Saturday January 15, 2022 – The Monocle Minute

Saturday January 15, 2022 – The Monocle Minute

We are working on a major project that will start this spring: a Monocle book on photography and reportage. It takes a look back at some of the great stories shot for the magazine and is guided by our creative director, Richard, and director of photography, Matt. There’s still a long way to go and some tough decisions to make, but this week we’ve gotten to the point where just about every page has been designed once. It’s the crossroads in a book project where we claim the cafeteria, put prints on the tables and go through everything to see if the sequence works, if the main points and passions have been covered, if the mix of places makes sense. Joe, Molly and Amy from the book team are also walking along.

Many of the images on display never made it to the magazine’s published edits—photos of a city just before the war crumpled it up; shots made in a failed country; rough images captured behind the scenes of a news channel. The pace at which each magazine operates means it’s hard to keep in mind all the stories you’ve covered. And on the eve of our 15th anniversary, it was both sobering and satisfying to see the work spread across those canteen tables.

When we started Monocle, our ambition was to bring words and images together to tell stories. The idea was not just to use pictures to illustrate the words, but to allow a photographer to deliver an almost parallel story. Particularly with the Expos, our large free-running gloss section, a photographer often worked alone, allowing him to see and show things that the writer might not cover in the text. At other times, a writer and photographer worked as a close-knit team, on epic journeys together. It’s an approach that has helped make Monocle a magazine known for still giving a photographer 16 pages on a single story, encouraging them to work with film, trusting their eye.

Reviewing all this work also made me realize how some of these images had a deep, almost unconscious effect on me. The soon-to-be-crumpled city was Aleppo in Syria; that story was recorded by Roderick Aichinger in 2009 when the place was thriving and trying to be more open. Here’s an old-fashioned travel agency; bow-tie waiters hanging on the roof of the Mirage Hotel; a cool young woman smoking in a cafe. What happened to all these people? What was their fate? When the civil war ravaged Aleppo, seeing these images gave me a strange connection to the city. It is the power of photography to connect viewer and subject, seer and seen, even if they will never meet.

As an aside, it’s hard to imagine that almost two years ago we were making books and magazines at home. We’ve gotten through that time and done great things, but it’s so easy to lose nuance, to make decision-making slow and tricky when you’re not in the same room. That’s why we’ve always wanted our team back together, in our offices and desks, whenever the rules allow. But if Omicron disappears in Europe, we hope, and people speak with growing confidence about life after the pandemic, will companies that have pushed through from home be able to reconvene their teams? And do they want that? This week I spoke to someone from a luxury brand who said that although most people wanted to return to work in her division, she couldn’t motivate her boss to come in. Another person told me it was hard to imagine ever feeling the old. team spirit again, as their company had sold half of its office space and told staff that in the future they should “have a good reason why they should come to the office” before waking up.

And I promise this is the last. I assume you are aware that the British Prime Minister is rightly in a bind for allowing parties at 10 Downing Street at the height of the lockdown. It’s embarrassing and yet another example of Boris Johnson waving his privilege in people’s faces, but some BBC and Channel 4 news presenters sounded like they were auditioning for a job on Saudi TV. “Have you ever been to a work event where they served alcohol?” they modestly ask ministers. “I understand there was a trestle table involved,” says one. “Do you think it was acceptable to eat Pringles when other people in the country only had regular chips?” (That’s what I thought the next question would be.) The stupidity of our rule-makers is frightening, but hypocritical newscasters are also annoying. And in all openness I must confess that this week I had a glass of wine during a work meeting and, sorry, also cheese sticks. But there was no trestle table involved. That would have been bad and very un-Monocle.

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