Fresh, fast, adaptable and affordable. More and more photographers, including photojournalist Jo Metson Scott and social documentarian Martin Parr, are turning to newsprint.
During summer 2015, you couldn’t open a paper without seeing photographs of the Syrian refugee crisis – the worst such crisis since the Second World War.
The photographs are heart-wrenching, showing rickety rafts piled high with men, women and children, desperate to make their way across the sea to Europe; or these travellers arriving on Greek beaches, drenched, tearful, and exhausted. Depending on the publication, the articles accompanying the pictures ranged from empathetic to sensational.
Prompted by these news reports, photography agency Webber Represents planned a fundraiser for Refugee Support Europe, a charity working with refugees. When Jo Metson Scott – one of the image-makers they represent – heard about it, she seized on the chance of looking beyond the headlines. In October 2016 she spent a week photographing and interviewing people living in a camp run by the charity in Greece – the results of which she published as a newsprint zine through Newspaper Club in December.
“At the time there were 800 people, half of whom were children, living in tents, which I found quite shocking” says Metson Scott. “They’d made it across the water and a lot of them had made it as far as Macedonia but then the borders closed. I wanted to look at the people who were trapped, waiting to be processed, in Greece.”
Still suffering immense trauma from experiences they’d undergone in Syria and on the journey out, some had been waiting for four months already.“Life was on hold,” said Metson Scott, whose pictures and words capture quietly and beautifully that sense of limbo.
“They can’t be self-sufficient, even though they want to be. They weren’t allowed to make fires so they weren’t able to cook their own food. They were waiting for food. They were waiting for donations of clothes, waiting to get their phones charged.”
Metson Scott was led by each person whose story she was documenting, but she was also keen to address certain issues that came up in press about refugees – such as why so many young men travel alone. “Often because the family can’t afford to send everyone, they have to make the heartbreaking decision who to send – and it’s usually a male because they’re about to be conscripted to a military they don’t want to be part of.”
Metson Scott has always questioned received media narratives. Her book The Grey Line, a study of British and American soldiers who have spoken out about the Iraq war and the repercussions they faced, was published in 2013 by Dewi Lewis to great acclaim. Since then she has continued to produce personal work such as Borderland, on the Scottish referendum; Gym Boy, following a young Olympic hopeful; and Momas, about the physicality of new parenthood, while shooting fashion and editorial commissions, and working as photo director at Pleasure Garden Magazine.
As such, Metson Scott is used to finding outlets outside the mainstream and, after first showing her work on refugees on Instagram in a collaboration with The New Yorker, decided to publish it as a newsprint zine.
“It was nice to be able to publish some of the words with the story but it was really an awareness and a visual tool to tie in with the auction,” she says. “I like the fact that it’s fast, you can be less precious in a way. I’d definitely do it again.”
Life on a Syrian Refugee Camp is one example of the many ways photographers have published their work with Newspaper Club. Martin Parr’s The Rhubarb Triangle was made to accompany an exhibition of work by the same name which was commissioned by Hepworth Wakefield. In true Parr style, the paper is a wry, affectionate insight into a quirky section of British life.
Others have created newspapers as a promotional tool to send to current and prospective clients, a large-format alternative to the traditional postcard. Naomi Harris portfolio brings the curiosity and humour of her images into the layout, with headlines playing off the various characters she captures. Roger Kisby used the space to showcase a single shoot with the actress Hari Nef, while Winne Au’s Way Over Where is a playful journey through the homes and workspaces of creatives she photographed in the course of a year.
“The bulk of what we do is work for creative people – photographers, illustrators, creative agencies, they’re our biggest customers,” says Newspaper Club’s CEO Anne Ward. The company was founded in 2010 – one of a wave of printers pushing against the idea that print’s days were numbered. The company offers an online design tool to help customers create layouts, a selection of formats, produced using both digital and traditional printing techniques, and print runs ranging from one-off newspapers to 100,000 copies or more.
For photographers the appeal of newsprint is that it offers “something eye-catching and different that’s also cost effective,” says Ward, who is continually surprised by inventive approaches they take. “It’s something they’re very familiar with but they’ve not always had a chance to print on it.”
And as for Newspaper Club, their mission is clear: “We’re trying to keep newspapers – and print – alive.”
Working on a new project that you want the world to see? Then maybe you should think about publishing it as a newspaper. Visit Newspaper Club’s website to find out how.
Partner Content – Newspaper Club: This feature was made possible with the support of Newspaper Club. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.