The development of picture magazines is a twentieth-century phenomenon, aided by print technologies that offered quality reproduction of photographs in large numbers and in a short time, like rotogravure, which had yielded high quality reproduction using a single plate for type and photo since 1910. Earlier, photographs had been used for wood-engraved illustrations in many magazines, including the Leipziger Illustrirte (Germany, 1843), L’Illustration (France, 1843), Illustrated London News (UK, 1842), L’Illustracion (Spain, 1849), the Saturday Evening Post (USA, 1821), Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (USA, 1855), Harper’s Weekly (USA, 1857), and the Weekly Illustrated of India (India, 1880). The Canadian Illustrated News (1869) featured a half-tone on its first cover, only a few years after the Illustrated London News (1842) had been launched with 32 woodcuts on 16 pages.
Picture magazines constituted windows to the world for millions of readers in all parts of the world, who became eyewitnesses to human and natural tragedies, visitors to foreign places, and participants in the explorations of the universe. The heyday of modern picture magazines was the 1920s and 1930s, when they emerged – accompanied by the success of moving pictures – as important global manifestations of an expanding visual culture. Picture magazines are the result of an enterprising worldwide use of photographs as a means of public communication. Large circulation figures – from 300,000 copies a week for the Illustrated London News (UK) in 1863 to 6.2 million copies a week for the Saturday Evening Post (USA) in 1959 – document the rising popularity of the picture magazine over a 100-year period. Beginning in the late 1950s, advertising expenditures and reader attention shifted to television and brought about an identity crisis among picture magazines. Argentina, for instance, lost half of its magazine circulation between 1998 and 2004. The result was a new focus on specialized interests, like fashion or sports, e.g., Sports Illustrated (USA) was launched in 1954 and the Sunday Times Magazine (USA) has appeared since 1962.
When picture magazines emerged fully in the 1920s, they relied on the aesthetics of innovative photographic practices, which were the product of cultural and political processes in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, where photography had captured the imagination as a new language of public conversation.
Europe And The US
In Europe, for instance, the art movements Neue Sachlichkeit and social realism, particularly, helped shape magazine photography as an expressive documentary tool, demonstrated in the Soviet Union and Germany by the rise of a radical aesthetic and by the recognition of the factual as a central professional interest. Thus, photographers associated with Novyj Lef (Left Front of the Arts) magazine and USSR in Construction (USSR, 1930) recognized that the new challenges of daily life required a new form of representation. Their work appeared in political magazines, like Molodaia Gvardiia (Young Guard) or Vestnik Truda (Herald of Labor) to cater to the working class, thus suggesting a merger of avant-garde photography into mass culture, resulting in a sophisticated, expressive visual coverage of events. In Germany, the connection between art and photography resulted sometimes in a complex, new way of looking at familiar objects, like in Der Querschnitt (Germany, 1921), where photographs with different meanings were reproduced for effect.
Innovative layouts contributed to the new look of picture magazines, not unlike in La Vie au Grand Air (France, 1898), a sports magazine, which was known for its unique layouts, photomontage, and inset images. Vogue (USA, 1892) published the first bleed edged photo in 1930, a style common in Japanese magazines, and featured the first full color photograph on its cover in 1932. While sizes have varied greatly among picture magazines over the years, an innovative, small (A5) format, known as the handbag or travel format, was introduced by Glamour (1939) in 2001, followed by Cosmopolitan (1885) and Elle (1985) in 2004. Vu (France, 1928) dedicated much of its content to photojournalism, made use of art photography, and used montage effectively, challenging the traditional L’Illustration (1843); the latter became Paris-Match after 1949 and is known for its photographic scoops. In addition, single images were fashioned into longer narratives with the development of the picture story – a sequencing of images not unlike a film clip – claimed and popularized in the late 1930s as the photo essay by LIFE magazine (USA, 1936). However, German picture magazines, like the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (1892), the Münchner Illustrierte Presse (1924), and the Arbeiter-Illustrierten Zeitung (1921), had developed this genre since the mid-1920s as a regular feature. Their visual narratives competed with the visual attraction of movie house offerings and replaced the use of photographs as mere illustrations of texts.
Picture magazines responded generously to public demands with a steady stream of pictures and texts, providing the modern context for societies driven by the desire to understand the world through the consumption of photographic images. Picture magazines produced national identities as they became a major source of visual evidence – next to film – until the advent of television. They depicted the familiar and the exotic, realizing the potential accessibility, diversity, and durability of their representations of reality. The impact of picture magazines, with their emphasis on photographic reportage, coincides with the crisis of the word in Europe. Considerations of language as signs of class, authority, or expert knowledge become suspect, until abandoned for the alternative of the image and its inherit claims of objectivity. Yet, the result was always an ideologically charged visual reproduction of the world, which fit the respective editorial visions of reality.
The emerging strategy among European and US publishers to reinforce the dependence on the picture as explanation included the use of a single image on the front page of the magazine, the inclusion of a serialized novel, and a low price. Also, the availability of photographs encouraged the production of glossy weekly newspaper supplements, which offered a visual interpretation of culture and politics in competition with picture magazines for advertising and readership. With the establishment of picture magazines and weekly supplements came the rise of professional staff photographers, who complemented or replaced the work of photo agencies. The latter, like Mauritius, Dephot, and Weltrundschau in Weimar Germany, or Black Star in the United States, initially had accounted for much of the magazine content, e.g., when LIFE magazine was launched in 1936, followed by Look a year later, Black Star was a major supplier of photographs. Earlier, the Associated Press (USA) had also become a distributor of photographic material – in Germany it had absorbed Pacific and Atlantic Photos in 1931. At the same time, picture magazines reached across cultural and political borders for photographic material – photographs have been sent by wire since 1923. The Graphic (UK, 1870), and later on the Picture Post (UK, 1938), used German photographers on a regular basis. Likewise, many contributors to Black Star were German émigré photographers, whose work would subsequently appear in LIFE magazine, demonstrating the cross-cultural appeal of topics or styles of photographic representation. In 1947, the picture agency Magnum (Paris) was founded, serving publications worldwide while protecting the rights of photographers to their work.
In Latin America, where most readers buy their magazines at newsstands, picture magazines are popular sites of fotonovelas, fictional versions of the traditional photo essay as storytelling, or a variation on movies, which appear serialized each week. In addition, celebrity magazines like Caras (Brazil, 1994) and the current affairs magazine Veja (Brazil, 1968) boasted large circulation figures. Photography had been well established early on in most Latin American societies and played a major role in the identification and definition of nation and peoples as documentary photography went beyond magazine coverage. Revolución (Cuba, 1959) became the picture magazine of the Cuban revolution; similarly, the picture coverage of Drum (South Africa, 1961) served black readers to help anticipate freedom from an apartheid system. In Mexico, the shortlived Rotofoto (1938), a provocative picture magazine, was highly popular with its coverage of politics; later on, Hoy (1937) and Mañana (1942), joined by Siempre! (1953), dictated the performance of the illustrated press until the advent of television in the 1950s, when newspapers began to replace picture magazines as print sources of visual information.
In Asia, the beginning of picture magazines coincides with the influence of European and American photographic practices. In Japan the publication of The Far East (1870) was followed by Datsuei Yawa (1874), later known as Shashin Zasshi, which featured handmounted photographic prints; the oldest illustrated women’s magazine, Fujin-Gaho (1905), reproduced photographs, and Asahi Graphic (1921) was the first rotogravureproduced magazine. Korean photographers had published Hankook-sajin-hoebo in Seoul and Inchon since 1904; about 40 years later, the first picture magazine after the liberation from Japanese colonial rule was Kookje-bodo. In China, the first picture magazine, Dianshi zhai Huabao, appeared in 1884 in Shanghai, established by Ernest and Frederick Major, while in India, the Illustrated Weekly of India, a Times of India weekly edition, appeared in 1880. After the 1980s period of reforms in China, documentary photography has found a home in glossy, illustrated magazines, which have begun experimenting with the popularity of pictures and topics dealing with human conditions and the urban landscape. People’s Photography (1983) became the first professional magazine addressing the potential of photography as a language of enlightenment in China.
Culturally distinct and ideologically varied in their approach, contemporary picture magazines continue to construct visions of reality, but unlike during the 1920s and 1930s, they rarely use the work of avant-garde photographers or feature experimental work to reflect on the world (with occasional exceptions in advertising.) Instead, form and style in photojournalism tend to create a universally shared view of people and events, reinforced by the use of international picture agencies or the widespread circulation of some western magazines. Finally, with art books and museums recovering documentary and/or journalistic work, picture magazines have also become conduits of photojournalism as art.
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