The World of Day and Night

In some crazy, messed up way the current YES & NO channels the spirit of the French poet/actor/playwright of yore Moliére. The Cover Story features Moliére’s baby, the Comédie-Française, and (around 339 years after its birth) the company’s astounding (and scary) production of “The Damned” (Les Damnés) based on Luchino Visconti’s original 1969 movie script of the same name and directed by theatre’s Punk star Ivo van Hove.

I also stole other perhaps more abstract and conceptual ideas from the great Frenchman. When you browse through and read the new edition of the magazine, my hope is that some of you (one of you, at least) will pick up on the nuanced ‘borrowings’ — some of which are more obvious than others.

To give you a clue, I’m reproducing below my Editor’s Letter No.8 (in its entirety) as it was drafted (i.e. un-proof read) before going to press on June 5th at Pureprint in Uckfield, England.

At the end of the letter, I’ve attached a few random phone photos I took of the interior of the Salle Richelieu, the home and main theatre (they have a total of 3 in Paris) of the Comédie-Française. I was there in April to see “Les Damnés” and meet with van Hove and Éric Ruf, the Company’s Artistic Director, to record our conversation.

On a personal level, this is edition of YES & NO is particularly important — and meaningful — because it’s the last Issue of the second Volume of the magazine. I’ve said it before, (I usually prefer not to repeat myself) but I feel compelled to say it again: It’s a miracle that this thing exists; and the truly amazing thing is that it is a ‘thing’ — a physical object that you can hold in your hands and interact with in the real world; the world of day and night and of rain and wind and clouds and sunshine…

Dear YES & NO Reader

Welcome to the 8th Edition of YES & NO, the last of Volume Two.

In a little over two years, we have brought you eight unique magazines. In numbers, this is equivalent to individual photographers being featured no fewer than 77 times, artists 82 times, and writers, 128 times. That’s a total of 287 featured contributors. Of course, this figure does not take into account Jeremy Kunze, the exceptionally talented designer and art director, my partner in crime, and the formidable printing and binding team at Pureprint. Together we’re defining the DNA of YES & NO, and our aim is to continue to do our best to give you only the best.

On a personal level, working with so many singularly outstanding minds — creative, and inspiring — is an honour; it’s a privileged position to be in, and I value it very highly.

Nor does this number include the scores of people behind the scenes who have been just as committed to give their best and help create a world class publication. These are the often neglected, unsung heroes whom we always endeavour to mention in the ‘Very Special Thanks’ section of the Masthead.

In her seminal 1964 essay, Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag  characterised her ‘yes & no’ attitude in the following manner, “To name a sensibility [that of “Camp”], to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.”

The task that Sontag has set for herself was to appraise a quality that was by definition seemingly impossible to define; a quality that was nevertheless important and necessary to define. (Her essay is well worth a read, if you haven’t read it already).

I find myself in the similar predicament with YES & NO. I am constantly being asked to define what it is, to categorise it. The problem I’m faced with is that YES & NO resists definition. There are plenty of magazines that beg to be defined — and are indeed defined first and formed after: a fashion mag, a sports mag, a mag about homing pigeons, and so on. These publications, all valid, are ‘auto-defined’ from the get go; and that’s OK. But when it comes to YES & NO, my feeling is that it is for you to make up your mind as to what you think it is; you’re free to define it as you wish. No amount of labelling will change its essence.

Since the launch of YES & NO in 2017, the magazine has received a fair amount of praise. We’ve been put up for prestigious awards, and last year even won a D&AD Pencil. But the magazine doesn’t exist for praise and accolades alone. It exists for people. For you. And, from the beginning, some have also been moved to criticise it with total abandon.

YES & NO has been dismissed as a magazine that has no place. It’s not about this and it’s not about that, therefore it can only be about nothing in particular, nothing of worth. It’s been criticised for its format. It’s too generous, giving too much space to topics that don’t deserve it. People have complained, What’s with the page numbers? They say, I don’t understand how I’m supposed to find my way around all of this? But, even before they get to the Table of Contents (let’s not go there) they obsess over the magazine’s title.

They say, What does ‘YES & NO’ even mean? It’s a title that sits on the fence. It’s neither here nor there. And why have a title with a negative word (viz the ‘NO’ word)? They say, The title never knows where it wants to be on the cover; it’s all over the place, hardly ever in the same position twice. Why can’t it just be in one place like a normal magazine? As it is, it doesn’t give people the opportunity to connect with its brand identity; it’s downright confusing! This is what people have said.

Then, there’s no end of protest over the pages of text. When I see all that text, my eyes glaze over. This is what they tell me. Why not have bite size articles? People don’t have time to read all of those words; they don’t want to read. Period! People in this camp are mortified when they reach the ‘& Continued…’ section of the magazine — the section that allows us to have the long-form stories that many find so off putting.

They don’t stop there. If it’s not the excess of words, it’s the pictures. There are too many black & white photographs. Can’t you have more bright colours? And the artwork is horrible. What’s all this contemporary stuff? I don’t get it. It’s not attractive — or beautiful (they forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder). And there are no review to tell us what to make of the art. Why don’t you review art like other “normal” magazines? Can’t you have more pretty pictures, like fashion stuff, something that’s easy on the eye, easily digestible? Do we have to look at all these images of real people? Isn’t it just too depressing?

The experts in the field tell me I need to balance the images and the text. Better still, do away with as many words as possible. I’m told there are two types of people: those that respond to images and those that respond to words. I forget how each group is technically characterised — I think it has something to do with intellectuals v creatives. There’s a third category: people who respond to both words and images. But they’re in the minority, so they don’t count.

More the question of reviews, people complain, You don’t review books or films or theatre — or anything, for that matter! How are we supposed to know what to think about culture if we’re not being told? And the recipes! Who’s going to bother to try these recipes at home, in their own kitchen? They’re too complicated. What’s the point?

The magazine is too reliant on graphics; it’s like the equivalent of a lad’s sweaty boxing club. Why not have more frivolous pictures and make it more like a lass’s flower stall? It needs more gaiety, for pity’s sake!

YES & NO isn’t meant to be read like other magazines. We’re experimenting and defining our own ideas of what we think a magazine can be. We’re challenging ourselves and, in turn, our readers. All magazines, the traditional ones at least, are redundant. They’re as useless as a phone with a rotary dial. Phones with dials are still called phones, but their relevance today is relegated to ‘talking piece’ status; a nostalgic object of the past, a curio, sitting within earshot of the LED or plasma screen.

Technically, smartphones are still called a phones; though they’re also called ‘cells’ and ‘mobiles’ and so on. But, within telecommunications-lore, a smartphone can’t be more different and more alien (in form and substance) from its rotary dial predecessor.

In my opinion, the same goes for magazines. We need them still — just look at any well-stocked newsstand in an airport or train station. But we need them for different reasons. They serve a different purpose. What that purpose is, is up to the individual to decide. It’s not enough to call them ‘magazines’; within publishing they’re just as commonly referred to as ‘zines’, ‘mags’, ‘fanzines’, or ‘magalogues’ (but let’s not go there right now…) The word ‘magazine’ is originally derived from the Arabic word for ‘storehouse’. So, the concept of the magazine has come a long way. And it’s got a long way to go still…

Every edition of YES & NO is different. Just like the world we live in, today isn’t quite the same as it was yesterday… Through the lens of its own fledgling identity, YES & NO aims to reflect the world as it is. Not as it wishes it to be. One of the goals of our magazine is to shine a light on — and seize something of — the essence of today’s intangible cultural sensibility. To be true to this goal the magazine you hold in your hands cannot by definition be this or that — it must be, essentially, YES & NO.


Moliére chilling pensively in marble

Moliére chilling pensively in marble

The elaborate ceiling and detail of the proscenium arch of the Salle Richelieu

The elaborate ceiling and detail of the proscenium arch of the Salle Richelieu

Spectators await the start of the performance

Spectators await the start of the performance

The cavernous stage before ‘curtain’ up with part of the capacity (862 persons) crowd in the foreground

The cavernous stage before ‘curtain’ up with part of the capacity (862 persons) crowd in the foreground

View from the rear of the modernised extension of the Comédie-Française overlooking the Palais-Royal located in the 1st arrondissement

View from the rear of the modernised extension of the Comédie-Française overlooking the Palais-Royal located in the 1st arrondissement