« 6Mois »: 2.6 Lb of photos and some words

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Since Thursday March 24th, an unidentified object seems to have landed in French bookstores and soon in those around the world. 500 photographs, 24 portfolios, 350 pages bound in a completely original publication produced by the incredible team who publish the quarterly XXI

Tomorrow, Tuesday April 29th, 2011, Rue Jacob in the midst of St Germain-des-près will be invaded by a typically Parisian event that will reunite all those who more or less count in the world of French journalism and beyond. The winners of the Albert Londres Prize will mingle with awarded photojournalists from World Press, Visa d’or, and the Paris Match Prize. The gathering for the launch of 6mois announces itself as one of the events of the spring, with great enthusiasm by the French press. A new print title on paper, it’s not something we see every day!

The star of this first issue is unquestionably Darcy Padilla, winner of the Eugene Smith Foundation with her story “Julie” that is displayed on more that 50 pages! It is not in a “beautiful book” but in a beautiful magazine (Druckhaus-Germany).

XXI ’s Big Sister

Browsing through the magazine, the reader will notice that besides the opening sections, no photographic feature is smaller than 20 pages; all organized in an elegant and varied layout, switching between double pages in “full bleed” or big white margins and occasionally playing with mosaic-style layouts. It is the work of talented French-British Quentin Leeds, former artistic director of Libération who was already creator of the original design of the quarterly XXI, printed by the same publisher.

Laurent Beccaria, head of the publishing house “Les Arènes”, is a dynamic man, and at first sight welcoming. Four times a year he sells 45,000 copies of XXI, directed by Patrick de Saint-Exupéry. A great score in bookshops!

XXI in less than three years has become a reference in the world of great photojournalism. Excellent authors, but also opportunities offered to young writers. Sophie Bouillon was 25 years old when she signed her feature “Welcome to Mugabe’s!” and obtained the Albert Londres Prize, the recognition of French journalism. Her editor-in-chief, Patrick de Saint-Exupéry had hired her, by then 28 years old, in 1991, for the series of features on the war in Liberia for Le Figaro.

The passion for great photojournalism

Patrick de Saint-Exupéry and Laurent Beccaria, proud of the success of XXI do not hesitate to reattempt the adventure to send 40,000 copies of 6mois to the bookshops.

“We had imagined 6mois to re-establish the link between the journalist and the photo, to revive the pact between the reader and the photographs, find the meeting point between the appetite of the public and the often stunning energy of authors.”

Unquestionably appetitizing : more than 60 pages devoted to “China’s young empire”, in three features, one from Justin Lin from the Cosmos agency, another from Axelle de Russé (Agence Abaca – Canon’s Female Photojournalist Award winner of 2007) and Paolo Woods (Anzenberger Agency), regulars from Visa pour l’image.

Before tackling the big subject by Darcy Padilla, Michel Guerrin proposes a very long introspective interview of Laurent Van der Stock. In the same written spirit, Emmanuel Carrère magnificently comments on « The Julie project » by Darcy Padilla.

We breath a bit dancing tango with the coupled photographers Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet, before going back to school with Getty images Christopher Furlong’s subject on the very “British” education from Eton. Beautiful images, young “clean” people, green grasses that clash with « Camp aviation » by Olivier Laban Mattei (Neus Photos Agency) shot in Haiti.

“The paradise of permitted fruits” by Nedjma Berder, take us a little bit further from photojournalism to bring us closer to what attracts in this moment, art and its galleries. 6mois has in this sense a connection with Polka magazine, who also shows the flirtation between journalism and the market of art.

It also attracts the history of photography. The section “Memoire” run by Jan Krauze (from Le Monde) offers us a magnificent series “The colors of the Russian Empire” by Serguei Prokoudine Gorsky, photographer inventor of a trichromic technique.

Between art and the photographer, the journalist finds his place to allow the reader to discover an almost unknown: “Gerry Adams, the peace of arms”. A totally original portrait both in iconographic form and substance of a leader of the Irish independence, set-up by a specialist, great reporter and himself an Albert Londres prize winner, Sorj Chalendon from the magazine Canard Enchainé.

Impossible to review all of the content from this rich magazine. We must state that every subject is accompanied by a double page spread of information for the reader who wishes to go deeper on the subjects, revisiting a practice already applied in XXI and on the Internet. A small funny column is also included in order to discover the behind-the-scenes of the feature.

Appeal and doldrums

If we must be critical, let’s say that the speech on the doldrums of photojournalism is not often agreed upon. Beyond that, we cannot help but notice the editorial challenge: To come out on March 24th this year with a single story on Tunisia… A subject that, moreover, made of a compilation of photographs from different origins for which the reader takes the risk of winding up with a stiff neck from reading the photographers credits listed vertically. This habit is particularly irritating in magazines, and it is frankly iconoclast in a magazine made to the glory of photographers !

And therefore, biannual rhythm obliged, we will have to wait until the Fall to discover the marvelous features shot in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and… Japan! It is at that moment that the critical reader asks himself about the relevance of the product compared to a book. What does it matter! For “half of a ticket to Disneyland” the reader has what he needs to spend a good weekend.

But the bad news arrives, as everyone knows, Monday morning, during coffee time. Alain Frilet, former editorial director of Magnum and former editor in chief at Eyedea (Gamma-Rapho) is no longer part of the team.

Duly noted, readers of “6mois” will have to content themselves with the official version of the press release, in which Alain Frilet “gathered the pictures” and “Marie-Pierre Subtil, until now journalist in Le Monde, has joined the staff three weeks before closing in order to guarantee the publication of our first issue”. Since March 15th she has taken over as Editor-in-chief of 6mois. Marie-Pierre Subtil knows the temper of her husband: Patrick de Saint-Exupéry.

Feature produced by Michel Puech