Jason Larkin chose the newsprint medium to be able to reach a larger audience, including scholars and diplomats, as well as people studying the politics and languages of the Middle East. Image © Jason Larkin.
While Guy Martin was in Libya last year, he began noticing posters and flyers appealing for information as to the whereabouts of the hundreds of men who'd gone missing during the violent crush of the popular uprising. He decided to photograph them, not for an assignment, but "because they were so prominent and eye-catching", he recalls. "They were important and always drew hundreds of people to the walls where they had been placed. I thought it was important to preserve them in some way. These pictures really drum home the experience of war. They are universal. They make you feel what it was like for the women of Libya - the feeling that if that was your son, brother, father or uncle, you might have to take the only picture you have of them and walk down to the Benghazi Courthouse and place it to the wall."
When Martin showed these images to his agency, Panos Pictures, Harry Hardie instantly saw the power and potential of publishing these missing portraits in a newsprint publication. "We thought that the style of the publication should reflect the pictures," says Martin. "When someone goes missing in the UK, you sometimes see a small advert in a newspaper, or posters on lampposts and bus shelters. We wanted to recreate the walls of Benghazi and just put them into a medium where people would be a little bit shocked to see them. We liked the idea of being able to stand at a tube stop on Liverpool Street and hand them out to unsuspecting passers-by and having them go into the tube with it and with their Evening Standard."
End of an era
Martin is just one of the many photographers who have recently experimented with newsprint as a medium to publish their images, its popularity due, in part, to the success of a project by one the most prolific self-publishers around, Alec Soth, who produced Last Days of W in 2008 to mark the final weeks of George W Bush's administration. "The project was about the end of an era, and what better way to mark such a moment than with a medium that is itself reaching the end of an era," Soth told blogger Melanie McWhorter in 2010. He also liked the non-archival nature of the medium. "This is one of my favourite aspects of the project. In 40 years from now, I want to pull out an old yellow copy and show it to my grandchildren and say, ‘I published this at the end of George Bush's presidency'."
Guy Martin published 500 copies of The Missing, with the financial help of his agency Panos Pictures and the University of Falmouth, where he lectures. Image © Marcus Rose/Panos Pictures.
Image © Marcus Rose/Panos Pictures.
Jason Larkin chose newsprint for its "unfinished feel," making it the perfect medium to publish Cairo Divided, which documents a city in flux. But the decision was also born of his frustration about how magazines would condense a two-year project into six pages. "It's a reality of that marketplace," he admits, "but I was very interested in expanding the project in terms of the number of pages, and also the size of these pages. I wanted to be able to print these landscapes big. When you open up a Berliner newspaper or even a tabloid-sized newspaper, you realise there's quite a lot of space there." Larkin was working with a journalist who had written a 7000-word essay, "So we needed the space to publish all of this and a newspaper fitted the format of our work."
Another prolific publisher/photographer, Rob Hornstra, has already put out two newsprints. The first time, for The Sochi Project, he chose the medium for its low price. "It was a promotional tool, so the reason to use it was quite clear." But when he published On the Other Side of Mountains - which focuses on a village close to Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, still partially without gas and electricity - the Dutchman felt the story shouldn't be told in a book. "It was a very small story, so it just didn't feel right to print it in a photobook." Also, he says, "We wanted to be able to distribute this newspapers in different places across Europe and for different purposes." Sometimes the newspaper would act as a catalogue for an exhibition, at other times he would just distribute it to people on the streets and in some cases it acted as an exhibition itself, pinned to the wall. "So the designer and myself made the decision to create a sort of multifunctional newspaper."
Publishing colour images in a newspaper can be tricky, however. Larkin worked with an art director who had experience with the medium. "He set me up for that and we talked to different printers who would send us different samples of paper," he tells BJP. "You can buy bleached paper, which is a bit thicker than your conventional newspaper, but I wanted something that would make people wonder.
Image © Jason Larkin.
"I also worked with a repro person from the US and he was integral to the success of the project," says Larkin. "He had to change all my images to CMYK for the colour press printing process and without him it would not have looked great. When you're working with such paper, you need to fine-tune your images." But, he adds, "No matter how good your PDF looks, everything lies with how the colours run at the printer." For Cairo Divided, they had to print 3000 copies of the publication before achieving the intended result. "It was very intense," he says. "You have three people looking at the alignment of your images, the colours and so on. You're watching these huge machines roll and you're seeing your work being trashed."
Hornstra welcomed the paper's roughness. "I like the way it looks and feels," he says. "For me, it's perfect. We worked with a printer in Amsterdam that was able to give us real quality in the reproduction. You couldn't see any dots, for example."
While these photographers might have embraced the medium's shortcomings, the fact remains that financial constraints played an important role in their decisions to choose newsprint over more traditional publishing routes. "The Missing was always going to be a ‘free' project," says Martin. "I never wanted to charge people for the publication. It was always our intention to bring awareness to the missing or, in fact, to their own indifferences to war - but in a thoughtful and unique way. It was a type of guerrilla marketing campaign."
Hornstra agrees. "Printing a newspaper is a brilliant way to get the story out," he says. "If you use newsprint, you can give it away for free. Of course, you can charge for it, but that's really stupid."
Rob Hornstra spent €1800 printing 500 copies of On the Other Side of Mountains, and an additional €2500 to design it. "You need to work with designers," he says. "If you don't make a good newspaper, people will throw it away." He also recommends photographers look at what is being produced on the Japanese market. "You don't want to be stuck wit ha particular frame of mind," he says. "It's better to start looking at the Japanese photobooks of the 1970s and then try to design a newspaper." Image © Rob Hornstra.
Image © Rob Hornstra.
Larkin also wanted to bring more attention to his work. "I had this idea of getting the story out to as many people as possible, but in a quite defined and targeted way - people who are studying the politics and the languages of the Middle East, people that are going into foreign policy," he says. "That has been very successful. The newspaper has been integrated into 10 to 15 university courses around the world and I still get requests from people at the United Nations or the European Union. As much as I wanted editors to see this work and help raise awareness about my work, I really wanted to bring more context about Egypt to people who have been watching the news and wanted something more in-depth. I hope that people who pick it up randomly will be pleasantly surprised - even if they don't read the whole thing."
Spread the word
Hornstra has been able to do the same thing, reaching audiences that don't usually pay attention to photography. But, he says, we're still at the beginning. "Often, in seminars, I ask people why they want to make photobooks, and often they won't have an answer. They want to tell a story, to share it. But if you do a photobook, your story won't be seen by many people. With a newspaper, you can spread it around."
And, he adds, newsprint offers many opportunities. "In Japan, they are producing some really beautiful newspapers that are really different from what we expect newspapers to look like. That's the problem we're facing, people are still thinking about the idea of it being an actual newspaper. You shouldn't. You should think about it as being a series of pages with which you can do whatever you want. Most of the newspapers I've seen are still fairly conservative. But you can turn it in all directions; readers can create their own layout and sequence. You can fold it in two or in four. You can print images across several spreads to make posters. We can learn a lot about it from the Japanese market. I think it will be very interesting to see how it's used in the future."
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