Guest Post: Call on editors to think ‘visual’ by Artwell Nwaila

Artwell Nwaila is the Editor of SA Creative Network “a platform where creatives, thought leaders and idea engineers network”

This is my challenge to all publication managers and editors: to break away from the pack with a ‘photographic revamp’.

The state of photography in the commercial world – namely: magazines – is at its lowest. That is not to say that the photographers have lost their skill, but that the requirements and briefs have suppressed the art form. It is all about formula these days and it is pretty basic. Celeb + over-processing = sales. This formula may have been hugely successful in the mid-1990s, but not anymore.

Sales figures are all the proof I need to back up my previous statement. The internet is by far one of the strongest factors contributing to the drop in sales. Access to information and direct updates from our much loved celebrities is free and readily available. Readers are constantly bombarded with images of celebrities online and on television. Would it not then make sense to rethink the most important page image strategy?

Let me demonstrate a quick example: How many Kim Kardashian magazine covers have you seen? Which one stood out for you? Your answer – more than likely – is that none stood out; as they all looked the same. So, what does it do for the brands if they are not stepping away from the flock and capturing our imagination at that key moment? I am talking about the moment when we are at the shelves, making a decision about which magazine to purchase. It is understandable that some magazines’ core focus is celebrities. This – in itself – is a perfect opportunity for visual restructuring.

In the 1970s, Rolling Stone magazine had a strong celeb-centric focus; and it still has. Under the fine eye of the young Annie Leibovitz, celebrities were portrayed in a conceptualised manner. Ideas backed every element of the cover shoot. Iconic covers – like those featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bette Midler on a bed of Roses, and Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk – ‘jumped’ off the shelf and stuck in the mind. And they still do. Today, there is no such a thing as an iconic cover. Let it be noted that it was at this stage that Rolling Stone magazine was able to relocate to New York due to its growing popularity. Leibovitz fed the youth culture’s hunger, while also using creativity to sell.

So what now?

As photographers, it is almost impossible to change company structures that have been embedded for years. A collective effort with the rest of the creative team and a mock up presentation may open some eyes. Or it may shut them… but at least you tried.

I also call on editors to allow the photographers to do what they do best without constraints, even if the work never gets published. It’s a good way to see a way forward. For editors, it is understandable why they stick to a particular formula as they have to follow certain quotas, but it is also about being innovative.

My prediction and conclusion

Digital publications will be much more edgy than their print counterparts due to cost differences. Online magazines are substantially cheaper and so risks are less but if you’re like me and believe print will never die, you’ll agree that innovation belongs in our hands.