Mathew Beaman is the Director of Photography at Monocle magazine, primarily responsible for commissioning photographers for content for the magazine.
Monocle describes itself as “a premium global media brand with magazine, online, radio, retail and hospitality divisions. Headquartered in London, and with offices in Zurich, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Singapore and Toronto, Monocle is published ten times a year…Then there’s Monocle 24, our round-the-clock radio station that delivers global news and shows covering foreign affairs, urbanism, business, culture, design, food and drink and print media…We also have a dynamic website: monocle.com, which hosts high-quality films and slideshows. Beautifully shot and edited by our in-house team of film-makers, Monocle’s films provide a fresh perspective on stories reflecting our editorial philosophy. Monocle is a complete media brand with its print, audio and online elements – not to mention our expanding retail network and online business. Via our shops in New York, London, Toronto, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore we sell products that cater to our readers’ tastes and are produced by brands we believe in. We also have cafés in Tokyo and London and are set to expand this part of our business.”
Mathew talk centred around his approach to commissioning work for the magazine. Firstly he gave some background about himself, following a photography degree he entered industry initially working as an intern for media organisations such as Red Pepper magazine and Wallpaper.com before being appointed as the Director of Photography at Monocle in April 2016.
He described one of the basic tenets of Monocle being their commitment to high quality print and stated this brings its own constraints. Inasmuch as their belief is that for print to survive in the internet age each publication has to be a desirable, quality object in itself, i.e. something that people will want to own and or collect. This means that there has to be a careful balance between the editorial and advertising content to maintain the quality, range and independent standpoint of the magazine in order to keep readers engaged and enhance the desirability of the magazine.
In addition to the magazine they regularly publish high end guides on subjects of interest to their core audience such as “Better Living”, “Good Business” and “Travel”
I did some further research on Monocle and this philosophy was reflected in a lecture given to students at the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre by Tyler Brûlé, Monocle Editor.
“Big media companies are the only ones convinced that they can put something of less value than the year before out and have no one notice,” Brûlé told Ryerson students during a recent presentation organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. The inability to produce better quality magazines every year, he observed, has been detrimental to the business. Someone in accounts was saying ‘Let’s use cheaper paper, let’s cut 16 pages from the magazine – no one will notice’ . But, readers do” Brûlé said
Back to Mathew he explained the process for getting a story into the magazine. The general process that results in a photographic commission is that the in-house art team will design an outline concept and then he will look for a photographer in a style to suit. There is a desire to keep the magazine fresh, as a result they are constantly looking for new photographers. He said they research for photographers by looking at blogs, exhibitions, prize award results and people emailing him directly with sample work.
Mathew stated that using new photographers has an inherent risk in that it may not always work out and as a result that some shoots may not make it to the magazine. Monocle accept this risk as a factor but one they are prepared to experience the, occasional, failure in the pursuit of a fresh, different look for each edition of Monocle. Mathew also went on to give some advice as to where new photographers can best promote their work.
He highly recommended the Arles Foto Festival as a prime location for new and emerging photographers to show their work and simultaneously network with the good and the great of the photo world. The 2017 edition of the festival is from 3rd July to 24th September and features some 40 separate exhibitions.Other festivals he suggested were the Brighton Photo Festival, a biennial event next scheduled for Oct 2018, the annual London Photo event in May, the Paris equivalent in November and to track Frieze.com for information on current exhibitions around the world on contemporary photography.
I found Mathew’s talk an interesting insight into the modern print industry and was left with admiration for Monocle’s goals and ambition to try an alternative to the perceived wisdom that the only future for magazines is a digital route. Also reassuring to encounter an organisation committed to quality and to be different rather then merely follow the current trend of the day.