Magazines aren’t the vital sources of culture that they once were, but Melissa Jones thinks they still have a place in the creative media matrix.
Jones, who founded creative consultancy DTE Studio a decade ago after years as an art director at record companies, including Tommy Boy, and a stint at V Magazine, has launched Masthead magazine, a large format online product heavily focused on photography, but that serves as a passion project and a new type of branding venture.
“Obviously, magazines are very challenging now in print and online, and I think a lot of [media] is about feeding the beast and having this very content-heavy, fast-moving [product] with a large volume of information constantly flowing, and that’s just a different area than what we’re working on,” Jones said. “We’re doing something that’s a little bit slower, a little bit more focused and a little bit more like a gallery and less like a shopping mall.”
Indeed, Masthead’s first issue, photographed entirely by Michael Avedon, the 27-year-old grandson of the legendary Richard Avedon, with contributors like Alex and Olivia Chantecaille of Chantecaille Beauté, the artists Francesco Clemente and makeup artist Ryan Burke, is far from the garish “buy this” look of many magazines, online and off. There’s nary a brand mentioned for any of the Masthead photos and no ads, yet. Jones said there’s possibility for brands to get involved more formally, but that she wants to establish Masthead as a creative product first.
Albert Watson is photographing the next issue, launching Thursday with an official release party, and his portrait subjects will include Jay Z’s new protégé Young Paris, model Coco Rocha, architect Craig Dykers and even Marky Ramone, all of whom will muse on the broad topic of technology. But it seems the topic being discussed comes secondary to the photography when talking with Jones. And it’s understandable given Watson’s decades of work and his apparent integrity when it comes to the commercial side of the business. Watson earlier this year sued Compagnie Financiére Richemont for allegedly using one of his more well-known photos of Mick Jagger, saying he had never made it, nor many other of his celebrity and model prints, available for commercial use. Jones got to know him about 15 years ago on a shoot and never forgot the level of skill he brought.
“Albert’s not taking 10 shots — he lines it up, he carefully lights it, he’s very experienced and he knows exactly what he wants and he takes one photograph and it’s pristine and precise,” Jones said with admiration. “You see [with Watson] how experience builds and has meaning. His photos from the Seventies and Eighties really stand and my big question is, can a lot of the young photographers today do that again? To slow down and focus on a more refined craft, I think there room for that now.”
But Jones doesn’t shy away from admitting that Masthead is an extension of her consultancy and something that serves a networking function. Burke, for example, has become a client since appearing in Masthead’s beauty issue and agencies like DTE becoming publishers in their own right is an intriguing, if improbable, thought as so many traditional publishers continue to struggle with the loss of ad revenue.
“It is a big passion project for us, but it’s also a great outlet for our business, for brands to be able to experiment with us and also for us to collaborate with a lot of interesting, different folks,” Jones said. “It has a lot of opportunity.”
For now, Jones wants Masthead to be a stand-alone creative effort that draws people in with its photos and subjects and maybe even gets them out of the narcissistic bubbles social media and targeted advertising so easily reinforce.
Jones mentioned that she recently turned off targeted advertising on her Facebook account, something the platform only just started to offer in response to its user privacy scandal, and that it made her, an advertising professional, realize that she’s actually missed seeing things like car commercials and ads for outdoor furniture.
“In theory, it seems like it should be nice to have things tailored to you,” Jones said, “but it made me realize diversity, from an interest and topic and everything standpoint, is something I’m interested in and makes me feel whole.”
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