Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Magazine Review - Filament #1

Thanks to this article on Erotica Cover Watch, I subscribed to the first issue of Filament, a new British magazine subtitled "the thinking woman's crumpet". It aims at readers who are NOT interested solely in fashion, makeup and sleb gossip, but want intelligent articles on a range of subjects, along with pictures of attractive men. It's published every 3 months and costs £7 an issue. Ambitious, idealistic and determined to cater for women who aren't normally paid any attention by the media, it struck me as exactly the sort of thing I wanted to see and ought to be supporting.

Now I've got my hands on the first issue and I feel sort of bad reviewing it - because it is so obviously a work in progress. Don't just take my word for it: here's part of the editorial from p74:
"It's challenging trying to get the kind of material you know your audience wants, especially when you're inventing a new style of photography and media for women. Nothing went exactly according to plan, and while we're proud of what we've achieved, it's not necessarily a representation of where we're going." This is followed by a list of changes/new features to be brought in in future, including "Naughtier photography".

Ah, yes. Sadly, the one aspect of the magazine that is supposed to be its big draw - the eyecandy - is its biggest let-down. There are four photo-sets. Two are well-shot portfolios of pretty young men (examples in this post). Two are out-of-focus portfolios of blokes I wouldn't even notice if I passed them on the street. There's no cock. There's no nudity. All the models retain their trousers and one doesn't even get his shirt off. If these are the "erotic pictures for the female gaze" we've been promised, I can't help feeling cheated.

On the flip side, the range of written material was a great deal better than I was expecting. Best by a long shot was an article on the witchcraft trials which went back to the source material to deconstruct the myth that it was all about helpless women being victimised by mysogynistic men, to present a rather more complex picture. Yes, the huge majority of those murdered were women - but so were their accusers. The article brings out how much of the witchcraft persecutions (at least in Britain) was rooted in social competition between women in a system that allowed them no other route to status. Absolutely fascinating, and wouldn't look out of place in History Today.

Other interesting topics covered include an dissection of the soft-core-porn-is-harmless/hard-core-porn-is-harmful polarisation that society lazily assumes (I love me a bit of ethical philosophy!), an article on the social bumps of bringing up a child if you are an atheist, and a swathe of stuff on playing musical instruments. There are a bunch of more typical articles too: advice columns, a look at pubic hair fashion and what women are really doing with their muffs (as opposed to what is seen in the fashion mags and in porn), interviews with women in techie/geek jobs, book reviews (SF! This magazine really is aimed at geeks!), poetry and two pieces of erotic fiction (one of them m/m though extremely softcore). It's an eclectic, surprising mix. I liked it, though I did think there was a lot of blank page-space with some articles being ridiculously brief, and the interview with Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza was a wasted opportunity, consisting as it did of only of 7 questions.

So, I am going to buy the next issue of Filament because I think it has great potential. But dear grief guys - get your photography sorted out, please.

You can subscribe to Filament at their website - it is not sold in the shops. You will need either a Paypal account or plastic (and they really want you to take the Paypal route). Subscription is for one magazine, without obligation.

UPDATE: You can now find the response to this review from Filament's Editor in the comments attached to this post.


Erobintica said...

Thanks Janine. I'd seen it mentioned over at ECW and was sorely tempted, but since we had to let a number of subscriptions go this year, I couldn't see taking a chance on something new from across the pond. The articles sound very interesting (the witchcraft trials one especially) - stuff I'd like to read - and poetry too! - but - the photography does sound rather disappointing. Not even a nice ass shot? No nudity whatsoever? Geez. False advertizing. So, they're doing "naughtier" stuff in the future? I'm wondering just how naughty. Still it sounds like it has potential and I wish them well, especially in this economy.

Emerald said...

What a great review, Janine. Thanks! With the addition of some hot photography production, it sounds just delightful. :)

Thanks again for the info!

Janine Ashbless said...

And here's the response to this review from Filament's editor, Suraya Sidhu Singh, copied from my inbox:

Hi Janine

Thank you so much for your feedback, much appreciated! And your support. You're welcome to publish my comments if you want:

I'm not sure I 'promised' pictures of naked men, but I might've done at some point - it's been a long process and plans have changed a lot along the way. I tend to agree about the quality of the photography, although interestingly people disagree on which ones are poorly vs. well photographed - I guess there's a lot of 'according to taste' there. Some of the shoots involved full nudity originally, but it turned out to be not great photography for purely technical reasons. And we had things happen like, for the shoot 'Firebrand', the model was quite keen to go the whole hog, but when we turned up at our shoot environment we found it was one half of a kitchen that had 30 people sitting in it. This is the kind of thing that happens when you're making a magazine on zero monies.

But when I started to get a better feel for the censorship environment I'm operating in (thanks to a random QC I met, who knew the subject very well!) I think the fact that there's nothing explicit in issue 1, save illustrations, is potentially a good strategic move, censorship wise. In my view, there should be no question about whether aroused males can be seen and sold in non-sex shop environments, but that is not the case in the UK right now. There is legal precident that illustrations have to be treated the same way as photography, so having got away with illustrated hard-ons in Issue 1, we should be able to get away with photographic hard-ons in Issue 2, assuming (and this is my major struggle) the images I receive are of sufficient quality, or just insulting to the idea that men might be asthetically pleasing in states of undress and arousal - which I think a lot of explicit male image is.

I'm sorry that you felt there weren't enough pictorials. I thought this when I looked at the likes of For Women from the 80s, which was only about 15% pictorial - Filament has more than doubled that. Scarlet only has about 3-6 pages with men on them... and it calls itself an erotic magazine, which Filament doesn't - we've always said we're a women's magazine - the press called us an erotic magazine and then said we weren't erotic, which is a brilliantly self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'm glad to hear that you like the articles though, that is fab. Fair comment re: the Shazia interview. I had expected something longer, but she was quite brief in her answers to the questions and I didn't want to bug her.

Finally, I encourage you and anyone to produce your own man porn/erotica, designed especially for women. There desperately needs to be more variety on the market than Filament can possibly cater to. There are hundreds of titles for men just in my newsagent, I'm sure between us ladies we could manage to publish a good half-dozen.

Thanks again for writing about us.

Best wishes

My best wishes to Suraya too - I'm impressed by her full response and I really hope this magazine does succeed.

Jo said...

Hi Janine

I'm the author of the witchcraft article. Just to say thank you for your kind words - and I am glad you enjoyed it. I hope to be a regular contributor to Suraya's excellent magazine - so look out for more history articles!

Of course Filament is a work in progress but I think Suraya is doing a great job and putting her all into the magazine - and it will only continue to get bigger and better.

Thanks again for the review and constructive criticism.


Janine Ashbless said...

Wow - Hi Jo. Thanks for dropping by! I really enjoyed your article as you'll have gathered, and I have my fingers crossed that Filament will continue to grow and thrive. In which case I'll be reading more of your stuff!

Ara said...

Hi Janine,

I'm the photographer of the Firebrand photoset, which I'm really glad you liked. I'm very keen to take naughtier pictures, and, like the model, was keen to for that set, but as Suraya explained, circumstances weren't exactly conducive!
All I can really say is to watch this space! ;)

Janine Ashbless said...

Firebrand was my favourite. Mmm...

Emerald said...

I'm really impressed with the responses here too — those working on/with Filament certainly seem to care about what they're doing and about relationship to their readers. How lovely. I also highly support both presentation of the sexual aesthetic of the male form and the understanding that women appreciate said aesthetic. So I as well surely support what I understand to be the mission of Filament, and I appreciate Suraya's suggestion to produce it too.

Thank you again, Janine!

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