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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 12:41 GMT
Stills keeping up with the new media
Jon Levy with design proofs of the new magazine
Jon Levy with design proofs of the new magazine
Ever since the rise of television, cultural commentators have predicted the death of photojournalism. But BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani reports on a home-grown website which is hoping to bring back the revolution.

When Life, the world's most famous photography magazine, stuttered to its second demise in the dying days of the 20th Century, it appeared to be another harsh blow to one of the most respected elements of journalism.

But from a small office in London's West End, a British photographer is fighting a trend that has seen photographers' work squeezed on to fewer and fewer pages.

Life Magazine's edition following September 11
Life: Last of the great photojournals
In 1998 Jon Levy founded foto8.com, a webjournal of photojournalism.

Such has been the following of the site, which showcases the work of 60 photographers from around the world, he is now making a bold step from new media back into good old-fashioned print and paper. He's launching a magazine.

Eight, as the spin-off is called, starts publising this spring. It won't be in the shops, unlike the one-off special issues of Life that are still produced, and will rely on subscribers converted from the award-winning website.

"Photojournalism never died, despite what some people think," says Levy. "It's always been there and is a real living medium. The big problem has been that publishers have squeezed it."

Picture copyright: Mikhail Evstafiev
Photoessays: Magazine promises space to photographers (Mikhail Evstafiev)
Levy spent a decade in the US working as an agency photographer. He says he watched as corporations pressured photojournalists to give up their rights to their pictures, and reduce the space devoted to their work in the final products.

While online news has opened a new market, the use of images tends to be limited by bandwidth and complicated copyright issues. WashingtonPost.com's "Camera Works" section is one of the notable successes among newspapers who looked at how they could use photographs on the web.

Photojournalists today, believes Levy, are increasingly becoming illustrators, providing images for the sake of having an image on a page, rather than people who seek to tell a story without words.

Spiral staircase in the Segrada de Familia cathederal in Barcelona Spain.
Illustration, art or journalism? (Jon Levy)
"Photojournalists now have to do more and more work to make it pay but see fewer of their images used," he says. "There are very few publications that will devote more than one or two pages to a photographic essay."

Returning to the UK in 1998, Jon Levy wanted to find an exhibition space for the work of his colleagues.

That plan developed into foto8.com.

Since then site has grown in size and audience - it received 4.5 million hits in the last six months.

"What I was looking for was a way of celebrating the medium," says Levy. "The net provided me with the ability to set up what is effectively a free wall space for photographers who contribute.

"Foto8 didn't intend to commission or own the work, but simply promote and package projects to give them the coverage they deserve."

A girl passes a burning tyre, Haiti project for Eight (Les Stone)
A girl passes a burning tyre, Haiti project for Eight (Les Stone)
Many of the journalists who work with Levy have, he says, found it a liberating experience.

Projects on the site have looked at the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan and the wild salmon of Alaska.

Its contemplative style requires visitors to spend time to appreciate it fully. To help them do so, it employs some of the most innovative software to change the way the still image is viewed.

Photographs from a Palestinian funeral, for instance, become a explorable panorama alongside the sounds of the day.

A dummy cover of Eight magazine
New magazine: But it won't be in the shops
"The beauty of the site is that we have been able to do an awful lot with very few resources," says Levy. "I have always viewed foto8 as a window into what we do rather than a product."

And this is where the magazine comes in. As with most things with ".com" at the end, foto8 isn't going to make money.

Eight is the money-making plan, though Levy concedes it could be a gamble as he tries to persuade some of the estimated 170,000 visitors to stump up a subscription.

"We want to appeal to people outside of the site and provide a product they want," said Levy.

"Foto8 is about allowing photographers to communicate their ideas. I hope that there are enough people out there who appreciate their work enough to pay for it so that we can develop it.

"In many respects, photography publishing perhaps needs to grow up a bit," says Levy. "I think that many of us are too focused on the romantic idea of what it was like in the 1960s.

"I hope that Eight will help change the way photojournalism is presented and published - and encourage the photographers themselves to seek better ways to tell their stories."

See also:

08 Nov 01 | Business
New life for Life magazine
02 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Digital photos 'endanger the past'
02 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Digital cameras take on film
11 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Digital snapshot of history
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