You know when you open a Sunday newspaper and a baffling array of glossy things come tumbling out – not just magazines and cultural guides, but ad pamphlets for garden furniture and plates with bad paintings of the Royal Family on? Well there was once a time when the idea of getting a colour supplement with your newspaper was absurd, until The Sunday Times Magazine rocked into town. It was 50 years ago this weekend that the face of British journalism changed forever – and the pioneer is celebrated at an astonishingly good show at the Saatchi Gallery.
The inaugural issue featured the unlikely cover star pairing of Sixties supermodel Jean Shrimpton and Burnley footballer Jimmy McIlroy, and initial reaction was mixed – the show includes an excerpt from an early market research document where the reaction of one Roehampton reader to is recorded simply as “Fury.”
But it survived and looking back over five decades, the magazine stands as a really significant social history document, particularly because it has long been at the forefront of top-quality photo-journalism.The pictures presented here range from the shocking and serious to the celebrity and stylish, attesting to the diversity of the magazine’s appeal. It’s also a who’s who of some of the best photographers working during the last half a century.
So we have Terry O’Neill’s famous shot of actress Faye Dunaway the morning after her 1977 Oscar triumph, with the iconic statuette perched idly on her breakfast table, and a marvellously silly shot of all six original Monty Python members mugging for the camera, just yards away from the harrowing image of a man thrusting his dying daughter at the viewer after the devastating West Bengal floods of 1971.
There’s politics, ranging from a 1964 study of the 25 women MPS at that time (a world away from the Blair Babes or the Cameron Cuties) to a fortified RUC command post in Northern Ireland amid a row of unremarkable shops, and there’s personalities, with a melodramatic pre-leadership Tony Blair right next to an uber-camp Boy George dressed as a devil.
There’s almost unbearable shots of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and a mourning burqa clad woman in Afghanistan (from 1996) as well as super-silly shot of an “alien” and a would-be cowboy enjoying a bingo game at a UFO convention.
The point is these images don’t belittle each other by their proximity – rather they reflect all human life, its highs, its lows, its heroes and its villians. The shots are uniformly powerful, beautifully composed, and narrative to a lesser or greater extent – it’s hard to tear yourself away from some, like Abbas’ 1978 shot of a white policeman with his black recruits in apartheid-riven South Africa.
And even though iPads are used in the exhibition, there’s no real sense of this being a valedictory show, a sense of marking a time that has forever passed when newspaper editors set the tone. In fact one of the most powerful photographs in the whole show is from last summer – a smirking, smoking big game hunter posing by the crumpled corpse of a giraffe.
The show runs until February 19 (closed 11-14) and there will be a special commemorative edition of the magazine in this week’s Sunday Times.