The Rise And Fall of Photo Magazines


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It is 2020 and there is no more paper. The rich amuse themselves with their fold-able, lightweight computers; the poor tell each other stories, often with the help of a well-thumbed photo or magazine that is over a decade old.

After the great commodity crisis of 2013, things moved quickly. Paper prices rose astronomically and specialised magazines, including photo magazines, were the first to go under. Then came the weekly magazines, and newspapers soon appeared exclusively on-line, only to disappear or be swallowed up by the now infamous ‘news bites’ of News Bite Inc. After the demise of Excerpta Medica and legal and notarial journals in 2017, only the Bible and the Koran still existed in priceless editions on paper. Other printed matter had by then been long banned.

It is October 11, 2020 and the former editors of GUP photo magazine meet again at a reunion in Amsterdam. Jochem Rijlaarsdam, the first editor-in-chief, shows all 51 issues that were published. The emotion among the former employees is almost palpable: Wow, it’s incredible that we were able to make all this. And I must say that the caution with which Rijlaarsdam, now chairman of an international bird conservation organisation, leafs through the compact magazines with his successor Peter Bas Mensink is touching.

Even ten years earlier it hadnt been easy to compile an exciting, high-quality issue of GUP six times a year. In retrospect I see that on that point, the little Dutch magazine has nothing to be ashamed of. That opinion was shared abroad, too: in its fourth year (2009) GUP (along with Aperture, Foam Magazine, also produced in Holland, and five others) was nominated for the best photo magazine in the world award. Three years later, GUP was nominated again and shared the first prize with Aperture. Aperture, in my opinion the most substantively successful photo magazine of all times, had a circulation that year of about 35,000. In a world of seven billion people that equals one copy of Aperture per 200 million people. The reader can imagine that distribution of an ambitious magazine like Aperture, Foam or GUP isn’t easy.

The gathering on October 11, 2020 threatens thanks to the Dutch corn whiskey to turn into a real party after all. That is until Bob says he knows a printer just around the corner, with a still-functioning off-set machine and maybe just enough paper to produce a small print run. The group immediately pays attention. Three computers appear and everyone starts making calls. In no time they have more than enough beautiful images and sharp texts for the phantom edition. A week later we secretly distribute the magazine locally as well as slipping a few copies abroad: GUP #52. A life in a year.


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