour of FM while again emphasising that attention to detail they specialise in.
He ended with the reinvented Fantastic Man and the team’s desire to make the mag ready for the coming new decade.
Read part two of round-up, the afternoon talks, here.
Photography from the day by Dunja Opalko
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