“Moving” shouldn’t be the word that comes to mind when viewing explicit photographs of men. Yet that’s the world that most aptly describes a Paris exhibit devoted to Magazine, the cult gay French fanzine that lasted from 1980 to 1987. Not only does the retrospective at 12Mail gallery show where the seeds of zines like Butt and Kaiserin were sown (the brooding leather men, frank sexual content and cultural vibrancy), it is also a timely reminder of how magazine culture has changed in the internet era.
French journalist Didier Lestrade launched Magazine with his friend Misti to, he says, build a bridge between “modern portraiture and the preciousness of such after-war artists as Erté.” It was a highly spontaneous affair; they used Eras bold, a font they had seen in American soap operas, and they accepted their friends’ submissions in any form.
On one board, Lestrade fondly recalls the time when layouts were made with squares and compasses, when he typed all the copy with tiny machines, and when he had to work as a groomer to pay his printer. It didn’t seem to bother him, though. Magazine was a fanzine of love: love of pretty, sexy boys and the artists—obscure or famous—who shaped gay culture. Among the highlights of the show are an encounter with David Hockney and pictures of Jimmy Somerville’s first trip to Paris. We also learn of Malcolm McLaren’s soundtrack for a Vivienne Westwood fashion show in the early eighties, made primarily from scratch.
The fascinating exhibit revives a singular era when Paris was home to a vibrant avant-garde magazine scene, including Babeth Djian’s legendary Jill. Now ensconced at Numéro, Djian once told the New York Times that advertisers would call and ask for Jill’s advertising rates, but she wouldn’t return their calls. Who would do this today?