PICTURES WORTH 75,000 WORDS

~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, March 14th 2013

Today we launch The Photo Album, a special tablet edition of Intelligent Life, bringing together 75 of the best pictures from our first 25 issues. Most magazines are made up of words and pictures, yet it's strangely rare to find the two treated as equals. The glossies hurl money and energy into the pictures, while the more cerebral titles turn out dense grey pages as if it was still 1955. The newsstand ends up being rather like a bad party, with lots of models drifting around with nothing to say, and a few intellectuals standing in a corner in ill-fitting jackets, arguing with each other. Which makes it less fun for the real guests—the readers.

In 2007 Intelligent Life, under its then editor Edward Carr, came along and broke this mould. From the start, it was both beautiful and thoughtful, with a photo essay in every issue. The cover is always a portrait, for reasons both internal (we make a point of running long-form profiles) and external (our nearest neighbours on the shelves tend to go with impersonal forces and illustrations). The palette is subtle, because so many mainstream covers lean towards the lurid. The background is darkish, because our logo is white. Practical considerations meet creative preferences, and the consequence is a visual style that rings out as clearly as a tone of voice.

This style was largely set by four people—our then art director Sue Vago, her deputy Martin Lovelock, and our first picture editor, Sophie Bradford, all working with Jason Kedgley, a consultant from the design agency Tomato. They created a culture of original photography overnight at a company whose visual vocabulary had hitherto consisted of agency photos, cartoons, illustrations and small blue graphs. When Sue and Sophie returned to The Economist, we brought in Graham Black as art director and Melanie Grant as picture editor to join Martin. For those of us toiling away on the words, their work is a source of constant delight, and we know from countless comments that many readers feel the same way.

Mel commissioned most of the 75 pictures in The Photo Album; Graham chose them and laid them out. All I had to do was write the captions, which meant studying the pictures and being reminded just how diverse they are—sumptuous landscapes, penetrating portraits, eye-opening reportage, and even a few well-chosen models. All human life is here, from the Swedish surfer captured by Daniel Månsson on the cover (top) to Tom Stoppard, curling himself pensively round an armchair, in Nadav Kander’s portrait (above). The beauty is never skin-deep: it has to have some soul.

The Photo Album is available now on the iPad and iPad mini, and coming soon on Android. Once you download our app from the App Store, The Photo Album will appear on your Newsstand and in your library. Like all our tablet editions, it is supported by Credit Suisse—a relationship, now in its third year, that has been a fruitful one. To them, it means being our sole advertiser in app land; to you, it means the app comes free and uncluttered; to us, it means support without editorial interference, for which we are most grateful.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life