Magazine Memoirs – Bill Jay

In the Autumn of 1969, over a pint of bitter at the local pub, Colin Osman informed me that I would no longer be the editor of his magazine, Creative Camera. By this time the magazine had become “his” in reality. Although I initially had 51% of the company I was obliged to sell Colin my shares in exchange for a small monthly allowance until I had nothing left. Our relationship had grown increasingly testy over the preceding year and, in retrospect, I can see why my goals for the magazine, and the way I was incorporating them, were causing friction. Colin first wanted, then demanded, greater editorial control. I did not respect his image judgments and refused. In the end, I prepared each issue and sent it for publication before he could see it and fight about its contents. This caused tensions, not surprisingly. At the time, however, I was too young, brash, and committed to notice or care. Still, the parting was traumatic.
There was nothing I wanted to do more than edit a magazine in which I believed, heart and mind. So I wanted another magazine, badly, although I had no prospects or reasonable hope of ever getting one. But I dreamed of it…

My assignment for this conference only mentions Creative Camera by name, but there is a postscript, a journal called Album, and I will not have completed the story without saying something about its origins and activities in as much as they relate to British photography in the post-1968 years.

Following my ouster from Creative Camera the cosmic kaleidoscope had been shaken and the fragments were realigning themselves into a new pattern.

The most important new element was Tristram Powell. He was a BBC television director and producer, son of the novelist Anthony Powell (A Dance to the Music of Time). I did not know any of that at the time; I presumed that when he telephoned he wanted me to see his photographs or publicize his latest movie. Over lunch he made a remarkable offer: he had £4,000 to “lose” and wanted to sink it in a fine photographic journal, was I interested? Was I interested? I was ecstatic. Over many meetings I came to respect Tristram for his intellect, generosity and cultivated demeanor. He advised, never controlled, and he was the perfect socially-privileged gentleman of the arts to my working-class aggression. He has never received due acknowledgment for all his quiet, behind-the-scenes activism during this volatile period in British photography.

We were joined by Aidan Ellis, a young accountant at Colin Osman’s publishing company, whose job would be to keep track of the money, an aspect of publishing with which I had little interest and even less acumen. Incidentally, I recently scanned the Articles of Association, which formed Album (incorporated on 21 January 1970), and noticed to my surprise that the only shareholders were Tristram and Aidan. I was not included, although for all these years I had presumed I was an equal partner. Which just indicates how much attention I paid to the business side of things. By now I was fully engrossed in preparing the first issue.

At this point I received a remarkable offer from another backer who promised a far more financially secure future for me and for Album. I declined. I had already committed myself to Tristram and Aidan. Do I have regrets, even now? Yes. I felt I was doing the honorable thing by keeping a promise made. But in my heart of hearts I wonder whatcould have been…

We moved Album into a cheap damp basement, featuring flaky plaster and exposed pipes, at 70 Princedale Road, London W 11. It was furnished with old benches, stools, a typewriter and, most important of all, a stuffed couch and a five-gallon jug of rough cider, more frequently used by the local tramps than our “guests.” (Actually, one filthy old regular became a pretty astute judge of photographs and we often included him in our editorial meetings.) Mix in a constant flow of young photographers, volunteers,
visiting European and American photographers, local street people, and the basement bustled with hippie life. Upstairs, also just beginning, were Oz and Time Out and other “underground” activities; down the road was John Cowan’s studio in which Antonioni filmed much of “Blow up”; around the corner was Holland Park in which we picnicked among pot-smoking guitarists and girls dancing in flowing robes. We were at home.

There never seemed to be a shortage of willing young photographers (usually female)to act as “volunteers.” Chief among them were the Hargreaves twins. Sally Hargreaves was a particular stalwart who delighted in showing visiting photographers her report card from a photographic college in which she was awarded a zero in Creative Photography.

The first major decision we made about Album was, in retrospect, the major eventual cause of its demise. We decided to spend more than one half of our total assets (Tristram’s £4,000) into mailing actual first issues to more than a thousand individuals across the world. The idea, more optimistic than realistic, was that if these people saw the first issue, most of them would subscribe, meaning that we would break even immediately. Such faith! Such naivety!

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