The latest new title to bubble up out of Bristol’s thriving independent mag scene (a community encouraged by the BIP collective, which also includes Cereal, Boneshaker and Another Escape) is Elbow Grease — a magazine all about work.
It sets out to honestly portray different forms of entrepreneurialism, all of which it depicts as inspiring yet not without hurdles. It’s very much a ‘document of the hard work of others’—whether that’s old-fashioned labourers or the 21st Century creative community—that seeks to inspire hard work in its readers.
“Our audience is an active crowd who know the importance of independence,” says art director Tom Sydenham. “We share similarities with a couple of other magazines in that respect… But we were really interested in trying to voice an honest portrayal of entrepreneurialism. Something inspiring, yet a bit rough around the edges. Something that makes people want to make things happen without overlooking the obvious hurdles. It tends to resonate with those who are motivated and creative yet faced some adversity.”
Inside, there’s an interview with Craig Oldman about ‘In Loving Memory of Work’, a history of the 80s miner’s strike. It’s followed by a feature on the UK’s only library dedicated to documenting Britain’s working class. Later, there’s an interview with a contemporary carpenter and furniture maker about finding the perfect workspace (an article that reminds me more of something you might find in Hole&Corner), and another on a social enterprise that teachers prisoners in the UK needlework.
It’s a well-put together magazine — its well structured (sections are defined by full-page numbers by Suzie Eland), makes good use of illustration and brings together a lot of engaging characters. But there is something about sifting through a title that matter-of-factly places stories about the history of strikes next to features about the merits of co-working that lacks a critical edge.
That’s not to say that Elbow Grease doesn’t feature stories about important social work. There’s an article on the scepticism around ‘armchair activism’, and an email from documentary photographer David Hoffman that that rejects the magazine’s request to publish his photos for free — it’s an attack against the devaluation of the photographic craft. Perhaps what I would like to see is the title implementing some of the critical ideology of the groups that it features, rather than simply showcasing different working cultures for inspiration.