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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Essencial Esquire

Visiting Jim Haynes is always a pleasure. Every time I go, I'm bound to meet an interesting new guest staying with him, have some of the best coffee in Paris and get caught up in an engaging conversation of some sort. Sometimes you just need a base to come back to, realign and get your head straight. For me, Jim's place is neutral ground.

Last week after setting up my exhibition 'Parallel People', I took a break to rummage around his bookshelves that are filled with rows and rows of hardback art books and old magazines. If you know me, you'll know this is my idea of heaven. I came across an anniversary issue of Esquire magazine from December 1983 which was so thick it was almost more of a catalogue than a magazine. Normally I'd consider myself more of a GQ man to be honest. My experience with Esquire is limited but whenever picking one up I always feel very aware that they're targeting older business men probably vote Republican in the US and have more money than style. Feel free to call me out, as I've said my experience with it is limited.

This issue was a far cry from that. There's the old joke that men would read Playboy for the articles in the 1960s and 1970s - if this is true, then Esquire would've been a real contender. Opening the magazine filled with articles from the previous 20 years, the list of contributors was astounding (hello Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer!). I kept flipping and quickly realised I'd been sitting devouring the pages for over an hour. This issue was FULL of incredible journalism. A fascinating piece on the work of Alfred Kinsey, a reflective feature on Malcolm X and a biographical article about Tennessee Williams were all included. There was also a distinct lack of fashion as we know it today - it was all about journalism, less about photography. If people were this engaged on an average level for a simple magazine, perhaps it does show a dumbing down of culture today?

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My secondary interest in vintage publications has got to be the old advertisements. My background in marketing means communications of most forms interest me, but seeing the obscure and often complex messages in old magazine adverts is fascinating. One for English Leather Musk (the name is a little odd in itself) describes the wearer as being a shy/confident man who let's his fragrance speak for him. Hmm. I wonder how many people actually read the text from beginning to end.

The second ad was slightly more poignant given that Steve Jobs has just passed. I remember the old Apple computers with black screens and white text from primary school and this model is not far off. What's most interesting is the tagline: "Soon there'll be two kinds of people. Those who use computers and those who use Apples". Not a far cry from the "I'm a Mac" campaign.

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