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August 19 2012

Martine Franck obituary

Photographer whose work ranged from portraits of the famous to pictures of the poor

Martine Franck, who has died aged 74, was a photographer of great contrasts. She started out by taking pictures in Asia, a continent she revisited for weeks at a time, but she also devoted herself to documenting daily life close to her homes in Paris and the Luberon, Provence. Her work is characterised by a fascination with the little intimacies and interactions in the lives of anonymous poor, marginalised and elderly people, yet she also assembled a matchless portfolio of portraits of famous authors and artists, including Seamus Heaney, Marc Chagall and Diego Giacometti.

Franck never adhered to the opinion professed by her fellow Magnum agency photographer Eve Arnold that all photographers are obliged to be intrusive. Ever modest, she said: "I think I was shy as a young woman and realised that photography was an ideal way of expressing myself, of telling people what was going on without having to talk." In 1970, she married the celebrated French photographer and co-founder of the Magnum agency, Henri Cartier-Bresson. The couple collaborated on a series of portraits of the artist Balthus, as retiring by temperament as Franck herself.

She was born to a Belgian banker, Louis Franck, and his British wife, Evelyn, in Antwerp. With the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, her father, who made his career in London, joined the British army. The rest of the family was evacuated to the US and spent the war on Long Island and in Arizona. She was educated in Europe, and studied history of art at Madrid University and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

Writing her thesis (on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and the influence of cubism on sculpture) convinced Franck that she did not wish to be an academic or a curator, but a photographer. Her father had moved in artistic circles and one of her first portraits was of the sculptor Etienne Martin emerging from a cave smeared with clay. In 1963, she went to China, taking her cousin's Leica camera with her, and discovered the joys of documenting other cultures. Returning home via Hong Kong, Cambodia, India, Afghanistan and Turkey, she paused to visit the theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine and bought her first camera in Japan. She kept to a Leica, and predominantly used black-and-white film, throughout her career.

Returning to France, she worked as a photographic assistant at Time-Life while developing her own technique. Her early mentors were Eliot Elisofon and Gjon Mili, yet she also cited dramatically different female photographers as influences: Julia Margaret Cameron, for her portraits, and Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Lange's social conscience was reflected in Franck's project on old people's homes for the Petits Frères des Pauvres association. Bourke-White's love for play of light and geometric shapes is embedded in arguably Franck's single most perfect image, that of the bathers at the poolside at Le Brusc (Provence), taken in 1976. She described her experience of capturing it: "I remember running to get the image while changing the film, quickly closing down the lens as the sunlight was so intense. That's what makes photography so exciting." A moment later the positions of all five figures and their shadows on the white tiles would have irrevocably altered. The image has stood the test of time and was used as the cover shot for her book in the series I Grandi Fotografi in 2003.

Franck's work was used in Life, Fortune and Vogue, for which she shot portraits of women in public life, including her fellow photographer Sarah Moon and Mnouchkine, who made Franck the official photographer to her Théâtre du Soleil. Franck's fascination with masks and disguises found an outlet in Mnouchkine's ambitious deployment of kathakali, kabuki and commedia dell'arte. Their collaboration led to Franck experimenting with colour photography, which she used to capture theatrical productions such as Robert Wilson's ethereal version of Fables de la Fontaine at the Comédie Française in 2004. Franck's love of the theatrical could transform her quiet unobtrusiveness.

In 1966, Franck met Cartier-Bresson, who epitomised Magnum's tradition of humanitarian photography. Franck was adamant that she would neither bask in his reflection nor disappear in his shadow and she joined the Vu agency in 1970. Her first solo exhibition was planned for the ICA in London that year; when she saw that the invitations were embossed with the information that her husband would be present at the launch, she cancelled the show.

With Vu's demise, Franck co-founded the Viva agency in 1972. It also collapsed and it was not until 1980 that Franck joined Magnum, becoming a full member in 1983. She was one of the few women to be accepted into the agency and served as vice-president from 1998 to 2000. Eschewing the war/human tragedy reportage that characterised Magnum's reputation, Franck continued her projects on marginal or isolated lives. When I first met her, in the 1990s, she had just completed her book on Tory Island, a "small rock" off the northern Irish coast with a population of around 130 Gaelic-speakers, where she lived in order to document their way of life.

Always a feminist, Franck was not above picking a grandiose book title – such as Des Femmes et la Création. It is typical that one of her final projects involved three weeks spent visiting small villages in Gujerat, western India, documenting young girls embroidering their own dowries.

As well as their homage to Balthus, Franck and Cartier-Bresson undertook a joint project in the Soviet Union. Franck also created a small book of portraits of her husband. Among the most memorable of this similarly shy and elusive character is that taken from behind, showing the back of his head. His reflection in the square mirror before him is repeated in the self-portrait he is sketching: a reflection on a reflection. Franck never used him as mentor or protector but warmly concluded: "Henri was both critical and inspirational as well as warmly supportive of me as a photographer". They had one daughter, Melanie, another reason for Franck to operate close to home when possible.

Franck's brother, the photographic curator and collector Eric Franck, affirms: "Henri was always very generous in encouraging her work, something she respected greatly." Franck's sister-in-law, Louise Baring, adds: "What was so extraordinary about Martine was that with subtlety and grace she could both be a great photographer herself and at the same time honour her husband's tradition."

She worked hard to launch the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in 2002. In 2005, she was made a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. After her diagnosis with bone marrow cancer in 2010, she continued showing her work, and had exhibitions earlier this year at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York and at the Claude Bernard Gallery in Paris.

She is survived by Melanie, three grandchildren and her brother, Eric.

• Martine Franck, photographer, born 3 April 1928; died 16 August 2012 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 28 2012

Rejected New Yorker covers

Françoise Mouly, art editor of the magazine, picks her favourite cover sketches that are as acute as they are provocative

April 27 2012

These magazine covers are graphic examples that sex can sell feminism | Jonathan Jones

Does Newsweek and Foreign Policy's double act of covers objectify women or simply draw attention to good journalism?

Can you judge a magazine by its cover? Or to put it another way, should you judge a society by the images it circulates, or by the laws it enacts and the customs it lives by?

These two covers of current American magazines might mistakenly be seen as an indictment of the hypocrisy and shallowness of western secular society. While Foreign Policy promotes a feature on women in the Middle East with a photograph of a model with her naked body painted to look as if she's covered up according to Islamic principles, the cover of Newsweek uses another naked model, this time wearing a black silk blindfold, to sell an article on what it claims is a vogue for submission fantasies among America's women. The pictures make an entertaining double act as they seem to play off one another in so many ways – one of which is the contrast between recreational submission and actual submission.

Katie Roiphe's piece in Newsweek, to which which the blindfolded nude draws our eyes, is inspired by the bestselling e-novel Fifty Shades of Grey to argue that American women, while enjoying more economic and social power than ever before, are currently fascinated by a "watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism". I would say the cover of Newsweek is actually a subtle illustration of this thesis. It pastiches that contrived "skinny-vanilla-latte" image of sadomasochism. It is closer to a Valentine's card than it is to the X Portfolio. The relationship between image and word in the case of Foreign Policy is a lot more challenging.

Mona Eltahawy's article, which the image of a nude cover-up promotes, argues that the battleground of modern feminism should be the middle east and that women are the true victims of oppression in the region, both before and after the Arab spring. She accuses Arab societies of institutional misogyny. Her article is full of horrifying examples. In Saudi Arabia, she points out, women are perpetual minors who are forbidden to drive and will acquire only very limited voting rights, finally, in 2015. When a school in Mecca caught fire in 2002 "morality police" caused the deaths of 15 girls by forbidding them to escape because they were not wearing headscarves or cloaks. Meanwhile 55% of women in Yemen are illiterate.

Clearly, Eltahawy has said goodbye to a broad swath of relativist, liberal opinion in this article, by rejecting the intellectual respectability of the idea that Islamic practices on gender should be respected and understood as different. The cover of Foreign Policy might be seen as a final parting shot, except of course the writer probably had no control over how her work was illustrated. Does the picture offer ammunition to critics of her piece who can point to its "orientalism" and its graphic evidence of the forces that oppress women in the free western world she apparently so admires? After all, when Naomi Wolf said she felt free wearing the hijab, it was presumably images such as these she felt liberated from.

I would argue the contrary. Some might say that western society's endless representation of women as sexual commodities – as typified by these pictures – is a pretty good argument for religious "modesty". But in reality they reveal a genuinely free society in which women speak powerfully. Both draw attention to incisive pieces of journalism about women, by women. Sex sells, but it can sell feminism, too.

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November 27 2011

Christmas gifts 2011: which books will be under your tree?

Our critics choose the books they intend to give this Christmas, and the ones they hope to receive

What do you think are the best books of 2011? Take part in our open thread discussion here

Diana Athill
Editor and writer

I am crazy about Craig Taylor's Londoners (Granta £25), a brilliant collection of "voices" in the manner of Studs Terkel. It's quite long, but I wanted it to go on and on, and I can't imagine any lucky recipient not enjoying it. One I'm sure I'll enjoy myself when I get my hands on it is Claire Tomalin's biography of the most glorious of all Londoners, Charles Dickens: A Life (Viking £30).

Richard Eyre
Theatre director

I'd give Christopher Hitchens's collected essays, Arguably (Atlantic £30), in the hope that in return I'd be given John Updike's collected essays, Higher Gossip (Knopf £25). Hitchens is said to be the best British essayist since Orwell; anyone who doubts this, considering him a mere provocateur, will be convinced by this collection. Updike was the best novelist of his generation and also a prolific critic and essayist. His posthumous book is a distillation of his non-fiction writing over nearly six decades.

Russell T Davies
TV dramatist

It's too late to make a Christmas present out of How to Be a Woman (Ebury Press £11.99) by Caitlin Moran, because as soon as I'd finished it, I bought five more copies. One each for my two sisters and three nieces. I think this is the most important book they might read in their lives. Underneath beautiful, aching and hilarious memories of family life, it's a true polemic, arguing that women still eat, shave and dress entirely for the benefit of men. As for me, I'll have A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In (Bloomsbury £12.99) by Magnus Mills. For the title alone!

Tim Adams
Observer writer

Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow (Allen Lane £25) – a terrific unpicking of human rationality and irrationality – could hardly have been published at a better moment. Kahnemann is the godfather of behavioural economics, and this distillation of a lifetime's thinking about why we make bad decisions – about everything from money to love – is full of brilliant anecdote and wisdom. It is Kahnemann's belief that anyone who thinks they know exactly what is going on hasn't understood the question; as such it's the perfect gift for opinionated family members everywhere.

It would be interesting to know what Christopher Hitchens would make of Kahneman's faith in doubt; one of the many pleasures of reading our greatest contrarian over the years has been his ability to give the impression that he knows exactly what he thinks about almost every subject under the sun. Hitchens's collected essays, Arguably, is the book I'd most like to receive, for its bravura certainties, in spite of everything.

Joe Dunthorne

A recent issue of McSweeney's magazine included a severed head (opening that morning's post was like the final scene in the film Se7en), but the current edition, the 38th, focuses on what the magazine does best: great stories, both fiction and non-fiction. I would give it to anyone with a short, persistent commute.

For myself, I'd like House of Holes (Simon & Schuster £14.99) by Nicholson Baker. Although reviewers have been bewildered, I'm intrigued by Baker's transition from writing a (brilliant) low-key novel about a struggling poet to this one, which is, by all accounts, a cheerful porno odyssey. Not the sort of book to be seen buying for oneself, mind you.

Rachel Johnson
Editor and author

Whoever says women aren't funny should be tied to chairs and force-read Bossypants (Little Brown £16.99) by Tina Fey, a darkly hysterical monologue-memoir by the writer/actor about growing up with dark shin fur in the land where yellow hair is king, writing skits for Saturday Night Live, her aborted honeymoon cruise (the ship caught fire) and Kotex panty-pads.

Johnson's Life of London (Harper Collins £20), by Boris Johnson, is not only the book I want to receive, it's the only book I can guarantee I will be given, as the author gives only two things to his family as presents: condiments he's made himself and books he's written. I am looking forward to both as I have been assured by my brother that his book on London is every bit as good as his apple chutney.

Philip Hensher

I'm giving everyone Robert Harris's The Fear Index (Hutchinson £18.99) for Christmas, because everyone's already read Alan Hollinghurst's superb The Stranger's Child, and The Fear Index is a total ripsnorting Demon Seed-type romp through the bowels of high finance and whirring computer-cogs. In the usual way of things, people kept sending me copies of things such as Samuel Beckett's wildly boring letters (Volume 2) when what I really wanted was Tessa Hadley's excellent The London Train (Jonathan Cape £12.99).

Joan Bakewell
Journalist and broadcaster

The past shapes our lives today, and both of my choices throw light on our own times. Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side (Faber £16.99) – the book I'll be giving – takes up the story of the Dunne family, which he has told in several previous novels. Together, these works cover the time of Ireland's troubles, from within the Unionist protestant community. The gorgeous prose adds to the pleasure.

I would like to receive Amanda Foreman's epic A World on Fire (Penguin £12.99), which deals with the British/American relationship throughout the American civil war. Growing up near Lancashire, I have always known that American exports of raw cotton fed the cotton mills of Britain. But I have never understood what happened when the civil war broke out. This lavishly praised book will explain this and many other things. And at 1,000 pages, it will last the year!

Michael Palin
Actor and broadcaster

Colin Thubron's To a Mountain in Tibet (Chatto & Windus £16.99) is an absolutely terrific book. Thubron has perfect pitch. He uses the minimum of words for the maximum effect. His descriptions are fresh and acute and he can convey atmosphere and emotion on the head of a pin. The journey to Mount Kailash is enthralling and he keeps the reader right beside him every inch of the way.

The book I'd like in my stocking is Adam Macqueen's Private Eye: The First 50 Years (Private Eye Productions £25). The Eye has given me more consistent pleasure, pain and provocation than any other publication in my lifetime.

Rachel Cooke
Observer writer

What you need at Christmas is a novel that thoroughly muffles the sound of tired and overemotional relatives. So, I will be giving all of my girlfriends State of Wonder (Bloomsbury £12.99) by Ann Patchett, a sort of feminist Heart of Darkness. It has the barmiest plot ever – plucky scientist enters Brazilian jungle in search of her lost colleague and the secret of everlasting female fertility – but, honestly, it grips like a vice.

The book I would most like to receive is William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings (Yale £95) by Patricia Reed, Wendy Baron and Merlin James. I can stare at a single Nicholson painting for long minutes at a time. He is just the best.

Fergus Henderson

Life is peculiar at the moment, but nothing could be as bad as Bernie Gunther's lot: prison camp to prison camp, interrogation after interrogation… Philip Kerr's battered hero in Field Gray: A Bernie Gunther Mystery (Quercus £17.99) is an ex-Berlin policeman who gets knocked around from Cuba to postwar Europe. When he finally gets his glass of German brandy I sighed a sigh of relief for the poor chap.

A very different kettle of fish – not much mention of the Gulag – is Sarah Winman's When God Was a Rabbit (Headline Review £12.99). I feel that at this point in life I'm ready to tackle a book about love, and Sarah Winman's charm will make her the perfect guide.

Chris Patten
Chairman of the BBC Trust

The most enjoyable new novel I have read this year is Snowdrops (Altantic £7.99) by AD Miller. It's a very well written page-turner that confirmed all my prejudices about Putin's Russia. I came to it after reading Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, my number one discovery of the year, which to be fair to Mr Putin, does at least show how much worse things were under Stalin.

I have asked for David Gilmour's The Pursuit of Italy (Allen Lane £25) for Christmas. It may help me to understand rather better this heavenly country, which has given the world great buildings, cities, music and food, as well as Mr Berlusconi.

Mary Warnock

The book I'm going to give, specifically to people nostalgic for their childhood in the late 1960s and 70s (of whom I know many), is Nelson (Blank Slate £18.99), edited by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix. I am fascinated by the comic strip format (like the excellent comic book versions of Shakespeare), by the different styles of each participating artist in this collaboration between 54 British comic artists, and by the way the central character develops under one's eyes as each year in her life unfolds. It is perfect for anyone without a great deal of reading time at Christmas.

The book I'd most like to get is one that I have already reluctantly given away, Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. I'm not a Dickens fan, but Tomalin is the best biographer there is.

Julie Myerson

By far the most impressive novel I read this year was Jacqueline Yallop's Obedience (Atlantic £12.99). The prose is as intense, opaque yet elastic as its morally complex themes: guilt, sexuality and secrecy in a convent in wartime France. I'd give it to anyone who wants, as I do, to have their head and heart churned up by what they read.

The book I'd most like to be given is anything bought at one of the two independent bookshops in Southwold, Suffolk. Except both have now closed down. Which makes membership of Southwold Library – now ludicrously also under threat – the best free gift you could give anyone there this Christmas.

Philip French
Observer film critic

A worthy Booker laureate of this or any other year, our most versatile novelist Julian Barnes paid tribute in his acceptance speech to Suzanne Dean, cover designer of The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape £12.99). This makes it a perfect present in these last days of the book as singular object. The one I hope someone will send me is Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark (Viking $27.95). I read her for more than 30 years and wrote an introduction to her final collection.

Daljit Nagra

Tahmima Anam's The Good Muslim (Canongate £16.99) is a perfect page-turner for the festive period. It is a powerfully gripping story about the birth of Bangladesh. Subtle plotting and vivid dramatisation of characters allow Anam to explore the formation of national identity. CB Editions is an exciting new poetry press which has published JO Morgan's second collection, Long Cuts (£7.99), this year. For me, this would be an ideal gift as I loved his first collection, Natural Mechanical, and reviews suggest this one is even better.

Tristram Hunt
Historian and Labour MP

Maya Jasanoff's Liberty's Exiles (HarperPress £30) is going to be in the Christmas stocking for a number of nearest and dearest. Jasanoff is an exceptional scholar of British history in all its global dimensions, and her evocative chronicle of the loyalist diaspora from the American war of independence allows us to rethink the cultural legacy of the Thirteen Colonies' rebellion. And, in turn, I would like an equally big book on US history by another transatlantic female historian – Amanda Foreman's A World on Fire. British involvement in the American civil war is still under-appreciated, and Foreman's work, on the 150th anniversary, looks like a useful corrective.

Wendy Cope

I always enjoy Caitlin Moran's columns, so I read her How to Be a Woman as soon as it came out. Although I didn't agree with every word, it is spot on about most things, and very entertaining. If I hadn't already given my copy to my partner's daughter, I would buy it for her. Another 2011 favourite is Edgelands (Jonathan Cape £12.99) by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, which I will be giving as a Christmas present. My Christmas wish-list includes Death Comes to Pemberley (Faber £18.99) by PD James and Blue Monday (Michael Joseph £12.99) by Nicci French.

Curtis Sittenfeld

I thoroughly enjoyed The Oregon Experiment (Knopf $26.95) by Keith Scribner. Set in a college town in America's Pacific Northwest, it's a novel about – among other things – anarchists, adultery, new babies, hippies, and a woman with such a powerful sense of smell that it lets her discover secrets about other people. The book is just really smart and juicy. A novel I haven't yet read but have heard is wonderful is Love and Shame and Love (Little Brown $24.99) by Peter Orner. It's about a Chicagoan named Alexander Popper and his messy family – and I do always like family messiness!

Geoff Dyer
Novelist and essayist

The book I'd most like to receive this Christmas is Magnum Contact Sheets (Thames and Hudson £95), edited by Kristen Lubben: a collection of the pictures that were made either side of some of the famous images from the photojournalists' archive. The book is an exemplary bit of publishing in that it is stunningly beautiful – and huge, and expensive – but is full of the kind of material that might be considered the preserve of scholars or researchers. I'll be giving copies of Terry Castle's screamingly funny – and lethally sharp – collection of autobiographical essays, The Professor (Atlantic £20).

Marina Warner
Writer and academic

So much of what I read is in translation – from Alice Oswald's new reworking of the Iliad, Memorial, to Richard Hamilton's compendium of Marrakech stories, The Last Storytellers. Matthew Reynolds, in The Poetry of Translation: From Chaucer & Petrarch to Homer & Logue (Oxford £50), shows us what is at stake in these border crossings. Close looking is close reading's counterpart, and Deanna Petherbridge is one of its most impassioned advocates. If I don't find The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (Yale £55) under the tree, I'll buy it, gladly.

William Dalrymple
Historian and travel writer

I greatly enjoyed Sherard Cowper-Coles's brilliant account of how and why we are losing Britain's fourth war in Afghanistan. Cables from Kabul (HarperPress £25) is the most insightful record yet published of the diplomatic wrangling that has accompanied the slow military encirclement of western forces in the country. It is also the best account I have read of how post-colonial colonialism actually works.

A book I would love to be given is the fabulously illustrated catalogue accompanying the Masters of Indian Painting show at the Rietberg in Zurich this summer – unquestionably the most remarkable and ambitious exhibition of the Indian miniature tradition ever mounted. Masters of Indian Painting, 1100-1900 (Museum Rietberg £120) is a huge, two-volume affair, with essays by the three great historians of Indian art: BN Goswamy, Eberhard Fischer and Milo Cleveland Beach.

Mariella Frostrup
Observer writer and TV presenter

Robert Harris's fine new thriller, The Fear Index, is a must-have in every Christmas stocking. It's highly "readable" – the buzz word in literary circles this year – but more importantly, it manages to explain what a hedge fund actually is, using the example of lacy black lingerie. With our lives currently in turmoil thanks to the machinations of the financial markets, understanding how they work should be a priority, and Harris manages to combine such instruction with a fast-paced thriller.

I'd love to receive Marina Warner's epic study of the Arabian Nights, Stranger Magic (Chatto & Windus £28), a dissection of the myths in these enduring classics that promises to throw light on the countries from which the stories spring and the lives of women in them.

Hari Kunzru

To London friends I'll be giving festive copies of Laura Oldfield Ford's Savage Messiah (Verso £19.99), the seminal fanzine (now released in book form), which reveals, in photos, text and beautiful drawings, the abject underside of the regenerated city. The book I'm hoping to find under the tree is Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee's Poor Economics (Perseus £17.99), which apparently overturns many received ideas about what it's like to be very poor.

Shami Chakrabarti
Director of Liberty

Sometimes the most serious messages are best expressed with humour, and this Christmas should be a time to try to smile. The book I'd love to receive is Private Eye: The First 50 Years by Adam Macqueen. But because I would love the next 50 years to be better for women, I would most like to give Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman. I've already bought a spare copy for a female friend. I will give it in celebration of Moran's wit and wisdom and in loving memory of my mother – an unsung feminist.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

No better history books were published this year than David Gilmour's wonderful The Pursuit of Italy and The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (Allen Lane £30) by David Abulafia. Both tell riveting but melancholy stories. Gilmour shows that the "unification" of Italy 150 years ago has been a profound failure, while in the course of Abulafia's account his great sea ceases to be the centre of civilisation.

Bright Particular Stars (Atlantic £25) is the latest of David McKie's sesquipedal peregrinations. This "Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics", some of whom are a good deal more eccentric than glorious, is unfailingly droll and will make a perfect stocking-filler.

Nicholas Hytner
Artistic director of the National Theatre

Anthea Bell's new translation of Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity, published this year by Pushkin Press (£8.99), is the latest in a brilliant series of Zweig translations. A psychological thriller with an emotionally dense unreliable narrator, and a terrifyingly needy heroine, it is compulsively readable.

I hope I'm given Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life. Her biography of Dickens's mistress, Nelly Ternan, is a phenomenal feat of literary reclamation, but I fear that her new book will do nothing to refute my long-held belief that the novels ascribed to Dickens could not possibly have been written by the son of a naval pay-office clerk who left school at the age of 12, and are plainly the work of the Duke of Wellington.

Kirsty Wark

If you want to make someone happy, lying on the sofa in front of the fire on Boxing Day, then you must give them Robert Harris's new thriller, The Fear Index. You might think you've had enough of the economic crisis – but this is the hugely entertaining version. Thinking of that same sofa, I'd like to receive Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child (Picador £20), which somehow eluded me this year. As an added extra, please may I have Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Veg Everyday! (Bloomsbury £25), which I know is a very good thing for us all. Go on Santa.

Andrew Rawnsley
Observer political editor

For anyone you know who likes to be provoked to both laughter and thought, I can't think of a better stocking filler than Craig Brown's One On One (Fourth Estate £16.99), 101 ingeniously linked encounters between the famous and the infamous. As a great admirer of Max Hastings's military histories, I would be pleased to unwrap All Hell Let Loose (HarperCollins £30), his latest, much-praised volume on the second world war, focusing on the experiences of those at the sharp end of the conflict.

Kate Kellaway
Observer writer

There is one book that has bowled me over – on a subject close to my heart. The Story of Swimming (Dewi Lewis £25), by Susie Parr, not only looks ravishing (filled with unusual mermaids, avid modern swimmers and stunning photographs by the author's husband, Martin Parr) but is also a fascinating, idiosyncratic, beautifully written history. Readers will want to do far more than dip in – I intend to give it to all my amphibious friends. Meanwhile, the book I can't wait to read is Matthew Hollis's said-to-be-outstanding Now All Roads Lead to France (Faber £20), about the last years of Edward Thomas.

Peter Carey

I have twice given away David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House £21.99), and Christmas will not change my habits. The book is more readable and entertaining than I can indicate in 100 words. It is a meditation on debt, tribute, gifts, religion and the false history of money. Graeber is a scholarly researcher, an activist and a public intellectual. His field is the whole history of social and economic transactions. He has been an important figure at Zuccotti Park and Occupy Wall Street. Here, he uses his own klieg lights to illuminate the pea and thimble mechanisms that have delivered the current debt crisis. Would someone, please, give me a copy this Christmas. I promise to keep it for myself.

Elizabeth Day
Observer writer

One of the most thought-provoking novels I read this year was Amy Waldman's The Submission (William Heinemann £12.99), an elegantly plotted debut that charts the fallout after a New York jury chooses a Muslim architect to design a memorial to 9/11. Waldman uses this central focal point to unravel the tensions and contradictions at work in modern America.

The book I'd most like to unwrap underneath the Christmas tree (hint, hint) is Claire Tomalin's new biography, Charles Dickens: A Life. I've read every biography Tomalin has produced and am in awe not only of her impeccable research but also of her real feeling for her subjects and her exquisite writing.

AN Wilson
Writer and columnist

The book that I am hoping to find in my Christmas stocking is Fiona MacCarthy's The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Faber £25). I have enjoyed all Fiona MacCarthy's biographies (Eric Gill, William Morris, Byron...) and I cannot believe that this will disappoint.

The book I shall be giving is Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's compelling critical biography, Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist (Harvard £20). If you only read one book on Dickens during the bicentenary year of 2012, it should be this. Every page illuminates the books and the genius who produced them.

Writer and cultural commentator

So many contenders, but I would share the incredible creative power and intense imagination of Alice Hoffman, whose novel The Dovekeepers (Simon & Schuster £16.99) shows just how far and deep historical fiction can go. I would love to receive Sarah Hall's short story collection, The Beautiful Indifference (Faber £12.99), which I expect to be as gripping and cerebral as a previous novel of hers – one of my favourites – The Carhullan Army.

Salley Vickers

The book I shall be giving for Christmas is Ronald Blythe's At the Yeoman's House (Enitharmon Press £15). The "house" is the mysteriously named "Bottengoms", once home of farmers and shepherds and rescued and restored by John Nash, for whom the author worked as a young man. The book is a quiet meditation on the nourishment to be found in the past. The book I most want to be given is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I'm a speedy thinker myself, so am hoping to be endorsed in that practice.

Robert McCrum
Associate editor of the Observer

Amanda Foreman's A World on Fire, an epic history of two nations divided by conflict, is an enthralling portrait of Britain and the US during the American civil war. It's a book that ought to be a natural Christmas present. Unfortunately, at 1,000 pages, the publishers have made it almost unreadable (ie impossible to hold in bed). This is a shame. To turn a brilliant narrative history into an infuriating doorstop is an insult to Foreman's work. Perhaps, for the gift market, Penguin should consider a two-volume paperback edition.

I've followed Christopher Reid's poetry for years, and was delighted when he won the Costa prize with A Scattering. Now Faber has issued his Selected Poems (£14.99). This is high on my list of books to read at Christmas.

Fintan O'Toole
Journalist and author

The book I'll be giving is Tim Robinson's Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom (Penguin £20). In an age of sundered specialisms, Robinson – mathematician, map-maker, naturalist, folklorist – is a marvel. This last volume of his wonderful trilogy on Connemara ranges through political history, music and topography, marking him as the supreme practitioner of geo-graphy, the writing of places. I'd like to receive Derek Mahon's New Collected Poems (Gallery £17.95). Mahon's combinations of savage indignation and ludic delight, of high formality and apparent ease, repay endless revisiting.

What do you think are the best books of 2011? Take part in our open thread discussion here © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 07 2011

Vanity Fair shows off its heritage – in pictures

A new collection of postcards celebrates the vintage glamour of Vanity Fair magazine's early illustrated covers

September 16 2011

Publishing News: Goodreads chases the recommendation Holy Grail

Here's what caught my eye in publishing news this week.

Has Goodreads nabbed the book recommendation Holy Grail?

GoodreadsGoodreads purchased Discovereads about six months ago. This week, Goodreads finally put its acquired machine learning algorithms to use and launched a new book recommendation engine. As ReadWriteWeb explained:

The site's new reading recommendations are generated using a set of propriety algorithms which look at over 20 billion different data points. Perhaps most importantly, it takes into account the stated preferences of of its nearly six million users, for whom rating books is already a key component of using the site.

This giant dataset is what gives the engine its edge. Goodreads CEO and founder Otis Chandler gave an example in the press release, pointing out that Goodreads has "more than 174,000 ratings of the best-selling 'The Help' while Amazon only has around 4,400." But the algorithm doesn't stop at popularity — it digs deeper into readers' psyches, as pointed out on Mashable:

The algorithm ... is largely based on what's on a reader's bookshelf and what other readers with similar bookshelves have enjoyed reading. It also takes into account why you liked a book. When a reader categorizes "The Help" as "historical fiction," the algorithm will react differently than when he or she classifies it as "racism."

Goodreads' algorithm and dataset allows it to not only provide recommendations of similar books (ala BookLamp, Amazon, et al), but also suggestions that teeter closer to the Holy Grail of recommendation: serendipity and discovery.

Hearst goes multi-platform with HTML5 web design

Good HousekeepingHearst took the digital publishing bull by the horns and launched a redesign of its website — using HTML5. It also indicated it would pursue the same path for most of its other sites.

One of the major benefits of designing with HTML5, of course, is the cross-platform utility it allows (see comparison screenshots over at ReadWriteWeb). Another advantage is the interactivity, which Hearst is embracing fully. In an interview at Folio, Eric Gullin, Hearst's group director, called out the the rotating promotional player on the home page at

This slide show or rotator is touch enabled, depending on the device you're using, and that's one of the things that's wonderful with HTML5. We can use HTML5 to have it work the way we would like it to work depending on the device the reader has.

But that wasn't all of the exciting HTML5 news this week ... delivers news in HTML5

Boston GlobeYes, another newspaper launched a website that will be behind a paywall (I'll get to that part in a minute), but the intriguing thing about the launch of was pointed out on page two of a post:

...the site is based on HTML5 "responsive design," an app-like offering that reflexively re-sizes depending on the device and screen. Everything from the front page to the photo galleries to the HTML5 crossword puzzle ... is designed to work via browser. That includes a "MySaved" feature that allows users to save stories via the browser on one PC or device and not only open them in another, but quickly save them for offline reading on a new device. It even works in the experimental browser on a Kindle ...

I'm impressed, and I'm not the only one excited about the HTML5 design. Nieman Lab was quick to point out this design might just allow the newspaper to bypass the 30% cut Apple takes from subscriptions. I'm certain other news organizations are bandying that tidbit about their conference tables.

As for the paywall part of the site ... the plan is to continue running, the original free site, but move about three-fourths of the newsy content to the new and ask people to pay $3.99 per month (print subscribers get free access). The fact that they're going to offer breaking news, 20 new blogs, and some news content on the free site, as mentioned in the paidContent post, might work against them. There's also a fun three-step process posted at The Evolving Newsroom to estimate how well it will all turn out (hint: that HTML5 crossword puzzle and the photo galleries mentioned above might factor in heavily).

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


August 22 2011

MagAppZine's goal: From PDF to app in about 15 minutes

MagAppZineLogo.PNGThe next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25 will feature startup company MagAppZine, a platform that allows publishers to create custom apps without a lot of overhead.

In the following interview, MagAppZine founder Paul Canetti (@paulcanetti), who worked at Apple during the birth of the iPhone and the subsequent app revolution, talks about how the MagAppZine platform works and the benefits he sees for publishers.

How did MagAppZine get started?

paulcanetti.jpgPaul Canetti: I was working at Apple when the iPhone was first released and I got to see the effects of the "app revolution" firsthand. I left in 2009 and started creating apps for hire, and that is when I realized the huge potential for publishers — but the costs and demand on resources were just too high. So I set off to create a platform where publishers can actually create apps themselves and manage their content over time, quickly, easily, and affordably.

MagAppZine really aims to get publishers of all shapes and sizes up and running in the digital age as painlessly as possible. Anyone that tells you it's hard is just doing it wrong.

What's the process for creating an app through MagAppZine?

Paul Canetti: There are five basic steps:

  1. Sign up for an account at
  2. Once logged into MagControl, our web dashboard, click "Create New App"
  3. Enter basic information like name, description, and upload your logo, app icon, etc.
  4. Start adding issues by uploading PDFs
  5. Click "Submit" and we send your app off to Apple

The whole process takes about 15 minutes, assuming you already have your icon and such ready to go. I should also mention that starting in September, it is going to be free to sign up for an account and try out the MagControl tool. You can make an app and upload issues using your free account. Only when you want to actually submit it to the App Store in step 5 will you be charged.

Is the platform targeted toward a specific kind of publisher?

Paul Canetti: Clearly the name brings in magazines first and foremost, but the tool itself is really applicable to all sorts of publications. Anything that can be a PDF is fair game. I have a lot of conversations with small book publishers looking to create a bookstore app on a particular topic or as a branding tool for the publisher or a specific author. It is my philosophy that you should be everywhere your readers potentially are, so when someone searches for you on the App Store, it's you that they find.

How can book publishers use the platform?

Paul Canetti: The bookstore app is really cool, and chunking up books into collections fits nicely under the umbrella of the app. I'm also excited to start seeing sub-divisions of books — selling chapter by chapter — or using the subscription functionality to have a sort of book club app or a series where new content is being released regularly. The possibilites are really endless. Not only that, but using our new multimedia and link tools, you can add audio or video to your books, skip around within the book — remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series? It really opens up the doors for being creative and taking advantage of the format.

What's your launch schedule?

Paul Canetti: Our most basic app package launched in April of this year, but in September we are re-launching MagAppZine 2.0, which will include the new links and multimedia, an InDesign tool, and integration with Apple's upcoming Newsstand feature. We're also rolling out a new tiered monthly pricing structure that has plans starting at $99 a month.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
Register for this free webcast


  • The ascendance of App Inventor
  • Apple's in-app shift: What does it mean for publishers?
  • The secret to digital publishing success? Don't start with the book
  • Ubiquity and revenue streams: How HTML5 can help publishers

  • July 25 2011

    Chris Dickie obituary

    His beautifully produced and brilliantly edited Ag magazine reflected his painstaking pursuit of perfection in photography

    Chris Dickie, who has died of cancer aged 59, was the editor of the British Journal of Photography (BJP), a position he held three times from 1987 to 2003. He nurtured the careers of many photographers and writers, and his books on photographic publishing, some of them under his own imprint, Picture-Box Media, are now standard texts for students.

    His greatest achievement was the beautifully produced Ag, a quarterly fine-art photography journal. He conceived, edited, wrote, published and designed Ag in response to the perceived need for a more serious publication about a subject increasingly trivialised in the populist magazines on which Chris had cut his editorial teeth. Beginning life as Silverprint magazine in the spring of 1991, Ag quickly found its own character, and reflected, in the high quality of its printing, his view that fidelity of reproduction to the original image is sacrosanct. Within his means, he was quietly, doggedly painstaking in pursuit of such perfection.

    Over the years he became a touchstone of photographic knowledge, contacts and laconic wisdom, which he dispensed with patrician authority over lunchtime beers at favoured Fleet Street and Soho pubs. His detailed knowledge of the history of photography, and especially of its publishing, is irreplaceable. Without his scholarship and advice to plunder, the work of others will become that much more arduous.

    He was born in Carlisle but spent his childhood in Newcastle, where he attended the Royal grammar school. A county-standard rugby hooker, he gave up sport to pursue his interests in science and photography. He went to Bedford College, University of London, in 1970 to read zoology. Despite the fact that his family moved to Harpenden, Hertfordshire, he always considered Newcastle his home town, reflected in his lifelong devotion to the Magpies.

    After university he worked at Parents magazine and a succession of photography titles. He was absorbed in equal measure by the technicalities and aesthetics of photography; he wrote extensively on both. This was reflected in all his editorial policies, especially at the BJP and in Ag. Forensic investigations of new gadgets and machinery, often involving bewildering detail, found their place alongside stimulating comment by leading critics. It was an unusual and occasionally uncomfortable mix but, he maintained, a necessary one.

    Tied down by editing the work of others, he usually fitted in his own books on "holidays" to the remoter places that were his passion. Among his last projects were landscapes in the Outer Hebrides and in his beloved Lake District, an area of which he had an encyclopedic knowledge.

    Perhaps his greatest asset, and a considerable rarity, was the ability to be editorially objective, irrespective of firmly held personal opinions. This allowed him to publish work in all styles as well as a diverse range of often unfashionable critical opinion. As an editor he used a light, precise touch, which immediately improved the writer's voice and authority: he preferred simplicity to verbosity and fair criticism to entertaining prejudice. Unusually for an art magazine, Ag was actually readable.

    Chris was a popular lecturer, speaker and media commentator. It was typical of his modesty that his promotion of others was to the detriment of his own career as a photographer. He had hoped retirement would enable greater freedom to pursue that area.

    He judged many competitions and was an honorary fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photography. He loved music and played the guitar; when young, he did the rounds of London's folk clubs, both as spectator and performer.

    He is survived by his wife, Pauline, whom he married in 1976, twin daughters, Helen and Sarah, and a son, Simon.

    • Christopher Gordon Dickie, photographer, editor and publisher, born 26 September 1951, died 8 June 2011 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    May 24 2011

    Ulli Beier obituary

    Academic, editor and energetic promoter of African culture

    The first Conference of Black Artists and Writers in Paris in 1956 proved an epiphany for Ulli Beier, who has died aged 88, igniting his desire to promote the world of black culture. He returned to his university post in Ibadan, Nigeria's third city, and with another German-born scholar, Janheinz Jahn, started the magazine Black Orpheus, based on Jean-Paul Sartre's 1948 manifesto of that name. It became a significant force in the golden cultural decade that followed in Ibadan, and Ulli moved from the study of phonetics to the more adventurous extramural department.

    Ulli became one of a team of free-operating teachers who moved out into the countryside. Lalage Bown, who worked there in the early 1960s, says the department was "giving people a chance to develop their own cultural identity".

    Ulli and his Austrian-born wife Susanne Wenger went to live first in Ede, and then, in 1960, Oshogbo, about 50 miles north-east of Ibadan. It was a typical Yoruba town attractive to both of them. The Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka wrote: "An assignment roulette in Europe brought them to Nigeria and both promptly 'went native', Susanne not just culturally, but viscerally and spiritually, holding nothing back in herself, and was inducted into the priesthood of the goddess of the Osun river."

    Ibadan's burgeoning cultural life gave Ulli full rein to develop his skills as a cultural entrepreneur – his real genius – although he was also a prolific writer and over the course of 50 years produced a plethora of material on African art and literature, including The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (1963). He was one of the initiators of the Oshogbo school of artists, although Susanne played a key role, and he encouraged a number of artists such as Muraina Oyelami and Twins Seven-Seven. He was also instrumental in bringing to wider attention the Oshogbo theatre troupe of Duro Ladipo, whose work Oba Koso was performed at the Commonwealth arts festival in London in 1965.

    The aluminium panel-beater Ashiru, whose works have become treasured collectors' pieces, was discovered by Susanne who, walking one day in the dusty streets of Oshogbo, said a former colleague, "in her high heels, accidentally kicked a little copper lion in the dust, and immediately insisted on finding the creator, who turned out to be a local blacksmith." But if Susanne identified, Ulli promoted.

    What struck me when interviewing Ulli was his single-mindedness and his imaginative energy, seen in the way he helped found the Mbari club in Ibadan. Mbari is Igbo for "open space", in this case a venue where new writers and artists could meet and perform their work. Many celebrated names helped launch their careers there. Ulli was not its only founder (as is sometimes claimed), but his entrepreneurial skills helped make it tick. A similar club, Mbari Mbayo – a Yoruba expression for happiness – was formed in Oshogbo.

    It may be that Ulli, restlessly questing for the authentic, felt that Oshogbo, now an undoubted success, no longer needed him. He developed a new fascination with the artist who went under the pseudonym of "Middle Art", one of the highly original Igbo sign-painters across the Niger, whose work he collected, representing a deeper authenticity than the Oshogbo school. He also looked to the creativity of the Nsukka school of mainly Igbo artists, based at Nsukka University, to the east.

    Thus the arrival of the civil war in 1966-67 was a shattering blow, and although he left before the war, the 1966 massacres and the retreat of the Igbo to their heartland was traumatic for him. He had by now divorced Susanne and married Georgina, an artist who had been in Nigeria since 1959, first of all at the art school in Zaria, to the north, but gravitating in 1963 to join Ulli in Oshogbo, which she described as the beginning of their lifelong partnership.

    In 1967 they went together to Papua New Guinea, where there was new territory to conquer. They stayed for four years and began to sow seeds of artistic development in a country whose native genius was more culturally unformed than Nigeria. The jury is still out on how much influence they were able to wield, but there was no doubt that in PNG their contribution to cultural life was greatly appreciated.

    But it was never quite Nigeria, and from 1971 to 1974 they went back to the University of Ife, working with Soyinka. Ulli's creative universality and complexity – yearning for both diversity and fusion – caused the critic Keith Botsford to comment: "I've known no other man like him. No single country really deserves him; there is no traditional culture that does not need him."

    A native of Glowitz in Mecklenburg, in the old Prussian heartland of Germany, Beier was the son of a doctor with a fine appreciation of the arts. The family were non-practising Jews, and in the mid-1930s they moved to British-ruled Palestine to escape Nazi rule. Although they were interned for a period during the second world war, young Ulli satisfied his thirst for education by pursuing an external degree at London University. After the war he moved to London for a second degree, in phonetics.

    Visiting Paris in 1949 he met, was captivated by and married the eccentric Susanne. He had already obtained a teaching position at the newly formed University of Ibadan, where the two of them went in October 1950.

    His book In a Colonial University (1993) recounts how he went to Nigeria simply foreseeing "an interesting adventure", as a refugee who had "experienced three different cultures" but had no congenial home. "I did not know who I was, what I wanted from life," but after two years in Nigeria he had begun to find an identity. Reacting negatively to the "colonial posing" he found at the university, he becoming more and more involved in the Yoruba environment around him.

    In 1974, Ulli and Georgina returned to the Pacific, living mainly in Australia, although from 1989 to 1997 Ulli was invited by the University of Bayreuth to set up a cultural centre devoted to African art and its global fusion, called Iwalewa Haus (iwalewa being Yoruba for "character is beauty"). The idea of having an African shop-window in the town that is a shrine to Richard Wagner may well have appealed to Ulli's sense of cultural juxtaposition.

    Despite his many passionate admirers, he was not without critics in Nigeria, which may have accounted for the refusal of authorities in 2000 to permit him to return to spend his declining years there. This generated a furious debate in Nigerian newspapers, and some of the issues came up at the 80th birthday colloquium held at Iwalewa Haus in 2002, Ulli Beier – a Passion for Difference, a title that epitomised his extraordinary career.

    He is survived by Georgina and their sons, Sebastian and Tunji.

    • Horst Ulrich Beier, writer and cultural entrepreneur, born 31 May 1922; died 3 April 2011 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    April 29 2011

    Publishing News: Week in Review

    Here are a few highlights from the publishing world. (Note: Some of these stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

    Publishing reinvented through data

    USNewsRankings.pngData is traditionally used by publishers for source references and fodder for graphic visualizations — it's a framework to weave a story around. U.S. News & World Report doesn't have much use for that traditional view.

    In a Forbes post this week, Simon Owens, director of PR for JESS3, wrote about how U.S. News & World Report has used its rankings and data to move away from traditional national advertising, a revenue source that has been on the decline for sometime. Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, commented for the story:

    A national news weekly had one basic advertising category that it's drawing from: national advertisers. National advertising across the board has been leaving every print product. The news weeklies got hit harder because of the nature of the product, and that particular base was one of the first to leave print almost entirely. People thought [national print advertising] was coming back and we thought it wasn't coming back, so we just decided to move on.

    Owens pointed out that expanding its rankings to be a main source of content has given U.S. News an edge over the competition: it has a store of exclusive hard data. He explained how this edge is turned into revenue:

    By becoming more consumer focused, U.S. News gained a key advantage: its target readers were people specifically looking to buy stuff. A person Googling his way to the auto rankings is more often than not going there because he's interested in buying a car, and this fact has allowed U.S. News to diversify its revenue. Not only does it aim to sell niche display advertising across these channels, but it also makes money from lead generation. [Kelly said,] "You go on the site looking at a Honda Civic, and it says, 'Here's all of the data,' and then it says, 'Are you interested on a price on a Honda Civic?' When you click on that button, you're on a different channel, you're on a dealership channel, and you're putting in a request. We get paid for that click way more than you would get paid for a banner ad."

    The data itself is also used as a revenue stream — readers can pay for access to deeper data specific to their needs. With all the talk of the decline of print media and loss of ad revenues today, it's refreshing to read a success story in which a company used the same downturn that's slowly destroying much of its competition to reinvent its business model.

    Simply converting print to digital isn't what the iPad's about

    As more magazines take advantage of the iPad's popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

    In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

    Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

    Flipboard screenshot
    A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

    The story, along with the complete video interview, continues here.

    TOC2012 heats up with Sneak Peek webcasts

    Note: this story was published here on Radar this week by Joe Wikert.

    TOCLogo Every week I come across countless interesting articles and press releases about new econtent products and services. Many sound promising, but who has the time to research them all or even figure out which are worthy of further consideration?

    We're about to launch a new TOC webcast series to help solve this problem. Each "Sneak Peek" webcast will feature 3-4 of the most interesting startups in the publishing tools, platforms and technologies space. All of these startups will still be at the pre-release stage, so the webcasts will give you a unique opportunity to learn what makes them special before their products go live.

    Details are still being finalized for the first Sneak Peek webcast, but I can tell you that it will take place in the next couple of months. Two of the slots have already been spoken for but we expect to finalize the entire lineup in the next week. All of the Sneak Peek webcasts will be free. Stay tuned to Radar for more details on the inaugural event.

    Also, if you're part of a publishing startup at the pre-release stage and you'd like to be considered for a Sneak Peek, we'd love to hear from you. Email me the details and a member of the TOC team will get back with you.

    Got news?

    Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

    Keep up with Radar's latest publishing news and interviews with our publishing RSS feed.

    April 25 2011

    View the iPad as a magazine opportunity, not a container

    As more magazines take advantage of the iPad's popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

    In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

    Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

    Flipboard screenshot
    A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

    Who's doing it right? Carlson pointed toward a trio of companies that wouldn't be counted among traditional publishers:

    The magazines that are doing the best job right now wouldn't be considered traditional magazines at all. Flipboard, Reeder, Zite — these things are really more like glorified feed readers. Or feed readers that create a beautiful presentation layer. These magazines do a good job of bringing the type of interaction digital media consumers expect. I don't think many mainstream magazines have quite reached that level of interactivity.

    For more on how iPad magazines can do a better job of engaging readers and how best to design and build a magazine for tablets, check out the entire interview in the following video:


    February 16 2011

    Want to succeed in online content? Get small, be open, go free

    The web is dying, online advertising is already dead, and the entire publishing model has been undermined by an army of algorithmic-minded content drones. Or so we've been led to believe.

    Sam Jones, CEO of Formation Media, is ignoring the death notices. While other publishers turn their weary eyes toward tablets, or construct walls around content no one wants to buy, Jones believes a complete embrace of the web's strengths is the key to reinvigorating media brands (or, as he puts it, "I buy dead magazines").

    In the following interview, Jones discusses his recipe for online content success: It has to be free, it has to be widely available, and publishers must operate at a web-appropriate scale.

    Why did you found Formation Media?

    Sam JonesSam Jones: I was working at Demand Media in corporate development and I noticed there was some major disruption happening in the media space, specifically in the magazine space. A significant number of very powerful brands were dying off. These were brands with strong audiences, passionate users, and great content, but the incumbent models just couldn't support them. I saw a clear opportunity to really change the game and make some of these great brands thrive. Formation Media was born in 2008 to take advantage of that opportunity.

    From there, we looked over the 3,000 magazines that have died over the past 18 months to decide which we should go after. While we were building things out, we purchased Car Audio and Electronics Magazine. It's a smaller publication that has a passionate following, but in 2008 it was transitioned to online-only because it couldn't survive as a print magazine in a tumultuous market. We took the archival content and that powerful brand and added that to our model, which allows us to inexpensively create massive amounts of high-quality text, video and pictorial content.

    What are the components of your model?

    Sam Jones: We combine brand, editorial content, and social media to create engagement. Then we syndicate that content out and allow others to take it wherever they want it, for free. There's absolutely no way to subscribe. There's absolutely no way to pay for an "issue" or a PDF. We want people to consume the content when and how they want to consume it.

    Up to 80 percent of our traffic is from syndication partners and search, where brand, content quality, and the opinion of others you trust matter. Users come back to our site engaged and looking for richer content and community interactions.

    It's also clear that people like free. That's a bad word in the incumbent model because free works against the traditional value proposition. But on the digital side, if you have faith in the brand, the quality of the content, and the user experience, all sorts of wonderful magic happens for the business. Depending on the year, between 70 and 90 percent of our available inventory is from double-digit branded advertisers, and 95 percent of our costs are taken out. Monetization follows when you focus on doing the right things for your users.

    How many full-time staffers do you have on your editorial teams?

    Sam Jones: We want dedicated stewardship over a voice, we want to create engaged communities, and we want to deliver high-quality content. We're not trying to create a farm or an engine or any of that stuff. That's why I'm hiring the best possible editors to run the vertical markets that we go into, and each vertical will have their own dedicated editorial team.

    But staffing will be appropriate for the profitability that we need and expect. For Car Audio and Electronics Magazine, which had 85 people that ran that publication, we now have two. That's what works for that brand. If we were to buy into the shelter space, which has larger brands and different content needs, we would require more than two people to maintain a strong editorial voice. That said, it's still not like we'll have 20 full-time employees for a shelter publication.

    Has the media industry put too much emphasis on the potential of tablets, and the iPad in particular?

    Sam Jones: The fastest growing product in Apple's history is the iPad, and they've got 10 million installed units, which is huge. But what I'd rather do is instead of looking at that 10 million installed base, let's look at the 1.6 billion Internet-enabled devices.

    Frankly, the most important app on the iPad is Safari. It's on every iPad and iPhone and it has a consistent and proven user experience. When we make it easy for people to get what they want for free, engagement and brand can be monetized through advertising and e-commerce throughout the published and syndicated environment that we manage. The users win, our syndication partners split revenues, and we reach several times more people.

    Does that mean your mobile strategy is primarily web based?

    Sam Jones: We'll create apps, but our primary strategy is always going to be the native experience through the browser. If somebody wants our content, you can get it in any way that you can possibly ask for it. If you have two tin cans and a string with an Internet connection, our goal is to get it to you.

    Has online advertising failed?

    Sam Jones: There's three aspects to this. One, if you look at online advertising as a monolith, it's been really bad for a whole bunch of folks. But brands and deep engagement have done very well. As I noted earlier, 70 to 90 percent of our available inventory — depending on the time of year and other factors — is double-digit CPMs.

    Two, advertising to support a business entity has to be scaled. At one of the magazines we looked at, they had six people on their dining staff. That magazine failed. You have to be mindful of the context and the economics of your situation.

    Finally, we need to stop thinking in terms of standard ad units. The user experience should come first and that engagement should drive monetization. If you have a platform that allows for richer integrations, or actually provides value by weaving that monetization solution into the user experience, then you start to see significant margins.

    What's your take on paywalls?

    Sam Jones: Paywalls are like asking my two sons to work really hard so they can be Michael Jordan. Only a few people could come close to being MJ under perfect circumstances. Similarly, only a few companies and brands could make paywalls work.

    If you extend this thinking to newspapers, there's only a few companies that have the brand, the audience, and the monetization hierarchy that would allow for a paywall to work. There's the Wall Street Journal. There's potentially Bloomberg, which is an interesting combination with BusinessWeek. And maybe if you stretch it, there's the New York Times. Beyond those unique brands, paywalls simply get in the way of the user experience.

    Paywalls are an example of companies holding on to the pillars of incumbency instead of seizing the disruptive opportunity. I believe in the face of unprecedented disruption, there's no place for incrementalism. There's just not. We have to be bold in our actions in order to not just survive, but to thrive.

    Note: Sam Jones discusses his "radical point of view" for magazines in the following presentation:

    This interview was edited and condensed.


    November 26 2010

    Artist of the week: Graham Little

    With their use of crayon and obsession with vintage fashion magazines, Little's female portraits take childhood obsession to virtuosic extremes

    The women in Graham Little's virtuoso drawings inhabit a world of sumptuous beauty. Realised in a muted Merchant Ivory palette, these long-limbed belles recline gracefully in designer interiors. This is an 80s world of midnight-blue suits and earth-coloured bed sheets, of abandoned stilettos in burnt orange and mustard-yellow upholstery. Even when Little's exquisite handling of light hints at baroque painting, the contours of everything he depicts look downy-soft.

    His sources are fashion bibles such as Vogue and Harpers and Queen, first encountered by the artist when he was a child. Each intensely detailed work is done in coloured crayon, taking him many months to complete. Thus, both medium and content hint at boyhood obsession. Some might detect echoes of Gainsborough's portraiture, and there is a certain still, timeless quality to Little's solitary souls – as if they're contemplating their lot. One of the artist's rare departures from fashion imagery is a 2008 triptych depicting his pregnant wife, her swollen belly echoed by a selection of balloons and round parcels, ready for a birthday party. But the picture nevertheless explores familiar territory: the subject is an object of strange fascination and, as always with Little's women, her introspective air resists even the most probing gaze.

    Why we like him: In addition to his drawings, Little also makes MDF sculptures that resemble eccentric furniture, decorated with painted patterns culled from fashionable fabric and interior design.

    Boy zone: Little first began drawing models from magazines owned by one of his childhood neighbours in Dundee, and began his sculpture career by painting the packaging of his friends' toys and displaying it on his bedroom shelves.

    Where can I see him? Alison Jacques Gallery, London, until 18 December. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    November 13 2010

    November 09 2010

    Graham Hughes obituary

    Art director of the Goldsmiths' Company behind the renaissance in modern silver design

    Graham Hughes was a tall, ebullient, dashing figure who created a postwar renaissance of British silversmithing and jewellery, as art secretary, and subsequently art director, of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, in London, from 1951 until 1981. Hughes, who has died aged 84, grew up knowing many of the most eminent silversmiths of the interwar period. His father, George Ravensworth Hughes, had worked at the Goldsmiths' Company until his retirement as the company's clerk in 1953, having initiated their most important commissions, purchases and patronage during the interwar years. GR Hughes was a modernist, in sympathy with the progressive Design and Industries Association, but he also successfully organised the wartime production of the Stalingrad sword of honour, presented to Stalin in Tehran in 1943 after being displayed to awed crowds in Westminster abbey.

    Graham was sent, in his father's footsteps, to Eton college, Berkshire, followed by two-and-half-years' wartime naval service on a minesweeper, and then to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1947, to read history. He switched to law and was increasingly drawn to the arts, attending lectures given by Nikolaus Pevsner. In 1951 he married Serena Robinson, then reading music at Newnham College. Her father was ESG Robinson, the classical numismatist and keeper of coins and medals at the British Museum. The young couple had known each other from childhood. In the year of his marriage, Graham joined his father at the Goldsmiths' Company, recruited as exhibition secretary during the Festival of Britain, and subsequently involved in a series of well-designed historic exhibitions of English silver in the early 1950s.

    Graham was, however, firmly committed to the contemporary; while being in no sense a functionalist, he frequently expressed disquiet at the absence of variety and surface decoration in contemporary design. The silversmiths he admired were mostly recent graduates from the Royal College of Art, above all David Mellor, Robert Welch, Stuart Devlin and Gerald Benney, whom he dubbed "the silversmith's Henry Moore". He also encouraged the maverick architect Louis Osman and the sculptor Geoffrey Clarke in their silver designs.

    Most of the dramatic silver in the Smithsonian exhibition British Artist Craftsmen, which toured the US during 1959 and 1960, had been commissioned by Graham under the aegis of the Goldsmiths' Company. Graham worked hard to persuade industry and business, the church and the universities to commission interesting silver. He organised generous gifts of radical silver for formal dining to the new universities during the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973 he was appointed consultant art director to the Royal Mint and began the promotion of the medal form, encouraging artists to design medals and organising the landmark international exhibition Medals Today at the Goldsmiths' Hall.

    In 1961, in collaboration with Shirley Bury at the V&A, Hughes staged the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961, beautifully designed by the architect Alan Irvine. It including makers from 33 countries. Contemporary British jewellery was weak, so Hughes commissioned directly from painters and sculptors such as Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick, Elisabeth Frink, Terry Frost and Bernard Meadows, and included brilliant up-and-coming jewellers such as John Donald, Gerda Flöckinger, Andrew Grima and Donald Thomas.

    This was the start of significant support for designer jewellers by the Goldsmiths' Company and as always Graham was capable of grand gestures – on one occasion buying an entire exhibition of student work organised at Hornsey School of Art by Flöckinger. Out of the 1961 show came Hughes's book Modern Jewelry: An International Survey, 1890-1963, which was incisive, opinionated and full of insights.

    In 1965 Graham took on the chairmanship of the beleaguered Crafts Centre of Great Britain. He moved its premises from Hay Hill in Mayfair to a warehouse in Earlham Street, Covent Garden, an area he realised would soon become fashionable. He encouraged splendid shows there – of jewellery by Flöckinger (1968), textiles by Ann Sutton (1969) and glass by Sam Herman (1969). In response to the new "hot glass" movement, Hughes (with Susannah Robins, director of the Crafts Centre of Great Britain) set up and part-financed the Glasshouse in a warehouse next to the centre. This was the only place in Britain where the general public could see hot glass being blown.

    He retailed robustly, setting up Crafts Centre outposts in Toyko, North America and Australia and taking groups of makers, including Flöckinger and the potters Anthony Hepburn and Janet Leach, to Japan to make important contacts. The parties at Earlham Street were memorable – Donovan sang, Yehudi Menuhin was a presence and snacks arrived courtesy of a newly formed enterprise, Pizza Express.

    As art director at the Goldsmiths' Company, Hughes had little interest in the conservatively minded manufacturing silversmiths – the "trade" – and was impatient with budgets and committees. But the silver, jewellery and medals that entered the company's collection during his 30 years at the Hall testify to his unerring eye for new and exciting work and form a secret history of modern British postwar art.

    By 1981 Hughes had tired of the Goldsmiths' Company and its governing body and he resigned, shortly afterwards buying Arts Review from the Sovereign Publishing Company of New York. He flung himself into art journalism with zest, running the magazine from his house in St James's Gardens in west London. This was where he and Serena bought up four children, as a family greatly adding to the gaiety and seriousness of cultural and musical life in west London, above all by helping found the W11 Children's Opera, which is still running.

    After 10 years, by now living main- ly in East Sussex, he sold Arts Review and settled down to writing books. The first was a scholarly study of Renaissance Cassoni, or dowry chests (1997), much of it written in his daughter's house near Perugia, Italy. The most recent, David Watkins, Wendy Ramshaw: A Life's Partnership (2009), paid tribute to two jewellers whose work he had supported throughout their long, distinguished careers.

    He is survived by Serena, their daughters Emma, Clare and Hatty, and son Ben.

    • George Graham McKenny Hughes, arts administrator and writer, born 17 April 1926; died 5 October 2010 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    November 01 2010

    Scott King: Top Marx

    How did Scott King go from designing style magazines to subverting the art world?

    David Baddiel's side didn't stand a chance. In Football Pitch (1997), the comedian is at midfield in a soccer-match diagram, heading up a team that includes Chris Evans and Frank Skinner. Not a bad first 11. But take a look at the other side. There are 48 of them, and, in terms of raw talent, they seriously outshine Baddiel's boys: Jean Genet, Malcolm McLaren, André Breton, Chuck D.

    For anyone who suffered through the beery, leery 90s, Football Pitch is thrilling. Suddenly it seems as if you might not be on the losing side.

    "I'm not really a football fan," explains the artist, Scott King. "The idea was just a device to illustrate both 'whose side are you on?' and to 'beat them at their own game'." As King says, being a football supporter was a prerequisite for "new lads" back then.

    The piece is typical of King: pop with highbrow references, partisan, simple, graphic. It was first published in the inaugural issue of Crash!, an art magazine that King co-produced with the historian Matt Worley immediately after leaving the art directorship of the style magazine i-D. It appears again this month in a retrospective book, Scott King Art Works, alongside other pieces that could be seen as funny, puerile, glib or heroic, depending which side you come down on. There's a bar chart illustrating the incidence of Christian names among Britain's fallen soldiers; Venn diagrams examining the appeal of Kurt Cobain and Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards. A bust of Karl Marx is made up to look like glam rocker Roy Wood; Cher's eyes, nose and mouth are fitted on to Che Guevara.

    King's friend Wolfgang Tillmans convinced him to put the book together. Tillmans also helped fund Crash! 13 years ago and offered King advice on how to make the transition from newsstand to gallery. "It's a big leap, from graphic design to art. People who have done it, like Barbara Kruger, are few and far between," King says. "Once I treated the art world with too much reverence. Now I've no interest in other people's opinions."

    King was born in 1969 and grew up in Goole, East Yorkshire. He did his graphic design degree in Hull, landed the job at i-D, and later began designing record sleeves for clients such as Morrissey. "They paid so well," he admits. "But I've always felt much more akin to artists like Sarah Lucas. That's more me than [graphic designer] Neville Brody's version of The Face magazine or New Order's covers."

    The continuity in King's work is striking. Some of this can be put down to his long-term, collaborative relationship with Worley. "What struck me about Scott," says Worley, "was that he could express, in a pop manner, ideas writers needed whole books to explain." The 20th century's ideological battle lines seem to recur in a work such as The Oppressed, a roomful of revolutionary slogans written on speech bubbles. "I do have a nostalgia for movements and people who thought they could change things; who said no, rather than OK all the time," says Worley.

    Crash! recently put together a programme for this year's Marathon, a series of artists' presentations at London's Serpentine Gallery. Listings are interspersed with Better Britain, Crash!'s satire of arts initiatives in a time of cuts. Suggestions include erecting gigantic reproductions of the Tubular Bells sculpture from Mike Oldfield's 1973 album cover at sites of economic depravation, and sticking the Angel of the North on Nelson's Column. "It's utterly idiotic, the idea that egomaniac artists can come up with these things while the country is in complete meltdown," says King of art-led plans for regeneration. "It's like Hitler making plans for Welthauptstadt Germania from his Berlin bunker in 1945."

    And yet, despite King's attack on the arts establishment, his work could be strengthening Britain's gallery businesses. Graphics commentator Adrian Shaughnessy says that thanks to people like him, today's young designers don't want to take commercial briefs and instead view themselves as artists.

    "I'm no intellectual," King says, "but I do my best. At worst, I'll get the gist of some Walter Benjamin and make it into pop crap. From years of labouring away with the same five pages, I think some of it sinks in."

    Scott King Art Works is published by JRP Ringier © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    August 31 2010

    Corinne Day: raw genius

    Corinne Day's photographs of a young Kate Moss caused a huge outcry – then became the defining fashion images of the 90s

    So familiar, so utterly redolent of their time have they become, that it is hard to recall just how alien, shocking and strange Corinne Day's photos for the June 1993 issue of Vogue seemed at first. Edgier magazines (i-D, the Face, Dazed and Confused) had already documented the aesthetic that was sensationally labelled "heroin chic". But when the mighty Vogue published Day's pictures of a vacant-faced Moss clad in low-slung tan tights, posed next to a radiator which resembled her build, a hurricane of disapproval was unleashed.

    Day died last Friday, 27 August, aged 48, from brain cancer. She will be remembered for her close association with Moss at the beginning of the model's career, and in particular for two specific photo stories: the Vogue shoot and, three years before that, a cover story for the Face featuring Moss's puckish, 15-year-old features grinning beneath a feathered headdress. The coverline read: "The 3rd Summer of Love". Inside, the magazine showed Moss in black-and-white: half-naked, larking about on the beach, giggling. Looking at them now, they seem as quaint and antique as Victorian postcards.

    But it was that Vogue underwear shoot (the word lingerie seems too rarefied for the vests and pants she was shot in) that defined Day. The immediate reaction was ferocious. Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, described the photographs as "just this side of porn". Marcelle D'Argy Smith, then editor of Cosmopolitan, said: "The pictures are hideous and tragic. I believe they can only appeal to the paedophile market." The New York Times succinctly described Moss's look as "very young and very dead". Four years later, there was still fallout. Day's shoot was widely referenced when no less an authority than the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, opined that "fashion photos in the last few years have made heroin addiction seem glamorous and sexy and cool".

    Then as now, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, who commissioned the shoot, finds it hard to comprehend the extremity of the reaction. "I remember being on holiday at the time," she said yesterday, "and I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. I thought they were lovely pictures, and we certainly weren't trying to do anything sensationalist. I felt that if you looked in the changing rooms in high-street stores, or if you looked in young girls' bedrooms, that's what you saw. Kate looked like the most beautiful version of girls at school.

    "It seemed strange to object to this kind of thing rather than the usual kind of photos with all the makeup, the padded bras, all the artifice. But I think it was really about the context. People felt betrayed by Vogue – it was supposed to be a beacon of old-fashioned glamour and this was so downbeat." In 1993, the magazine was hungover from the glitz and glitter of the 1980s. With the Day shoot, they finally nailed their colours to the mast. The shoot reflected the fact that things had changed, to say the least.

    With hindsight, the power of Day's pictures is that they seem to echo a moment in British cultural history, one that goes beyond the emergence of grunge as a fashion trend, and might also call to mind the grubbier shores of Britpop, the youthful antics of artists such as Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, and the publication of novels such as Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

    As artefacts in the history of feminism, I am less certain of their status. Day's own great success was in self-creation: she left school with a single O-level, started out as a bank clerk, then worked for free on the Face before establishing herself as a photographer who made, says Shulman, "ordinariness remarkable" and whose pictures were "better and better the less ornate they were". In 1993, and today, there were few women photographers working on Vogue, and when I worked there briefly from 1995-6, the prevailing if unedifying dynamic was of female editors soothing the vast egos of male snappers.

    At the time, Moss was called a "superwaif" and waifish is how she appears in the Vogue pictures: a woman-child in the long tradition of Dickens's Dora Spenlow and Berg's Lulu. The Spice Girls were launched in 1994, and the waif was replaced in popular culture by a noisier, and longer-lasting, model of young womanhood – the spuriously liberated ladette. It is hard to discern which was worse: the cure or the disease. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    August 17 2010

    John Callahan obituary

    Acerbic cartoonist whose work was suffused with angst

    In an interview with the small magazine Emergency Horse, the cartoonist John Callahan, who has died aged 59 of respiratory failure, stated: "I like everything that has to do with the extreme, with angst or suffering or intensity in life. My subjects are all very intense – religion, politics, disease. The real mild things in life I'm not interested in." But what distinguished Callahan, a quadriplegic, was that he was genuinely funny about these subjects. A classic cartoon shows a sheriff and posse surrounding an empty wheelchair. The caption reads: "Don't worry, he won't get far on foot."

    Unable to control a pen single-handed, Callahan worked on a tablet on his knees, holding the pen with two hands and drawing from the shoulders. Like that other great humorist, the partially sighted James Thurber, Callahan succeeded in channelling his limitations to create a distinctive style in drawings peopled by characters that he described as "kind of demented, as I think most people are".

    As disability was his primary subject, Callahan frequently came under attack from the people he described as "self-righteous assholes who presume to defend the disabled", and delighted in publishing these letters on his website.

    Born in Portland, Oregon, Callahan was adopted by an Irish Catholic family at the age of six months. He grew up in the Dalles, a small port on the Columbia river. With a rigid ex-army father, and educated by nuns, he started to rebel. He showed a talent for illicit, often obscene, caricatures of teachers and classmates.

    Aged 12, he stole a bottle of gin at his grandmother's wake and thereafter descended rapidly into alcoholism. (He was later to blame this in part on having been sexually abused at the age of eight by a female teacher.) In 1972, he let himself be driven by a friend who was as drunk as he was, who hit a telegraph pole. Callahan's spine was severed.

    He continued drinking in rehab and afterwards, until in 1978 he had an epiphany, described in his autobiography: "I knew with utter certainty that my problem was not quadriplegia, it was alcoholism." He went to counselling, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and never took another drink. (This journey was the subject of his 1989 animation I Think I Was an Alcoholic.)

    In 1979, John enrolled in Portland State University, where he gained a bachelor's degree in English. In 1981, he returned to cartooning, initially for Portland State's student magazine, the Vanguard, and received his first hate mail after creating a drawing of a street beggar with a sign reading: "Please help me. I am blind and black but not musical."

    After graduating in 1983, he started submitting professionally and eventually sold to Penthouse a cartoon of a construction site with a sign: "WARNING! THIS AREA PATROLLED BY LESBIANS." He was soon selling to magazines such as National Lampoon, Omni and Forum.

    At this point, like many artists with disabilities, Callahan experienced problems balancing a fluctuating freelance income with welfare payments. But the rise of political correctness created an environment in which Callahan was able to flourish, with such gags as: "This is a feminist bookstore! There is no humour section!!!" His career kept growing, he found an agent, and was eventually syndicated in some 50 publications, winning the praise of such fans as Gary Larson, PJ O'Rourke, Matt Groening and Camille Paglia.

    In 1989 he published a first volume of autobiography, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot, followed in 1998 by Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?

    Callahan originated two television series. Pelswick, which ran from 2000 until 2002, was a children's series about a 13-year-old wheelchair user. The cartoonist was creator and executive producer of John Callahan's Quads (2001), a raucously politically incorrect series made by the Canadian animation house Nelvana.

    For the last 12 months, Callahan had been dealing with complications from pressure sores, a constant danger for anyone with spinal cord injury. He is survived by his mother, Rosemary, three brothers and two sisters.

    • John Michael Callahan, cartoonist, born 5 February 1951; died 24 July 2010 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    May 05 2010

    History repeating

    This Irish artist recasts history in video installations that draw on everything from Sartre to Playboy – and question our present-day beliefs too

    Gerard Byrne's art is riddled with cracks. In his video installations reconstructing events from the recent past, the gaps widen vertiginously between what we see in front of us and what we remember. He starts off with a written document – a story from a top-shelf magazine, a car ad or even a piece of art criticism – anything that dates quickly. Then he restages it with actors, a film crew and a clutch of Brechtian distancing techniques.

    Playboy has provided the artist with some juicy material. New Sexual Lifestyles (2002) takes a roundtable interview from 1979, featuring Deep Throat's Linda Lovelace, Screw magazine's editor Al Goldstein and feminist Betty Dodson, and restages it with an Irish cast in contemporary smart/casual office wear. Nonetheless their talk – touching on "the establishment", "swingers" and "leather bars" – clearly dates from another age. Another film, 1984 and Beyond, included in Byrne's Irish pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, was based on an article where the likes of Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury discussed their vision for the future, from orgasm pills to cheap moon travel. These are comedies of temporal and cultural collisions that work in both directions: are our own present-day assumptions any less volatile than the debates of the free love era?

    Born in 1969, Byrne grew up in Dublin at a time when the social changes shaking up the rest of the world were filtered through the Catholic church. He has since become one of Ireland's most celebrated artists, renowned for his kaleidoscopic take on how information is translated and understood. The artistic and intellectual revolutions of earlier generations frequently unravel in Byrne's work. His most recent multiple-screen installation, A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, quotes artist Carl Andre and tackles minimalism's relationship to time. He has also recast the radical work of Beckett and Sartre, cutting them adrift from their historical moment. Rather than lament the good old days, Byrne suggests that things never are how we think about them in the first place.

    Why we like him: Byrne's series of photographs begun in 2006, A Country Road. A Tree. Evening., takes its title from the famed stage direction from Waiting For Godot. The dramatic stage-lit images show windswept, blasted trees in the Irish and French countryside – the fruits of his absurd quest to find a real life point-of-origin for an act of imagination.

    Doublespeak: Byrne says that he was first switched on to the power of political messages when watching the politician Gerry Adams on the news – at the order of the British government, his voice was controversially dubbed by an actor.

    Where can I see him? Gerard Byrne has solo exhibitions at Lismore Castle Arts, Ireland until 30 September and at the Common Guild, Glasgow, until 26 June. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

    January 27 2010

    When it Comes to News, Why Won't People Eat Their Vegetables?

    One of the basic questions in journalism these days is, "What news do consumers actually want?" Chris Lee believes that today's citizenry is getting too much of what they want, and too little of what they need. With the Tools of Change for Publishing conference approaching, it seemed appropriate to talk to Lee, who has spent his professional life in the trenches of broadcast journalism, about where the industry is going and what the future of news looks like.

    James Turner: Why don't you give us your background.

    Chris Lee: I've been a journalist for most of my career, or at least the first part of my career. Then I gradually got interested in the technology, and have tended to go back and forth between the journalism and news management side, and the production technology side; asking what are the new devices that stations and journalists could use. I haven't been frightened of the technology like most journalists have been along the way. Sometimes you can see things earlier, or you understand how to turn something sideways and turn it into a new newsgathering tool.

    James Turner: So, clearly print journalism is on the ropes right now.

    Chris Lee: And TV, also. Local TV, in particular, in the United States.

    Tools of Change

    James Turner: What are the factors playing into that in your mind?

    Chris Lee: Well, on the newspaper side, you start with Craigslist. This is all pretty well-documented, but the audience is gone. They can't support the news organizations on the ad revenue, given that there are fewer eyeballs watching the ads on the newspaper side. And frankly, on television, it's the same story. It's caused not by Craigslist, although other internet sites have contributed, but largely through the boom of cable television. Thirty years ago, cable was a way to get a cleaner, clearer picture. Now basic cable channels beat the broadcast networks quite handily in primetime ratings.

    James Turner: We have started to see that even in the "news networks," MSNBC, CNN, and FOX, they're shutting down their bureaus. They're consolidating because even they don't seem to have the budget for it.

    Chris Lee: I can't speak to what's going on right now in detail at CNN. MSNBC has some GE issues, and now change of ownership issues, so you might need to exclude them. But whatever's happening at the basic cable channel CNN-like level is far kinder than what's happening at the networks or the local stations, meaning broadcast networks. In the end, the broadcast networks are only as healthy as the station business, and the station business is in big trouble.

    The whole delivery concept in the United States, where you would have an affiliate that accepts the network programming, adds some of its own things, and then passes it on to local viewers, is a distinctly American approach. These individual local transmitters in most of the rest of the world aren't separate businesses; they're just relay points. So you've got these separate local transmitters that were once very important in our culture. That's the channel I watch Walter Cronkite on, or what have you. Now they're unnecessary technologically.

    You've got 2/3 or 3/4, depending on where you live, of the households watching other signal instead of theirs, via cable TV or DBS [direct broadcast satellite]. And it's just that much more competition. These guys, all of a sudden, used to have four other people to fight and now they've got 400.

    James Turner: Just to play devil's advocate though, I could say, "You know something? The local news was never really anything to write home about anyway. And maybe we can get by with what remains of print journalism in a city, that does all of the real investigative work, which isn't six things that could give you cancer at 11:00."

    Chris Lee: I'm not going to disagree. I think one of the reasons local news is where it is today is because they didn't respect their audience enough in these teases and this sensationalism, "Can bikinis cause cancer? Tune in in February when it's a ratings hook." In the end, that stuff helped erode an audience. But as business, it was quite profitable.

    People used to watch local news and read newspapers in great number. Now there are many more ways to get information or choose not to get information, because there's so many other media out there. Or you can get information that's specific to you rather than the news of the day, if you will. I think the really interesting and kind of scary question is so just how much consumption of what we traditionally call news is still a requirement of citizenship (I don't mean in the immigration sense), of being a productive member of a community. It's as if people were in the habit of eating their vegetables, but now there's so many other good things out there that they skip them.

    James Turner: The other interesting question is that if you say, "Okay, great. I'm going to have my customized news feed that's going to give me my local news, maybe even based on my geolocation, and it's going to give me whatever the national news is," where is this content going to come from once everything has dried up?

    Chris Lee: Good question. You rightly observe that when people go to alternate sources to look for news, they're very frequently looking at news produced by people who get paid by organizations that aren't making any money from that particular viewer choosing to read or consume that article. In the end, you're right. Those people go away, unless they're replaced by something else.

    Citizen journalism has its place, it ought to be one of the tools in any professional journalism organization's outfit. That doesn't mean you take something an unknown person does and necessarily publish it immediately, or maybe you put it on a website, but you indicate it's not yet vetted and then you fact-check. If you can really get volunteers out there who know a community and can start the newsgathering machine, I think that's good.

    But I think what we've seen by and large is that if you look at what citizen journalists are typically doing, they're opining; they're not reporting. Those who are reporting often have an ax to grind, and that ax is not necessarily out there and for all to see. I find it hard to argue that we don't need real journalists. I think we got into a war because we didn't have enough real journalists, or all of the real journalists were working on a deadline because there wasn't enough money to give somebody more time to think about or ask one more question.

    James Turner: What I have observed is that "citizen journalism" is really good for breaking news. You can see that with the Haiti today. A guy with a cell phone takes a picture; he is better than any reporter sitting at a desk at that moment because --

    Chris Lee: Oh, absolutely.

    James Turner: -- he's got the picture. If he's taking a picture of a bridge that collapsed somewhere, that's great. But he's not going to do the six-month investigative on why there was faulty cement in that bridge.

    Chris Lee: Exactly. There are those huge investigative things, but the truth is, with very few exceptions, nobody's doing that today. There are, maybe, the big national news organizations and some of this foundation-funded stuff that's starting. I think the bigger worry is the nuts and bolts. As you know, the meat and potatoes of daily journalism is that you've got to ask six people the same question; you've got to go to a council meeting. People get paid to do it for a reason. But I would agree.

    And that's why I say, certainly, if a citizen journalist is at a scene and has a camera and can take some video or you can interview them, by all means, you do it. But that's not to say that some network of citizen journalists is going to tell you why your education system doesn't work.

    James Turner: When you were talking about bias earlier, it struck a chord, because this is something that I run into a lot. I hear people say all the time, "Yeah, but every news organization is biased, too."

    Chris Lee: I think the bias of almost all news organizations is a bias about the economy in which they operate. A local TV newsroom today has a bias to assign a story that they have a high confidence can be completed in a short number of hours because they can't afford to send people out on stories that fall apart. That's the reason why the TV news doesn't cover complicated things, or doesn't do the investigation on why the bad cement was in the bridge. But I really don't think, with the possible exception of two national news channels I will say that come from a political left and right perspective, there aren't very many news organizations where you can organize a bias and drive it through the organization and have people fall in line. I really don't believe that happens.

    James Turner: I wanted to turn to another one of your interests, and how it ties into this. We've heard for a long time about how we're going to have this conjunction between traditional media, set top devices, computers, networking; it's all going to come together. It's all going to be one device. With things like Boxee and Hulu, we're starting to see that occur now. To some extent that means, for example, if you had all of your CNN segments for the last two days on Hulu, you could watch it on demand whenever you wanted. Does that basically turn broadcast or cable news into the same reaggregated content that we're seeing with print news now?

    Chris Lee: Well, the first thing I've got to say is what you describe I love. I have built one of those or two of those, and want to be able to one day sit down in front of my television set or my computer screen or whatever and say, "Show me a newscast." That newscast should not require me to lean forward and push a button every time I want a next thing to happen, and the newscast should be some mix of the things I need and the things I want, just like news has always been.

    Having worked on some of those schemes, and some other simpler things that would integrate broadcast television and the cable television infrastructure, the problem is there's lower-hanging fruit that is more profitable. There's not much attention to how to deliver customized news via Boxee or anything else, because they've all got their eye on the prize of how to deliver Hollywood movies. People have demonstrated they'll pay for that. And if anything, what's happening right now in consumer behavior makes you wonder whether people will watch news that's free, let alone news that they would have to pay for or that would be sponsored.

    James Turner: That brings us around to another thing that's happened recently which is that we've seen Rupert Murdock say, "Well, I'm just going to paywall all of my stuff." In the past, the New York Times tried to paywall their site, failed, and had to end up making it a registration-only site. The only sites I know of that really has a successful paywall is the Wall Street Journal, professional journals and things like that.

    Chris Lee: I would bet you most of those journal subscriptions are being put on somebody's expense account.

    James Turner: The thing we always heard was that micropayments would be the solution there, and you'd buy the stories you wanted for a couple of cents a piece. The reality is when you look at how much they charge per article today, it's usually a buck or more. So they're charging you more than the cost of buying the newspaper.

    Chris Lee: They forgot the micro.

    James Turner: Well, part of it was the reality of credit card processing, that a two-cent transaction didn't make any sense. And it's only through things like PayPal, that can aggregate it, that they're starting to see a solution. But do you think that paywalls can work? Advertising doesn't seem to have worked as a model, the click-view model. Not getting paid at all doesn't seem to be a good revenue model. So is paywalling going to be the way that we get some news generated in the future?

    Chris Lee: Well, somebody has to figure out a way to pay the journalists. I think there's a lot of hope, probably overly optimistic hopes, on whether tablets, iSlates, what have you, can come to market as a sort of breakfast table friendly news consuming devices. Whether there, like on the iPhone, consumers will accept that it's a different device; it's not a PC, and that some services have subscription fees. If we go the model of all information is free on the web, we're, I think, going to be beholden to foundations for a lot of our journalism. And that does not make it bias-free. Or we can wait for some of these start-ups that are working on hyper-local to try to develop into something that is sort of nominally paying someone's salary and get our news there.

    James Turner: Do you think there would be a place for a model where I said, "I know more about Derry, New Hampshire than anybody else who can report about it. So I will just start a subscription site for anybody who wants to know about Derry"? Essentially, launch my own online newspaper by subscription and charge little enough that I'm making it up on volume. Could that work, or is that going to suffer from the same "getting the word out" problem that all the other disintermediation strategies seem to be hitting?

    Chris Lee: I don't know. I'd like to see it work. I guess I'm skeptical. I think one of the observations about how consumers are behaving in the past five years that has surprised me the most is, again, this lack of feeling responsible for knowing the news of their country and their local government of that day. I don't think it's just a technology question. I think if you asked people now versus the same age group 20 years ago, I think they'd be stunningly less informed now about boring news, and tremendously more knowledgeable about bits of news that really interest them.

    I'm not sure that's entirely bad. But the guy in Darien, Connecticut is going to be churning out a lot of news of the day. And if everybody'd rather dig into their little content niche for what they really care about, Mr. Darien's going to have trouble making money.

    James Turner: One of the other strategies we've been hearing a lot about lately is automated news generation. Taking things that are available out there as public information and grinding it into news. So, for example, I saw that there's a project now that'll take the line from a baseball game and turn it into news copy.

    Chris Lee: [Laughter]

    James Turner: We've also heard about experiments where people tried to outsource the reporting of town council meetings to people in India, or other places, because it was just watching the meeting and then reporting on it.

    Chris Lee: Yeah. And there another thing that I think of that's happening in a lot of government agencies, and most prominently I think in professional sports. I'm a San Francisco Giants fan and my son is, too. My son just goes to to find out what's going on. I go to the people who blog for the newspapers who are beat writers. There are a lot of people who don't grasp that the news you get from, in effect, the officialdom that you're interested in is not without its biases. I think that's a real concern.

    James Turner: I can remember a few years ago there was this whole thing with local news outlets running these reports which were essentially given to them by the government.

    Chris Lee: Oh, yeah. That was bad. In reality, in probably 80 percent of the cases, they were just ripping off the file tape and talking over the pictures. I can't speak to newspapers so much. But I'm sure the same thing is going on. Actually, television in some respects is worse because the news hole hasn't gotten any smaller. The business gets bad in the newspaper and you print fewer pages.

    In broadcast journalism, the problem is you've got a smaller staff. The same amount of time has to be filled. There's more pressure. And it leads to more corner-cutting. It's not just running video news releases, but it's doing these stories that are guaranteed to work, which means they're probably boring; you've seen them 50 times before. There's no chances. There's no risk-taking. It's no wonder people aren't watching local news because these evergreens that we're putting on don't have much to them.

    James Turner: I have to say I was very pleased to see that AP actually did a really nice piece of investigative journalism recently about cadmium and toys. Maybe it's because they are still a big enough resource, they really are almost like an aggregator. But they are an aggregator that can make some money off their content. So what's different with AP?

    Chris Lee: Well, AP is such a weird business model, you almost have to throw them out in terms of how they make their money. But you're right. There's an advantage of scale. If you've still got a lot of reporters, you can afford to have a couple of them not file a story this week. That's really what it comes down to, how many reporters do you need filing a story today to fill the hole? In a lot of news organizations, I'd say probably almost every local news organization of any media around the country, you pretty much need everybody to file everyday. That means there's not much extra time to do investigations or news that's just harder to dig up.

    James Turner: So it sounds like you don't have an answer for where this goes in, say the next five or ten years?

    Chris Lee: I think what ends up happening is that the magazine people and the newspapers begin to figure out how to make money. They're not going to let all content be free on the slates, and they begin to make some revenue there. I don't know whether they really make any revenue from paywalls on the web or not. I think the local news organizations in each American market will dwindle. Where there's four or five doing news now, they'll maybe do two.

    If the television stations were smart, there would be some real opportunities for A, making content that would be useful and interesting on the web and B, understanding how to build websites and RSS services that would allow people to see those stories. I've tried, but it's hard to make the dinosaurs learn. I don't think they're going to get there.

    A real key for making money out of video news is to enable a smart aggregation device that will select the stories, hopefully not just what you want but also some of the stories that you need to know, what's going on in the world, and combine those in a personalized newscast. And the reason that's useful is, I think, twofold. One, I don't think people want to lean forward and click every time to watch a news story, particularly if they're watching it on a big screen. And the other thing is, that provides a context where a commercial or a commercial break seems fair and reasonable and is what they're expecting, based on years of viewing. So it gives you a context where maybe you can make some money.

    James Turner: Isn't the danger of that, though, that you can get even more of an echo chamber effect than you get today if people really can personalize?

    Chris Lee: Oh, absolutely. I built this little system in 1994. The thing that the journalists all liked the most about it is there were several knobs you could twist to make different sorts of newscasts come out. There was one knob that, on one end of the scale would give them what they want; on the other end of the scale, give them what they need. You can set it anywhere you want and you'll get out a newscast that has a different level of ultra personalized versus important.

    In the end, it's not really a technology issue. It comes down to viewer behavior, because there are fewer and fewer people out there in journalism management who are prepared to spin the dial anywhere but where it will make the most revenue. I look everyday for a sign that we as a culture are interested in a little bit of news that we need, not just the news that we want.

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