The Covid-19 pandemic hit the international photography magazine hard. Here, Vroons discusses GUP‘s journey thus far, a new redesign, and how you can get involved
“People need to understand that if you really love print, you need to support it,” says Erik Vroons, the editor-in-chief of GUP Magazine. “You cannot just stand on the sidelines cheering.” GUP, which stands for Guide to Unique Photography, launched in 2005. Based in Amsterdam, the award-winning international photography magazine includes a website and quarterly print edition, running articles on established and cutting-edge image-makers such as Bieke Depoorter, Stephen Gill, Antony Cairns, and Diana Markosian (to name just a few recent interviews) as well as emerging talent. The Covid-19 pandemic hit GUP hard, as it did so many other platforms, and GUP’s print version has been on hold since September 2021. To help ensure the magazine’s next issue, and future issues, can be printed, the organisation has launched a crowdfunding campaign, open now and ending on 28 April 2022.
Supporters can choose from a variety of options. They can contribute as little as 10 euros and receive a PDF version of the new issue, all the way up to 495 euros to take part in a workshop with Vroons and GUP’s owner, Roy Kahmann, a photography collector and founder of the Kahmann Gallery. The workshop will take place in Amsterdam and includes a variety of sessions, such as creating a publication, building a portfolio, and presenting photography. Kahmann, who has spaces in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam, represents nearly 30 image-makers including Justine Tjallinks, Antoine D’Agata and Lorenzo Vitturi, and acts as an art dealer and adviser for corporate collections. The gallery owner got involved with GUP 15 years ago, simply because he thought it needed to exist, says Vroons. Kahmann’s goal isn’t to make money from it, but at the same time, “it needs to not cost him too much”.
Kahmann connects with younger talent through Kahmann Gallery LAB, and those emerging photographers are also part of GUP’s lifeblood. Indeed, GUP has run an initiative devoted to emerging photography since 2012, titled GUP New. GUP New is a catalogue of selected photography students from Dutch universities (including international students), and in 2019 the programme was extended across Europe via a new publication titled FRESH EYES. GUP’s catalogues have sometimes run into controversy because the selected photographers have to pay 300 euros to have their images featured in the publication. However, Vroons points out it’s free to submit work, unlike other competitions, and that the money helps pay for the five catalogue copies sent to each featured photographer.
“The double cover will better serve the width of our audience, ranging from people mainly interested in what’s happening in museums and galleries and upcoming publications, to a perhaps younger audience interested in their peers, emerging talents and all the latest trends that makes photography still such a hybrid and dynamic medium.”
Either way, the articles highlighting new talent featured in GUP Magazine are independent of the content in the catalogues, and are very much part of the future plan. During its hiatus, GUP has been redesigned to include a new section: Fresh Eyes: New Wave Photography Journal, this time devoted to emerging talent from all over the world, within the same publication. This content will run at the back of the magazine and have its own front cover. Printed the other way up from the GUP articles – it will, in effect, be a second magazine in the magazine.
“Over the years we have created separate websites for the magazine, for Fresh Eyes, for our online shop,” says Vroons. “We needed a rethink to better communicate that all these separate branches come from the same tree. We have always included new talent in the back of the magazine, but as we already have the Fresh Eyes brand, we thought of incorporating it, to highlight our ambition to show emerging image-makers.” He adds: “The double cover will better serve the width of our audience, ranging from people mainly interested in what’s happening in museums and galleries and upcoming publications, to a perhaps younger audience interested in their peers, emerging talents and all the latest trends that makes photography still such a hybrid and dynamic medium.”
“Photography is still a very specific medium, separate to architecture or painting or digital media art. It’s still a medium you can define.”
This commitment to supporting new artists has helped to keep GUP firmly embedded in the photography ecosystem, alongside other factors such as opening its Instagram account to takeovers. Vroons is also a frequent participant on photography award juries and portfolio reviews. GUP recently joined forces with PHmuseum to shortlist 10 entries for the deliberately inclusive Mobile Photography Prize, for example, and is a media partner for the upcoming Belfast Photo Festival (02 – 30 June 2022). Vroons hopes that GUP’s profound and specific role in the photography network will be its saving grace.
Vroons argues that photography is still a unique medium, even as it takes its rightful place within the wider art world. For him, this is why magazines devoted to photography still exist, just as festivals devoted to photography still exist. “Photography is so hybrid and dynamic,” he says. “And if you pay attention to those dynamics, then photography is still a very specific medium, separate to architecture or painting or digital media art. It’s still a medium you can define.”
“It’s a niche business and our audience is very precise, but also very widespread.”
That being said, printing and distributing a photography magazine is expensive. The number of people buying the print magazines have been impacted by the fact that so much information is now available online for free. The internet has impacted on printing in less obvious ways too. With the increase of online retail, and the sheer number of cardboard boxes needed for packaging and deliveries, the price of paper is significantly on the rise. It’s a predicament that has affected media outlets across the globe for years, and the pandemic simply exacerbated the difficulties. This uncertainty is part of the reason why most of its crowdfunding rewards are based around the offer of subscriptions, as they’re the most sustainable model for GUP, says Vroons, allowing the team to “know who your audience is [and] who to make it for”.
“It’s a niche business and our audience is very precise,” he adds. “But it is also very widespread. Retail is too scattershot, we often receive emails from other countries asking where to find GUP. It’s so much easier, if you want to receive the magazine, to subscribe. And it’s also better for us too.”
Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy