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Didier Lestrade's Magazine

A Paris expo at 12Mail charts the history of the influential French gay publication 'Magazine'

Magazine is the mother of all gay media, and the first attempt to couple male portraiture with art. During its short life (1980-1987), the French fanzine featured photos of and by then-underground Erwin Olaf, Pierre & Gilles, Walter Pfeiffer, as well as interviews of Morrissey, David Hockney. Today claimed to be the inspiration of magazines such as Butt and Kaiserin, here is an opportunity to look into the archives of the original publication: Parisian gallery 12Mail is currently holding a show paying homage to Magazine, for which the founder Didier Lestrade lent hundreds of snapshots, magazine covers, photographs of the time. Lestrade, also a gay activist and the founder of Têtu, talks to Dazed Digital about the 80s Gay vs. the Modern Gay, Mrs. Doubtfire and Flick’r.

Dazed Digital: What was the drive behind Magazine? What were you trying to do, and what was the state of gay media at the time?
Didier Lestrade: I was 22 years old and wanted to find my place in the Parisian scene – I had more or less failed my studies and had left my family. I don’t think I was trying to learn how to write, I didn’t know if I’d ever manage to be a journalist. The idea was to converse with the example started by Façade and other fanzines and publications of that time. Of course, we had no money, but the gay angle was unexploited: all that needed to be done was a gay magazine with an aesthetic and artistic value to it, and that’s what we tried to attain. The first years were tough, we didn’t find the perfect angle immediately, but from 1984 onwards, we could feel people knew who we were, what Magazine was trying to do. It was a publication which differences grabbed the eye of whoever walked past it in a bookshop or kiosk, there was simply no equivalent in male photography and erotic drawings.

DD: Legendary artists and photographers have contributed to Magazine, how did you select them and approach them?
Didier Lestrade: Most of the time, we’d just write to them if we had an address, or if friends had a contact, we just went for it. But most of the time, it happened in the street. Artists just walked around: in Paris in the early 80s, there was a relaxed atmosphere, especially in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was the cultural centre of Paris. Plus there wasn’t this obsession with celebrities yet. One could just walk up to someone in the street and ask for an interview. And it was even easier with photographers. We would either go and see them in Amsterdam or London, or we’d just give them a call if they were in Berlin or in the US. We’d often hear of a photographer through another one. Or an erotic artist who would say “Such or such painter is good, you should get in touch with him.” These artists had so few media in which they could publish their work that there was no real competition, they helped each other out as we were the only printed media which dared to publish their work.

DD: Within a wider media scope, where did you situate Magazine? Art, porn, eroticism?
Didier Lestrade: We were a fan magazine interested in art, porno, erotic drawings. Our culture was an Anglo-Saxon one, we liked independent gay cinema, everything around Warhol, punk and disco, rising gay writers, fashion designers (even though we were not a fashion magazine). I think that our drive occurred in the early 80s where we truly felt a liberation of gay culture. With every film, like ‘Querelle’ by Fassbinder, ‘Victor Victoria’, or even ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, there was a fashion designer, a band like Bronski Beat booming. All this combined, we felt we were on a rollercoaster going faster and faster. Gays had the opportunity of speaking out, and to do positive things. We were a positive media that looked ahead.

DD: Your fanzine is said to have been an inspiration to many magazines, such as Butt. Why is that, what did they see in your publication that inspired them?
Didier Lestrade: Actually we don’t really know if Butt was really inspired by Magazine, they never said so, we don’t know why. I know they knew Magazine because Amsterdam was our only distributor abroad and the only place where one could find copies in gay bookstores in the 90s. I think that what they found in us is the formality of the layout, the rigor that puts the spotlight on the visual innovation of the photos and erotic drawings. Magazine had a concept, that’s undeniable: an abstract cover, three parts outlined in the magazine, one for the interviews, one for the porn news, and the last, most important one, with nothing but photos. That was one conceptual trip, à la Pet Shop Boys!

DD: And what do you think of gay art and media today? More mature, more blasé, trashier?
Didier Lestrade: Today’s gay art? To be honest, I don’t know a thing about it and wouldn’t want to pretend I do. I live in the countryside and I’m more interested in political issues, committed, protesting, through the site Gay media are slightly in a follow-my-leader attitude, everyone watches each other, and no one takes the political questions that interest me very far. Yes, gays today are blasé by their immense majority. Thankfully, the visual aspect is a lot more interesting in fagzines throughout the world, it’s amazing to see these new publications come out of nowhere. But what most fascinates me are gay photos on Flick’r and Tumblr: for me, the real modernity of gay art lies in these male portraits, I find them astounding. Everyone takes pictures and draws these days, which definitely wasn’t the case 10 or 20 years ago.

DD: What was the aim of the exhibition?
Didier Lestrade: I was contacted by Guillaume Sorge, from the gallery 12Mail, thanks to Patrick Thévenin. They had seen the old photos I took in the 80s and which I put on my personal website. I still have lots and lots to add, which need to be scanned. And that turned into a Magazine exhibition because Guillaume and Laurent Fétis were interested. Honestly, I didn’t see it coming. I’ve never had a show. My aim was to show the pictures and drawings that we then published, because Magazine was the main gay media of what now referred to as ‘masculine photography” of the 80s. I think it has a historical value today, because this remains little know, and very underground. Apart from Pierre&Gilles and Erwin Olaf, very few of these photographers have become internationally famous and that’s a real shame. After all, Walter Pfeiffer is now gathering a certain recognition, which was impossible for a long time.
This work must help others!

Magazine, Un fanzine underground (1980 – 1987), April 29th to June 18th at 12Mail, 12 rue du Mail, 75002 Paris