Words by By Jyoti Mann
Myriam Cawston, a graduate of MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication, has launched her own digital magazine – aimed at ‘celebrating art that is skilled, beautiful and sincere’.
Artistika, launched earlier in 2016 with help from Virgin Startup, showcases content from figure skating and gymnastics to the creative work of artists, forming the connection between arts and artistic sports.
Artistika has already featured numerous contributions from several LCC alumni, with editor Myriam making the most of her connections formed at the College. Features include an article on the photobook series by fellow MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography graduate and recent World Press Photo prize winner Kazuma Obara, as well as ‘Secret Cinema’ by Ciril Jazbec, now a photographer for National Geographic. The magazine has also published an investigation into the underground ballet scene in Iran, a retrospective article on artist Ben Johnson, as well as a piece on dance classes for Parkinson’s disease patients.
We got in touch with editor Myriam, who graduated from the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography course in 2011, to hear more about the magazine and her experiences since graduating from the College…
What first inspired the idea to launch ‘Artistika’ and the ethos behind it?
Artistika is the fruit of my experience as a musician, photographer and journalist. I wanted to publish positive but meaningful pieces, centered on the arts. I have a number of friends running successful web media platforms, so I thought: “Why not me?”.
Artistika brings together stories from traditional art disciplines and artistic sports, because I see so many parallels between them. I know also that many followers of artistic sports are lovers of the arts in general.
The aim is to be an editor who allows the facts to direct the story, and places a lot of emphasis on research. At the same time, I strongly believe in the value of skill – and in the importance of creating beautiful things. The articles celebrate artists and athletes who embody these concepts.
Can you tell us more about how it came to launch?
Setting up the platform was the biggest challenge, but once that hurdle was overcome things went fairly smoothly. For example, the work of artist Yoshie Shibaike had come to my attention on the figure skating ‘twittersphere’, so I messaged her and asked if she’d like to paint something for the magazine. We’ve never met but we’ve become good cyber-friends, and she’s now instrumental in helping me to market the magazine to a Japanese audience!
For the investigation into Ballet in Iran, the journalist was given a one-day assignment to visit a dance class, but he totally ran with the concept and undertook a fantastic investigation on a much larger scale.
And around the same time period, I received my AIPS press card. This enabled me to cover the Figure Skating World Championships for sports.ru. I was able to gather a lot of useful material for the magazine as well. It all came together and I was very grateful!
What is your target audience and what are you hoping readers learn from Artistika?
I’m hoping to bring together lovers of different art forms. I’ve observed that often, people will come to the arts through a specific medium – for example classical music – but will then develop an interest for disciplines that are related. Someone who comes to the magazine to read about a musical may end up getting drawn into an interview with a painter, and notice similarities in the thought processes involved.
The worlds of figure skating and gymnastics have very well organised web-communities where news travels fast. This has helped me tap into to an existing reader-base without placing too much effort into marketing: a significant proportion of Artistika’s readers are figure skating fans based in Japan! In general, the readership is incredibly international.
The first edition included an investigation into the underground ballet scene in Iran. How important is it that people can express themselves creatively and how do you feel Artistika can encourage them to do so?
I believe that beyond a means of expression, art is a way of being, of processing life and the world around us. As such it can’t really be stopped! It was incredible to discover this very vibrant, positive ballet scene in Iran. There had been a couple of short articles in the press, but these had focused on the legal implications of being a dancer in Iran, and the dangers faced.
Speaking to the dancers gave us an entirely different perspective: it was an act of freedom. To preserve the images’ aesthetic dimension and keep the story positive without putting anyone at risk, we used an app to transform the pictures taken by Farhad Babaei into something painterly.
I don’t think this had ever been done before – and the young women whose story got published wrote in with a lot of happy feedback, wanting to be put in touch with each other. By giving the subjects a measure of editorial control, we were able to reveal the Iranian ballet scene for what it is: a happy place.
Are there any plans to expand and develop the magazine?
Definitely! I am currently in the process of applying for funding. There is also a long-term vision to make the publication economically sustainable – by selling art books and special print editions to the reader base.
It’s a learning process, but in the long-term I’d love Artistika to become a legitimate voice on the arts scene… So far, the readership response has been positive and the number of page hits is very encouraging. I’m hoping to publish increasingly regularly, and commission more stories from around the world.
How do you feel LCC has prepared you for launching a digital magazine?
I was really lucky to study MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in a class full of incredibly skilled and dedicated photographers. I was right at the start of my photographic journey, and seeing them work accelerated my learning process tremendously. We have remained great friends, and still provide advice to each other about ongoing projects.
I was also able to observe that those who persevere long enough eventually do find an audience for their work – it’s an endurance race. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from my fellow classmates.
Do you have any advice for any prospective MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students?
Remember the work that inspired you to pick up a camera, and aim to make work that will inspire others! There will always be value in technical excellence and sincerity.