The space of the magazine

[Fall 2009]

by Jacques Doyon

What do the images in a magazine say? What is revealed by the reiteration of certain types of images – as well as their format, positioning, and grouping?

Photographs are central to the definition of magazines, often equal in importance to textual content. For the image, the magazine goes beyond being a space for presentation to being one of enunciation. Far from being limited to an illustrative role, images are a fundamental vector of magazines’ editorial orientation. Their content, specific formal characteristics, and interrelations within page layouts – and through the issue as a whole – form visual statements that account for much of the magazine’s attraction. Magazines are thus privileged sites for the public presence of the photographic image.

The magazine is a communication medium whose purpose is to weave connections between specialized circles and broader publics. Whether its mandate is analytic or, at the other end of the spectrum, promotional, it always forms a hybrid territory, a site of translation and interpretation, and aims to disseminate and highlight points of view, knowledge, values, and productions, not to mention products. Each magazine is thus positioned, depending on its field of interest and the means available to it, within a communicational range that goes from extreme specialization to broad generalization, from a critical stance to the promotion of consensual values, from private circulation to mass distribution. The structural components of this tension – a tension strengthened by a continually expanding publishing and distribution system – are found, to some degree, in every magazine. This is why magazines provide incredibly revealing portraits of social values.

Given these concerns, we have brought together works that are not content with exploring the space of the page but, on the contrary, are based on appropriation, diversion, and even exaggeration of the content and layout of existing magazines. These works seek to bring to light how the part of the magazine devoted to images is structured so that their implicit statements can be more clearly perceived. The artists accentuate the fundamental components of the magazine that reflect their underlying values.

The magazines in question are about public affairs, propaganda, pornography, and contemporary art – all subjects in which photography plays a manifest and crucial role. The artists’ interventions are often minimal. Hans-Peter Feldmann publishes a double of a socio- political news magazine with all of the text expurgated, laying bare the structure of the photographic statements in this type of publication. Christian Boltanski pulls out the colour plates of a Nazi propaganda magazine to uncover unexpected juxtapositions that reveal the essential vectors of the imagery used for purposes of persuasion. At a time when art censorship existed in Toronto, Michael Snow transposed a Penthouse portfolio into an art-photography magazine, inserting the marks of his appropriation, to reveal the contradictory moral values at play. Finally, Ron Terada, by publishing a single issue of an art magazine composed entirely of ads for magazines and contemporary art galleries, exaggerates its inherent promotional dimension.
Translated by Käthe Roth