Snakes, unfathomable emergencies and invisible nuns

“In one wicked motion, the head whips around, the mouth opens wide ad the teeth sink into the flesh between Steve Daskam’s thumb and index finger. Daskam shrieks and squeezes the back of the snake’s head with his other hand to force the slitherer to withdraw its fangs before the rest of us can quite compute what has happened, our flashlights spinning like circus spotlights trying to focus. Ignoring the oozing blood and what ever stinging pain he endures, Daskam uses his bleeding hand to regrip the hissing 11-foot-Burmese python and shove it into a teal pillowcase. Then he starts to laugh.”

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I defy anybody not to want to continue reading this story, which runs in the May issue of Hemispheres. It’s about diesel mechanic Daskam and his friend, high-school teacher Devin Belliston, and their hobby hunting pythons in the Florida Everglades. Not only is this legal but it’s actually encouraged by the authorities because the reptiles are an invasive species that has been wrecking havoc on the delicate local swampy ecosystem through the strangling and swallowing of small mammals and other indigenous critters. It does what the best stories do, which is to immerse the reader in a whole other totally engrossing world they previously knew nothing about. You can read the rest of the piece by clicking on the pages below.

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There’s another great piece of writing in this issue but of a very different kind in Boyd Farrow’s travel essay ‘Modern Inconveniences’. Boyd used to edit CNBC European Business magazine for Ink where he’s remembered as a pugnacious grouch and it’s great that he hasn’t mellowed any:

“By my reckoning, there has not been a single positive technological innovation in hotels since the introduction of the passenger elevator in the mid 19th-century. All the same, hotels have insisted on introducing a succession of useless gadgets, ranging from the trouser press to the bathroom telephone. A phone in the WC? What kind of emergency are they envisaging?”

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Also this issue, changes in the magazine’s tent-pole cover feature Three Perfect Days.

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Not only has the design been upgraded, the presentation of the story has switched from second-person narrative (“Your destination is the red-dirt hills of southwestern Guam…”) to first-person, which allows this issue’s traveller Chris Wright to fully indulge himself:

“A highlight of the tour is a 17th-century convent that supports itself by making and selling cookies – commerce that’s complicated by the fact that the nuns must never be seen by non-nuns. I wander the hallways in search of a nun-run cookie shop, then come a cross a murky little room with a hole in the wall, inside of which stands a circular wooden contraption. It spins and a box appears. I put 10 euros down and it spins again. “Receipt!” I shout into the hole.”

It’s like the inflight version of The New Yorker. (Posted by AndrewH)

This post is brought to you by the letter J

To those of you who don’t know me, I am the editor of J Magazine – at least for another few hours. Ink has been publishing this magazine for Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways for around seven years and I have been editing it for around the last five of those years. Today is my last day on the title and with Ink – on Monday I start a new job (and life) working for Al-Jazeera news network out in Qatar. Before I go I want to present a little parting gift, which is my pick of the magazine’s ten best covers.

If you don;t regularly fly Jazeera Airways you are unlikely to have seen most of them as even the London office of Ink where the magazine is produced receives very few physical copies of the magazine – and these I jealously guard and keep locked in desk drawer. Which is a shame, because Jazeera Airways is a fantastic client, who has always allowed us (almost) total editorial freedom. To date we’ve produced 45 issues of outstanding photography, strong narratives and covers commissioned from some of fantastically talented illustrators.

For me, the cover that symbolises everything we do is this one by design outfit I Love Dust. Art director Rob Timm and I had to fight to get them on board: they’re busy people, always in demand, and they don’t come cheap. But we came to an arrangement and for the April/May 2012 issue they produced this beauty for us:

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It links to a story inside on cyclists taking over the streets of car-ridden Beirut. I travelled to Lebanon to meet the intrepid bike pioneers. I met one activist at a cafe and as he sat down to join me I noted that he hadn’t locked his bike. He laughed and said he hoped someone would steal it because it would increase the number of cyclists on the streets.

J launched with a brief to be different and it certainly was for the Middle East. Early covers (art directed by the talented Stuart Tolley) didn’t even have a masthead, just a giant and not always immediately obvious J. The client loved them and had all the covers made up as posters to hang around the office.

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The magazine came of age with this piece of art, below, by the very brilliant Olivier Kugler, a regular contributor to The Guardian. His ‘Istanbul to Tehran’ – which was accompanied inside by an eight-page comic-strip narrative of a rail journey – cover won J magazine its first award, the Magnum Opus Gold prize.

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My greatest joy in editing this magazine was to confound preconceptions of this very much misunderstood region and to tell some of the Middle East’s untold stories. I particular enjoyed uncovering the revival of the English butler school, only instead of sending graduates to British stately homes they all now end up in the palaces of the Gulf States.

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Other favourite covers of mine include one that illustrated a piece on Kuwaiti racers who revel in spinning their cars and sliding sideaways …

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… our round-up of the top Arab films of all time with an appropriately, wonkily styled B-movie poster cover …

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… the Airfix kit cover we commissioned to go with a story about the delivery of new Airbuses for the Jazeera Airways’ fleet …

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… an interview with Iron Sheik, an Iranian wrestler who found fame in the US circuit playing the cartoon bad guy …

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… and a profile of the Arab world’s answer to Pharrell Williams, the super-producer Khyam Allami:

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And I’ll end with a sneak preview. J Magazine has a new talented art director in Yessica Diez-Davies, who, with only her second issue in charge is starting to push the magazine in an exciting new direction. This week we go to press with our first ever typographical cover:

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It accompanies an interview with Pascal Zogbhi, the Jameel Prize-nominated font designer who’s changing the way the world sees the Arabic language. But you’ll have to wait until April to read that. Meanwhile, more covers can be seen here and here.

And that’s it from me. Thank you. (Posted by Sakhr Al-Makhadhi)

Meet the Corde-heads

It began with a small piece in an October 2013 issue of The New Yorker. It was in the ‘Talk of the Town’ section and it was a short profile of songwriter Jimmy Webb, in which it was revealed that the author of such classic bits of Americana as ‘Galveston’ and ‘Wichita Lineman’ was a Concorde fanatic. Webb collects Concorde memorabilia. Fascinating. But why? And is this a common affliction?

131007_r24081illu-320I hit Google and came up with a whole bunch of other people who shared Webb’s obsession (if not his talents). I fired off some emails and met my first ‘Corde-head’ – Webb’s term for Concorde fanatics. Simon Jones of Fulham, London, also collects Concorde items but unlike Webb, who goes for straightforward memorabilia, Jones only buys bits of the actual aircraft, like wheels, mechanical bits and bobs, even a whole nose cone, which, apparently, is the Holy Grail of Concordania. He’s interested in the inner workings of Concorde. It transpires he also has an end goal, which is nothing less than to kickstart the whole supersonic airliner programme.

At this point I became too busy to contact the other names on my list so I handed off to Peter Watts, a fine journalist who contributes regularly to Ink titles, as well as The Times, Independent, Observer, Independent On Sunday and Uncut. Peter went on to interview a Chicago-based design consultant and author of a book on the ‘lifestyle of Concorde’, a collector of Air France-only Concorde items, a dealer in Concorde collectibles, a spokesperson for a proposed Concorde museum and Jimmy Webb.

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The finished piece appears in the just published Spring 2015 issue of PrivatAir magazine. You can read it online but here is Peter’s interview with Jimmy Webb:

Jimmy Webb, the man who wrote ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Macarthur Park’, chuckles as he recalls the first item of Concorde memorabilia that came into his hands. ‘I have to be honest, the first thing was a salt and pepper shaker that I stole in the Seventies. I loved it so much, I quelled my guilty conscience. It was like Gollum’s ring, “My precious”.’ He pauses. ‘A conscience is only useful up to a point.’

Webb, who lives in upstate New York, now owns thousands of items of memorabilia, including several editions of Concorde china, silk scarves worn by stewardesses, a model that once appeared in the window at Harrods, napkin rings, photographs, eggcups and cockpit instruments including a control yoke, artificial horizon and machine showing the centre of gravity. He pines for the dial that measured radiation (‘they had to descend if there were solar flares’) but does have champagne glasses (‘they are quite rare, it must have been something people liked to tuck into their purse’) and has made a ‘very trendy’ desk out of aluminium meal service containers.

His love runs deep. Webb flies gliders – ‘the purest form of flying’ – and enthuses about Concorde’s combination of technology and beauty. ‘It’s where technology meets art,’ he says. ‘Concorde ranks very near the top of not only human technological achievement but artistic expression as well. It looks like Picasso drew it, and it wasn’t just one technological breakthrough it was a score of them.’ He wishes that at least one Concorde was still flying. ‘It would be a great symbol for Britain, to have one show up around the world.’

Webb recalls playing lawn bowls (‘I am the only overseas lifetime member of Barnes Bowling Club’) and everybody stopping to stare as the ‘white angel’ flew over. He travelled by Concorde many times but was never tempted to start a McCartney-style singsong because ‘it was too hard to tear myself away from the window’. Of the flight itself, ‘it was awe-inspiring,’ he says. ‘You had to change your underwear because it sounded like catastrophe when they opened up those big engines. It would vibrate through your body and you had a sensation of all this power strapped to your ass.’ Elton John (‘he took Concorde like we take taxis’) is another musical Concorde fan, Webb reveals, and while Webb has never written a song about the plane he may do so yet. ‘I can’t think of a good reason not to,’ he says.

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The still-life images were taken by San Francisco-based photographer Michael Winokur and are of items in the collection of Nathan Shedroff, also of San Francisco, who owns a full Concorde service (cutlery, crockery, napkins etc) for 16 and has used them in special seven-course Concorde dinners he has hosted for friends. The images previously ran in Colors magazine. (Posted by AndrewH)

A more Asian approach to concept covers

London is not the only place doing creative magazine covers. Last July, Jetstar Asia kissed goodbye its long run of celebrity covers and took a more conceptual approach. Group editor Anne Loh and deputy editor Kimberly Koo provide some background of what went into making the two most recent covers:

Jetstar Asia February cover: origami and Japanese woodblock print on Japanese paper

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This cover, for the story on Japanese hot-spring bathing, features two centuries-old traditional art forms that became widespread during the Edo period: woodblock printing (moku hanga) and paper folding (origami). The Jetstar Asia team – Anthony Gonzales (art director) and Aaron Low (photo editor) – and a Singaporean-Japanese colleague Juri, created the cover composition. The cherry blossoms and the lady donning a kimono are featured on a woodblock print in the shape of a circle. The sphere is inspired by the red disc on the Japanese flag.

Jetstar Asia March cover: sand, religious figurines and a diver paper cut-out in a fishbowl:

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This cover, for the feature on the 15th anniversary of a reef restoration project in Pemuteran Bay, is an installation impression of the underwater gallery in the Indonesian bay. Actual religious figures were covered with stone-textured paint to produce the effect of submerged relics. These miniature statues, along with sand and the cut-out, were immersed in a filled fishbowl. The composition was photographed against a dark blue backdrop to simulate the marine environment. The cover was art directed by Anthony Gonzales and shot by Adrian Koh of Gaia Films. (Posted by AKarplus)

Celebrated Living

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Since 1 January this year, Ink has relaunched a suite of three titles for American Airlines. The first into the seatbacks, on 1 Jan, was American Way, and before he retires in another 20 years or so, senior editor on the title Eric Celeste has promised to post about it.

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In February we published the first issue of the new-look Nexos, American’s Spanish- and Portuguese-language title (more about that soon), and this month we debuted the new Celebrated Living.

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CL (for short) is the airline’s premium-class cabin offering – you can tell: it’s got special silver ink on the cover – and it goes out quarterly. Editing the title is Jacquelyne Froeber, previously a senior editor at Midwest Living and travel editor at Time Inc’s Coastal Living. She brings with her a raft of experienced writers.

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Every issue kicks off with the Platinum List, which is a round up of some of the most exciting and high-profile hotel, restaurant and bar openings around the American Airlines’ network.

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The Platinum List is followed by a bunch of mid-book franchises built around property, interiors, arts and culture, business and heritage. The pick of these in the March issue is a profile of Michael Brown, a video-production company director with a passion for Corvettes. He never set out to have a collection, he tells writer Ellise Pierce, his wife just bought him one for his birthday and now he’s got 14 of them. It’s a good story (it fills a regular ‘Collectors’ spot) but it’s turned into something exceptional by the photography (by Pepper Yandell). I’m no petrolhead, and I haven’t owned a car for the last 30 years, but this made me want one.

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There is plenty of fine photography elsewhere, too, particularly in the features. Art direction is by Alexander Flores.

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Above is extrovert celebrity chef Brian Malarkey who is just about to open a restaurant in Las Vegas; he was shot for us exclusively by photographer Heather Gill.

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The final bit of editorial in CL is a brief one-page travel essay; Jackie did an excellent job for her launch issue in landing a contribution from best-selling author of the moment and NYT Magazine ‘ethicist’ Amy Bloom.

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Shame we’ve got to wait a whole three months for the next one. (Posted by AndrewH)