Blow Photo: a Dublin mag that aims for epic beauty
The magazine, which is run by a team of just three, is gaining international recognition for its purist approach
From left: Issue 03: Body (2011). Cover image: Elina Brotherus/Model Study 15 (2004); Issue 11: Family (2014). Cover image: Fred Hüning, from the series Drei/Untitled (Bathtub II), 2011; Issue 08: New Pictorialism (2013). Cover image: Madame Peripetie, from the series: Dream Sequence/Blood (2012)
At the headquarters of Blow Photo magazine, the D-Light Studios on North Great Clarence Street in Dublin, they’re in the thick of putting together Issue 13, calling contacts to chase down high- resolution images from a Japanese photographer.
The photography magazine, which was launched five years ago, has received its third consecutive nomination for one of photography’s most prestigious prizes, the Lucie Awards. The ceremony takes place tonight in New York.
“It was slight madness,” says editor Agata Stoinska of starting a high-end, fine art photography magazine in the teeth of a recession. “But I don’t think I was considering recession at all. I didn’t feel there was a platform like it in Ireland. As a fashion photographer, I was able to publish in glossy magazines, but not my fine art photography. It’s the same for many of my colleagues: they have their day job, but this type of photography is their passion.”
Sitting beside her, Stace Gill, who is in charge of the magazine’s marketing, agrees. “For artists it’s always a recession. When you’re coming to something for a love of art, a whole different set of rules apply. Your motivation is never financial: you’re never going to make a lot of money.”
Blow – which is named after the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up, in which a London photographer’s images might hold the key to a murder – is gorgeous.
It’s run by a tight team of three, all in their 30s: Stoinska, Gill and photo editor Monika Chmielarz. Like most people in the creative sector, each has another string to their bow. Gill’s band, Ocho, has just signed a record deal, with new music to be released in early 2016; Chmielarz has a background in theatre; and Stoinska trained as an architect.
“I came to Ireland in 2003. I was supposed to stay here for a year,” Stoinska says. “I moved to Ireland when there was a big recession in Poland. I’d studied photography in Poland too, but I was working here as an architect.”
She pauses, considering the Irish recession that followed Poland’s. “I had to make a decision. I set up the D-Light Studios in 2010. We have tenants, clients and crazy events. The aim is to keep it as a creative hub where anything can happen.”
Stoinska is also working on Maven 46 (maven46.com), an online fashion and lifestyle publication. “Hopefully one day that will bring us enough money to sponsor Blow, renovate D-light and do lots of other brilliant events.” She pauses to imagine the future. You get the impression that this is pretty much par for the course with the Blow team, who believe in thinking and dreaming big, but who also have the energy and skill to make it happen.
Each issue of Blow is themed. The next one focuses on the surreal. Text is kept to a minimum, and the images show how photography can make a specific point, narrate an entire story or be so gorgeously elusive and allusive that you are left with the lingering hint of a whisper of a feeling, which makes you want to return to it again and again.
Blow is big enough to lose yourself in. Gill picks up a copy and shows how the cover headshot is almost life-size.
“You can sit down for half an hour, switch off, go through the pages one by one. In a world where we’re overloaded with images, videos, information, it’s very important to find that time for yourself,” says Stoinska
“You can get into an art zone very easily with it. It’s like gallery walls coming round you,” says Gill, holding a copy up to her face. “For collectors, it’s a coffee table book, but for those who love art and can’t afford to collect, each issue, which is limited to just 1,000 copies, is like an artwork.”
As the artists within the Blow pages include leading Irish and international names such as Gregory Crewdson, Elina Brotherus, David Farrell and Nathalie Mohadjer, alongside emerging talents, it’s a lovely and exciting gallery to get lost in.
With Blow this year up against a heavy-hitting Lucie shortlist including Aperture from the US, the British Journal of Photography, Spain’s Exit Magazine and Camera Austria, the team are upbeat. “Aperture and the BJP? They’re the kings and queens of it,” says Stoinska. “But it’s our third consecutive nomination, the 13th issue, and it’s the 13th Lucie ceremony. That has to be lucky.” The team aren’t attending the awards this year, as Blow has also been selected for the prestigious Paris Photo, which runs November 12th-15th at the Grand Palais.
It’s a good time for photography in Ireland, with strong exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma), new BA and degree programmes at art colleges, the PhotoIreland festival, and Source Magazine, which adds technicality and theory to parallel the images in its pages, and has been in publication since 1998.
Meanwhile, Dublin’s Gallery of Photography, which stocks Source and Blow, manages to run a programme that is both critically acclaimed and popular, so much so that it is outgrowing its Temple Bar premises.
“Irish audiences are appreciating photography more each year,” says Stoinska. “But it’s still a difficult time for independent publications like ours; we’re doing everything from our own savings.”
Gill agrees. “It’s kind of mental, but something that is epically beautiful is important in this day and age, when people don’t print anything. So much discussion, so much passion goes into each issue.
“You’re going to love the next one. You know how each of us can see the world in a different way, how everything is unreal and surreal, if you allow yourself to listen and see . . . ” So go on, see for yourself.