On Mark: Can Architecture Photography Save Publishing?


Thomas Miller is an award-winning graphic designer with more than 12 years of publishing experience. He has worked with Texas Magazine, Country Lifestyle, Southern California Physician, FIGHT!, Key West Magazine, MacHome, T3, Future US, Ziff Davis, Primedia and New Times. He moved to Key West four years ago to work with famed designer Roger Black but his four-year working vacation is nearly at an end as he plans to move to the NYC area this fall.

Joern Blohm is an architecture and interior photographer based in San Francisco. Joern has worked with national and local advertising and design agencies on print and web campaigns for major clients including Maxtor, Tivo, Zeiss and Tishman Speyer. Joern is looking forward to opening a second studio in Munich this Fall.

POP:Photo What sets Mark apart from other architecture magazines?

TM There are many things. But let’s start with the ads. Every other page in the American magazines is an ad with many fractional ads. This throws off pacing and limits what they can do with photography. With Mark, the emphasis is on photography and really nice typography. And the overall flow is a different experience.

JB Yes, in Mark there is no single page that is broken by an ad and there are many full-bleed photo spreads, but any ads are full page.

Roof Terrace of Chilean Firm DRN's La Baronia - Photo provided by DRN

Cloud 9's Media TIC Building in Barcelona - Photo by Inigo Bujedo Aguirre

TM That’s great care. It’s so hard to have a magazine to come out and say they’re not going to have fractional sized ads. Most magazines are littered with ads all over the place and so it takes away from the aesthetic.

Some of it gets to the point where you can’t tell the ad from the editorial and that to me is the biggest mistake. So for whatever reason, the people behind Mark made the decision they’d only do full pages and spreads. It allows them to make a better aesthetic product so what a dream gig.

JB Yes, a subscription in the US actually costs the publisher money. They don’t really make money from subscriptions. In Europe, if you subscribe to a magazine, you pay the same as you would at the newsstand. For this you get it delivered, you get every issue and you get your copy a little earlier than it appears on newsstands. Same deal as in the US, but Europeans seem to appreciate and are willing to pay for a better product.

TM Right. It’s just a crazy difference. With American interior and architecture magazines, it’s not just the advertising that’s impacted, it’s that the actual editorial is so much about product, product, product. When you have a magazine like this obviously you want to show a lot of product and how people furnish their homes. But the balance between product and conversation about architecture is way different than a magazine like Mark where it’s very much about the architecture.

POP:Photo So how does Mark use photography and design to create such a visually compelling magazine?

JB The photography in Mark is incredibly inspiring because they give their photographers creative license so that there is a lot of diversity in the images. It moves from the personal to the impersonal, from the mundane to the dramatic. The designers prioritize the images and each one is a piece of art instead of simple documentations of details and forms. One example I particularly like is how they have a different style for the opening image(s) in sepia toned with the rest of the story in full, saturated color. The designers also have a great eye. When they use provided images they select photos that have drama and style. There’s always a unique approach whether it’s a dramatic angle or contrasting use of light. There is intention behind their choices.

TM Yes, they make many interesting style choices. With many of their features, they give the opening image a duo-tone, a light wash to break it up followed by a full-color spread or single-page image. A Strenuous Affair, featuring a new high-rise in Seoul designed by Mass Studies’ Minsuk Cho, is one example.

Photo by Yong-kwan Kim

Photo by Yong-kwan Kim

Amsterdam firm Information Based Architecture designed the Guangzhou TV Tower in China. The opening page of the Mark feature is so beautiful with that tower sitting in front of the skyline. it looks like a really skinny skyscraper, but it’s really a television/observation tower built with an exoskeleton. In the second image, the photographer shot down into the middle of the skeleton and you can see it’s just an elevator shaft.

Photo Provided by Information Based Architecture

Photos provided by Information Based Architecture

It’s an amazing photo. And they’re not just great photos. They’re telling a story too. The people working on the inside to give a sense of scale.

JB The design of the magazine seems to play a key role in keeping the focus on the photography.

TM I think the design of Mark actually allows them to takes chances on the photography. Maybe in altering the color of the photos, toning, shooting from unusual angles, saturating the color, What they’re doing is they’re changing it up throughout, so you get different looks. What they’re doing is they’re getting rid of the predictability and overall making the read more exciting. With a lot of magazines, the photography becomes another predictable element and you lose the reader’s engagement.

JB The predictability of the grid allows the photography to break free of the expected.

TM Yes, they use a repeated, somewhat predictable and definite grid and style. You kind of recognize it so the focus goes back to the photography because you know what to expect of the typography. If you’re constantly up and down and all over the place, it becomes why is this photo up here? And then the photography can’t be exciting because it needs to anchor the page. When you have a structure, it becomes about the content and you forget about the design.

I love this opening spread, View point. The typography, the colors, you wouldn’t see this in a magazine like Dwell although Dwell publishes some nice photography as well and actually pioneered a clean photographic aesthetic when they launched. I love the white vertical rules through the image imposing the structure of the magazine without there being any columns of text. These are architectural references and make the magazine feel organized and sophisticated.

Photo uncredited

It feels like itself. But it’s just elegant. It’s just beautiful. That’s my favorite spread in this issue.

It’s playful typography. It’s still using the same font. But they did say well we’re doing a feature on this thing and let’s put a crazy decorative font. There’s a lot of creative license here to do something creative and elegant that works with the photo.

TM A lot of their images are provided by the architecture firm. Even in this case, their artistic choices are essentially graceful and dramatic.

JB Yeah, for this spread featuring a Herzog & de Meuron building in Southern Germany the editors chose two beautifully shot contrasting images, one daytime interior and a nighttime exterior, to reveal how the unique and simple form of the building floods the interior with light and and creates a stunning evening silhouette.

Photo by Iwan Baan/courtesy of Vitra

Photos by Iwan Baan/Courtesy of Vitra

TM And I think the architectural shots too there’s a lot of them where they’re trying to find trapezoidal type angles and diagonals so when they’re in the frame in the page it’s not so straight looking. Looking down a hallway like this versus getting down low and creating some angles, I see that happening more in Mark than in the other architectural magazines. They take chances and make it visually compelling and interesting.

JB An important point is that each shot can communicate something specific about the building with its own style. For example, the observation tower in China. The angle and toned black and white is used to emphasize the structure. The color would be a distraction and plain black and white would be boring. Those are both vertical structures with an exoskeleton.

TM If you want to show structure in anything, you take away the color and it allows you to see the lines and the contrast and the shapes and the curves. Black and white has been used to shoot architecture forever (quantify!). What mark has done is taken it to the next step. They’re saying we don’t need blue skies and green grass. We need the black and white to see shapes, but let’s throw in another color in there. Io make it a duo-tone to give it a little more, it’s more of a design tweak to make it more interesting.

If it were all color, it wouldn’t really be as unifying because the backgrounds would have some sky, one wouldn’t have any. Who knows what it would look like? Black and white is just too sterile. Who wants to see a spread in a magazine that’s all black and white?

What Mark does is they mix up their photos and how they present them enough to make it exciting. Is that really true to what the photo really looks like? That’s not important. It is a magazine and on some level a magazine is supposed to be entertaining. And I think they take some nice chances with the photography and how they treat it. It’s refreshing.

POP:Photo Joern, what would be your dream project to shoot for Mark?

JB The Oslo Opera House designed by Norwegian firm Snohetta would hands down be my favorite project to shoot for Mark.

TM That is crazy. It looks like a ship that is in the water. A mega-yacht that meets a formula car that is going into the water.

JB I like it because it is monumental, but is not overshadowing its surroundings. It has a low profile. And with the glass surfaces, it combines the inside and outside. I think I’ve also seen that on the big sloping side, they use it as an amphitheater for outside concerts.

TM I mean why not. So much architecture is just maybe eye candy for those who care. This is something that is not only beautiful to the eye, but is a place you’d want to hang out. The view of the water and the skyline from the different vantage points you can be in and on the building, on top. What an amazing building. It’s a place you’d want to spend time in even if you didn’t know anything about architecture. It’s beautiful.

JB It’s separating itself from the surroundings but also blending in. It’s very interesting architecture. Even though it’s a little playful it still has clean lines with the sloping triangle going into the water.

POP: Photo Thomas, any changes you would make to Mark?

TM With all the chances they take with the photography and the design, why don’t they throw a couple gate-folds in there? Like Wired does sometimes. If it’s a particularly big info-graphic, maybe the center spread will open up a couple more panels. Mark could show off some wide, panoramic photos. I’m surprised they don’t throw one in now and again. But that would be really fun. Just imagine how that would make you feel if you got something as big as a panoramic to look at. I don’t know, I get excited by it. Why not pull out all the stops. They’re already using a 5th color on the cover with the silver dots of the April/May issue.

JB Well maybe they don’t want to overdo it with the gadgets. I love panoramic photography though.

TM It’s getting more popular though. You can stitch together images in a point and shoot now. Maybe we’ll be seeing more panoramics. Google Maps has the Panoramio. The new Sony takes a sweeping panoramic.

So here’s the idea that Mark needs to do. Instead of a single gate-fold on either side so it’s just four panels, they need to do another one so it’s actually six panels of a photo and you put the magazine around your head and you have a vr360 experience. (laughing)

POP:Photo So what’s the takeaway from all this?

TM What I get a sense of is Mark is about design, photography and architecture. Many other architecture magazines are about product and architecture. Dwell is not something I want to sit with for any length of time. Mark I could spend a day with enjoying that.

JB I notice that with Dwell, I flip through it and go back to it maybe once. With Mark, I go back to it over and over. And the stories are much more interesting. To be fair, Dwell focuses on smaller, residential architecture. Mark picks out the crown jewels of international architecture. They have the best photographers.

POP:Photo The point is though you spend $6 on Dwell and you don’t feel you’re getting your $6 worth. You spend $20 on Mark and you’re getting hours of engaged reading and looking.

TM That’s exactly what I’m trying to get at. I think when you look at a magazine like Mark you get a story and inspiration throughout the magazine. And when I look at Dwell, I feel like I am a consumer. I feel like I’ve been marketed to very hard. You get some stories and ideas that are very cool, but it’s really kind of lost.

POP:Photo So then it’s worth the $20. It’s actually a cultural statement. The magazine model in the US is in flux at the moment and ultimately it doesn’t deliver.

TM I agree. We’re trying so hard to shift things so hard to the Internet that somehow we’re losing the fact that the aesthetic, the experience of holding a magazine and sitting with it, just like people like the Sunday paper with their coffee, it’s a different kind of experience. And most importantly, that a magazine that isn’t chopped up with ads and allows the editors and designers to create something beautiful actually inspires.

They just haven’t figured it out. I think it’s great that information can be online at our fingertips. But I’m sorry it’s not the same thing. I don’t want to read stories online.

POP:Photo What about the iPad that has apps developed for it by publishers specifically to make reading magazines a great experience?

JB There is something about the size of a magazine and the quality of artful photography on the printed page that is not yet reached by laptop or ipad screens. But I’m sure it will eventually get there. Just not quite yet.

TM The iPad and other digital devices definitely open up exciting new possibilities when it comes to storytelling, advertising and interactivity. We are basically shifting away from a linear experience to a “choose your own adventure” format with all the bells and whistles that technology (minus Flash) has to offer. However we are giving up tactile and olfactory experiences for these amazing visuals and multi-touch gestures. So its hard not to get a little nostalgic, I mean who hasn’t enjoyed the smell of a properly aged book? Or enjoyed the satisfaction in setting down a dog-eared and creased magazine after reading it from cover to cover?

Clearly the convenience in having a near-infinite amount of content available through a single device will win us all over. However I do not believe print magazines or books will be going away any time soon… as long as computer networks are able to crash and sunny beaches far from the grid continue to exist.

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5 Responses to “On Mark: Can Architecture Photography Save Publishing?”

  1. Awesome blog, Albee! Very thought-provoking and entertaining as well.

  2. These photos are so beautiful – thanks for sharing this!

  3. Great Interviews. Thanks for sharing their beautiful work! Photographs might just be able to Save 1000 Words at a time…

  1. 1 A Photo Editor - Can Photography Save Publishing?
  2. 2 Future of Publishing: Can Each Photograph Save 1000 Words?

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