I wrote a post a while back that was critical of JPG Magazine. Within 45 seconds (approximately), Business Director Devin Poolman responded with a long, thoughtful, and well-argued (though ultimately unconvincing) rebuttal to my argument that JPG was essentially a fraudulent venture.
Oh, I didn’t mean that JPG isn’t a magazine, or even that the publication’s “unique and groundbreaking” method of replacing what turns out to be the lowest-level jobs in publishing (stringers and photo assistants) with an online “community” wasn’t really happening—only that the chief benefit of all that free labor was that it was free. There are a lot of glossies on photography out there that look more or less like JPG—presenting page after page of imagery with scant context. If you look at the artifact that is JPG, rather than getting all hot and bothered about the web-inflected communal process that generated that artifact, it isn’t necessarily worse than the pack, but neither does it stand out as more interesting or more innovative. It turns out, at least in this case, that a crowd just isn’t any wiser than the few, the dedicated (and the paid) experts that put out a typical magazine.
I do think a magazine that was truly put out like a wiki would be a fascinating experiment, (I bought wikizine.com a couple of years back with such thoughts in mind—it’s now just another moldering project in my groaning hopper. Anyone want to collaborate on this?) Articles, could be submitted and edited in a wiki, illustrated or photographed by artists responding to topics they find, and designed in Scribus by self-appointed art directors and production artists. But JPG isn’t like that at all. Its staff—which is as large as any small magazine’s—makes final editorial, design, and production decisions. The “community” provides images (just as it does at any magazine—minus the hype and web interface), and does the grunt work of sifting through tons of submitted work, some great but most not.
Now, in fairness, my wiki fantasy comes with a lot of challenges—Wikipedia’s goal is to be a compendium of facts—of which there can be some agreement if you’re not hopelessly relativist or superstitious. Those facts are written up in a balanced and consistent institutional voice. That kind of journalism, if journalism is what it is, is rarely the goal of a magazine. Can a wiki-process preserve an author’s (or a designers or a photographer’s) voice and opinions through countless revisions by an army of volunteers? JPG, it must be said, accomplishes its rather more limited goals.
Anyway, the folks at 8020, the same company that publishes JPG are at it again—this time with a travel magazine. So, in the hopes of another tongue-lashing, or perhaps because the new magazine addresses what most makes JPG a limp offering—it’s lack of focus—I wanted to take a look. Travel offers the promise of a bit of conceptual glue to hold Everywhere together.
So, is Everywhere just as hinky as JPG? Maybe, but it’s also a much more complete, more satisfying, and even more attractive publication than its older sister.
Like JPG, Everywhere is at its core a photography magazine, and it also relies on reader-generated content. The new magazine adds articles, which are written by the same people who created the accompanying images. This should raise red flags with any art director who’s ever tried to build a layout with sucky writer-supplied imagery, but in this case it works. The imagery is stellar and the writing is quite good, albeit more personal and blog-like than at a typical glossy. It’s tempting to say that Everywhere functions kind of like a travel Zagats—it doesn’t provide the expert view, but it does give a sense of travel closer to what an average person will experience. But, that comparison doesn’t quite do E-where justice. Zagat’s reviews are disjointed collections of quotes. In contrast, one of the most compelling features of Everywhere is the sense of personal experience—provided in part by a tight linkage and uniformity of purpose of image and word.
In fact, for a travel magazine particularly, the whole “wisdom of crowds” thing starts to make sense. True or not, I really get the feeling reading the new publication that 10,000 volunteers are going to tease out the sort of hidden corners and unexpected experiences that one or two highly-paid travel writers will miss in a visit to the same location. Yes, the professional writer will likely provide an authority and circumspect view that Everywhere’s army of schmoes lacks, but the two approaches are sufficiently different and at least potentially equally valuable.
Of course, “travel” is a very loose theme (and the editor makes it clear he will be keeping it loose), but it’s enough to make Everywhere an all-around more disciplined and more interesting publication than JPG–particularly in its willingness to venture out of latter’s focus on the singular image. Photography should be presented respectfully, but the ecumenical layout and uniform presentation in JPG makes the older magazine tediously repetitive. One of my favorite pages from Everywhere is the right-hand below—a California photographer shot the same scenes as he found on various old post cards, and wrote a piece on the tradition of “re-photography.” In truth, the individual pictures aren’t that interesting, but it’s a captivating and charming package and there isn’t a place for anything as whimsical as this in JPG.
So, I guess I’m sold. I’m not sure I’ll be uploading pictures to 8020′s servers any time soon, but I will probably buy another copy.
Below: a photo essay by various contributors, built around the theme of traveling home for the holidays.