At work with: Rob Pinney, Point.51

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Launched just over a year ago by photographer Rob Pinney and journalist James Graham, biannual magazine Point.51 addresses contemporary Europe via longform text and indepth photo reportage.

Issue one, Journey, dealt with migration and the follow-up examined Britain’s identity. We hear from Rob about his working week as the third issue, Resilience, arrives, looking at how the continent has coped with Covid-19.

How do you start your week?
At the moment I’m trying to get out first thing each morning for a quick walk before starting the day, but then it’s working from home. That’s not a new thing for us – the team that works on Point.51 is spread out across Europe.

Myself and Sara, our picture editor, are in London; our features editor James is in rural Ireland; our contributing editors Meg, Nick, and Jonathan are currently in Boston, Sarajevo, and Dublin respectively. The journalists and photographers we work with are based across the continent and under ordinary circumstances they’re often on the move, so we’re very used to doing things remotely.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your studio/office
Where to start? We live in a small two bedroom flat and my partner is now working from home too, so we both have desks set up in the spare room. I see my desk as ‘organised’ in a fairly basic way, but I’m not sure others would agree. There is usually a pile of papers, books and magazines on either end and the height of those piles is a pretty good barometer for how much I have on in a given week.

Our window looks out onto one of the busier roads in southeast London and the DLR train runs by right outside. On paper that sounds like a nuisance, but in some ways it’s nice to be able to look outside and see things happening around you. We’re sandwiched right between two soon-to-be building sites though, so at the moment it feels a bit like the calm before the storm. The area right in front of our block is now surrounded by hoarding, and a gang of urban foxes have taken up residence inside.

Which magazine do you first remember?
It would have to be the Beano. When I was growing up, I used to start my weekends with a trip to the newsagent to buy the new issue. Often there’d be a queue of adults paying for their newspapers, and I’d join them with a copy of the Beano tucked under my arm. It felt very grown up at the time.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
There are lots of beautiful and intriguing magazines around at the moment. But I’d say that there are a much smaller number of titles that are engaging with big political and social issues in a serious way, and fewer still that combine that with photojournalism. That’s where my interest really lies.

I’m a big fan of California Sunday Magazine, and very sorry to see them bring their print edition to an end. They consistently pulled together thorough and weighty journalism with excellent photography that really pulls the reader into the story. Their work has been a big inspiration for what we do at Point.51.

I’ve also got a lot of respect for Delayed Gratification and the work they do. ‘Slow journalism’ isn’t new, but I think DG did something genuinely novel by turning that into the reason to buy their magazine rather than just an unspoken part of their process. The Atlantic’s coverage of the pandemic has also been excellent.

Describe Point.51 in three words
Long-form with photographs

What’s your background?
My background is in photojournalism, and before that, in book publishing. After university I spent four years at Hurst Publishers, an independent non-fiction press. I think the books they commissioned were driven above all by curiosity and a deep interest in the world rather than any particular ideology or strict editorial line, and a lot of that approach shows through in Point.51 today.

The things I learned there have been invaluable. Nowadays, alongside working on the magazine, I still work as a photographer concentrating mostly on news, features and documentary projects.

Where does that name come from?
The name comes from the geographical meeting point between the UK and Europe in the English Channel, which is 51 degrees latitude – halfway between Dover and Calais.

Which comes first when commissioning a Point.51 story – images or text?
It depends on the story. We treat the text and images equally in the magazine, but the idea usually originates with one or the other. Sometimes we’ll commission a photographer to shoot the images for a story we’re already working on, but some of our stories also began as photo projects which we then expanded into larger features with the photographer.

As an example, the story in our second issue about the Port Talbot steelworks and the future of the town began as photographer Nick St. Oegger’s graduate project.

The mix of stories is a key part of the magazine: countries, ages, issues. How do you balance and curate these?
Each story has to stand up on its own. That’s a firm requirement for anything we put into the magazine. Beyond that, we try to make sure that the stories in each issue make for a varied but balanced and considered approach to the theme.

There has been an uptick in publications and platforms that present themselves as a ‘corrective’ to other established media, but that’s not where we sit. I would say that Point.51 is less concerned with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stories and more focussed on exploring the complexity that often gets cut out of the necessarily more restricted format of a news article.

Europe is a complex place, and so are people’s beliefs and experiences. The topics are big, but we try to focus upon the range of individual human experiences rather than sweeping theories or stereotypes. We don’t want to tell people what to think – we want to dig into the questions, and let people make up their own minds.

Share one piece of publishing/business advice that has helped you.
Stay the course. When we started, plenty of friends and colleagues who work in journalism and photography thought we were crazy trying to start a print magazine when magazines and newspapers were disappearing left, right and centre. But we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do, and we’ve stuck to it.

Point.51 is still a new magazine, but we’re building a strong readership that is growing with each new issue. The challenge is continuing to reach new people to tell them about the magazine and what we’re doing – but that should never mean changing what you set out to do in the first place.

Looking ahead, what are you excited about this week?
Our third issue has just started to land on doorsteps. There’s definitely a sense of trepidation that comes with that – it’s the moment where something we’ve been working on for almost a year finally arrives in the hands of readers. But it’s also the most gratifying bit of the whole process, when people start to read our magazine and engage with the stories inside.

point51magazine.com


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