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Magazine Culture: The Hyman Archive

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Magazine Culture: The Hyman Archive

Towers of magazines, zines and newspapers: seemingly endless amounts of information to be interpreted and trends to be tracked. The whole thing could be quite overwhelming, but instead pop culturalist James Hyman and curator Tory Turk have worked through the immense collection of over 50,000 magazines from more than 2,000 different publications to form the more palpable concept that is The Hyman Archive.

Still, a talk with the two seemed to be just like an afternoon spent sifting through attic-stored bygones: tremendously interesting and stuffed full of fascinating things that could easily get you side-tracked.

Reading like some DeLillo classic, there is too much to be said on the subject: the invention of the internet, the supposed death of the grand narrative, the ousting of print and the ushering in of the digital age, the obsession of keeping record, the saturation of the online media market and the power of popular culture. And having spent two years sorting through Hyman’s lifelong collection, the pair both have plenty to say about it all.

There are two things to establish first though: Hyman is not a hoarder and he is not placing himself in the path of an unstoppable digital epoch. In fact he lauds publications like Monocle and Vice as sound examples of how to do both print and digital well.

Yet for him his infatuation with print prevails: “there’s so much that goes into it,” he tells us. There are new publications also which encapsulate this old ethos despite a burgeoning trend to the contrary. Referencing the new English quarterly Delayed Gratification, he spoke of an increasing tendency to see print publications as a luxury to be indulged in every once in a while like an haute, crafted garment or gourmet cuisine.

This, he suggested, was perhaps due to this idea of the time, energy and thought put into them, which so often (yet absolutely not always) sits in contrast with online publications.

While Hyman is optimistic about the future and the evolution of popular culture into Youtube and Twitter and The Next Big Thing, The Hyman Archive reverberates with nostalgia in its aim to preserve and present the history of magazine culture. No wonder Hyman harks back to former times, he was after all at the epicentre of the last accepted “Golden Age” of Western popular culture.

Working for MTV Europe as a scriptwriter and later producer and director from 1988 to 2000, Hyman focused extensively on Rave and Acid House music and steered the channel through various other emerging club scenes- a personal passion, which explains the wealth of music publications in the collection.

A magazine, Tory Turk tells us, ” is a very social choice. It represents different parts of society and it talks to different parts of society. If you take one thread and you run it through the middle, and you’re taking it from all these different stand points, you get a very interesting view of it. It isn’t just some academic library- it’s a very human voice and it’s a very populist voice.”

The Internet now arguably serves this purpose. Yet as a community the Internet is so vast, offers room for so many different associations based upon interests and tastes (however weird or wonderful), that it is questionable if we will ever experience the same sense of social unity. Before the Internet, a particular magazine could tell a whole generation what to wear, listen to and watch, Hyman explained. If with the Internet we gain greater choice and diversity, perhaps then we lose a certain generational collective consciousness.

Currently the archive sadly remains Hyman and Turk’s private universe, but cracks of light have already been let in. For a brief time at the beginning of the process the archive was opened up to the public and a huge cross-section of visitors streamed in from advertisers to film-makers, producers to students, stylists to creatives.

Anyone who visited the recent David Bowie exhibition, one of the V&A’s most successful exhibitions to date, would have also unwittingly experienced a sneak preview of the Hyman Archive, since it provided magazine research which culminated in an illustrious wall of quotations.

This is how Hyman and Turk see their archive developing: into a museum, a research library and a cultural destination within London. This in itself is indicative of the duos attitude towards the project, as Turk concluded: “our comment on magazine history [is] that it’s important and it should be displayed in that sort of museological environment because it is that important.”

A selection from The Hyman Archive is currently on loan to the “Mod” exhibition at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery as well as to the forthcoming “Cosmetics A La Carte” exhibition at London’s The Gallery in Redchurch Street.

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by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn
Gloobbi Representative
Images by Doug Rimmington



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