Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A City Divided

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I'm crap at vices. I don't smoke, rarely drink to excess, not a sex addict. My addictions are far more esoteric, often laughable: Ladurée macaroons, opera,  magazines and horses. Magazines are the worst. I could go for weeks without macaroons, but hardly a day passes when I haven't made a stealth trip to one of my favourite shops to surreptitiously stock up on freshly-printed pages. I don't know why I keep buying magazines, since most of them depress me with their samey blandness or samey edginess. You'd think that so much sameyness would be enough to drive anyone away from magazines. You'd be wrong. I keep coming back for more.

Christmas often brings gifts of bad magazine subscriptions - I don't want one issue of Cosmo, let alone twelve - but not this year. This past Christmas, my very clever soon-to-be husband, realised that the best he could do to rein in my magazine habit was to feed it with quality in the hope that at least the quantities piling up in our house would subside. That didn't happen, of course, but I've been absolutely delighted with my Stack Magazines gift subscription.

Every month Stack sends me a parcel of treats, usually a new issue of an independent magazine along with a little pamphlet or newspaper. I was a bit worried initially that, because I was familiar with so many of the mags on the site, there wouldn't be anything new to me but I was totally wrong about that and it's been one revelation after another. Since it's only February I've only had two Stack packages, but both were awesome: Boat came in the first package (Boat are a design agency who up sticks every six months to a new city where they write a cool magazine entirely themed around that place, so far: Sarajevo, Detroit and now London - I'm writing a piece about London's markets for this issue!) and DOR (an English-language version of a journal of Romanian nonfiction) in the second. 

But the best thing I've been sent by Stack thus far has to be Cairo Divided. I don't know that many consumers who complain about the demise of long-form journalism, but I certainly know a lot of journalists who do. One of the things I love about newspapers and magazines is that, at their platonic best, they provide a far better format for longer, more in-depth pieces than the no-attention-span web typically allows for, without being forced to succumb to the objective, academic demands of nonfiction books.

The beauty of Cairo Divided - a two-year collaborative project between photographer Jason Larkin and writer Jack Shenker - is that, being a newspaper of only one story, the piece has space to breathe. Instead of finding itself wrapped in endless 500-word news blurbs and photoshopped snaps of B-list celebrities, this fascinating story of Cairo's sprawl into new and improved 'satellite cities' is allowed to be important, by virtue of being the only thing in the mag to read. This text-heavy image-heavy approach certainly wouldn't work for every subject, but it's an excellent fit for the story of Cairo's changing approach to urban planning against the backdrop of national revolution. The perfect story, perfectly written and documented in the perfect format - this is magazine making at its best.

You can get your hands on a free copy of Cairo Divided here - just pay the cost of postage.

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Except top image, all images copyright Jason Larkin.

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