Pressing Business: BLACKFLASH MAGAZINE
Alan Bulley gets the scoop from publishers across Canada in our new series of interviews with publishers, including Maxine Proctor, BLACKFLASH Managing Editor...
BlackFlash is a non-profit charitable organization and publishing platform dedicated to contemporary visual art. Since 1983, BlackFlash has been providing invaluable opportunities for artists, writers, and arts workers. As a space for exploration and critical examination, BlackFlash aims to bring the public closer to their local and national art communities.
BlackFlash was founded by the Saskatoon artist-run centre, The Photographer’s Gallery (TPG) as a means to bring greater visibility and knowledge to the Prairie art community. BlackFlash is currently in their 39th year of publishing, making them one of Canada’s longest running magazines. BlackFlash is proudly published, designed, and disseminated in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and is an internationally recognized resource and authority on Canadian and international contemporary art.
How do you choose what projects you publish? How far in advance do you work?
Buffalo Berry Press publishes three issues of BlackFlash per year. Due to our production schedule, we commission articles 4–6 months in advance of publication.
Although I guide the magazine’s content from commission to publication, I rely heavily on our Editorial Committee to decide what we commission. The committee is composed of artists and culture workers who are versed in different aspects of Canadian contemporary art. They each bring unique networks and perspectives to the table, which ensures that we have a dynamic roster of projects in each issue.
What has been the most commercially successful issue you have published? (Why did it do well?)
Our Fall/Winter 2021 issue “Infinities” was guest-edited by Nadia Kurd, an art historian and curator based in Edmonton, Alberta. The issue focused on the impact and influence of Islamic visual culture on contemporary art and featured an incredible group of artists and writers. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the issue was the limited-edition risograph print by Afghan-Canadian artist Shaheer Zazai which was included in each issue of “Infinities.” A large part of Shaheer’s practice uses Microsoft Word to emulate the mesmerizing details and patterns of Afghan carpets. Due to the content and contributors within the issue, it was very well received by our subscribers and the general public.
What makes an effective proposal from an artist?
We primarily receive pitches from writers, not artists. A good pitch not only brings an extraordinary artist to the fore but examines how that artist’s practice explores the important ideas or urgent issues that surround us today.
We work hard to eliminate the barriers that might prevent a writer from pitching their project, such as previous publishing experience or academic background. Although working with emerging writers is more time consuming, we welcome pitches from first-time writers and folks outside the art world.
What sort of financial arrangements do you have with artists?
We pay all contributors (writers, copyeditors, designers etc.) a fee for their work that reflects industry standards. We follow the CARFAC suggested fee schedule for image reproduction and programming.
How do you market and distribute the issues you publish? Where do they go? How many copies do you print on average?
We print between 600-1000 copies per issue. BlackFlash is distributed through Magazines Canada and EBSCO but perhaps the most fruitful and meaningful mode of dissemination is our participation in special events like collaborative project launches, exhibition openings, and art book fairs. The pandemic was brutal on our distribution and capacity to engage with our community, but we are thrilled that events are starting to happen again, like the Prairie Art Book Fair in September 2022 in Winnipeg.
What is your view of the publishing market in Canada?
I think people still love books and the tactility of print publications. A beautifully made or perfectly aged book will always be an object of admiration. But the way we consume information has changed and there are myriad reasons why the print publishing market continues to decline.
For BlackFlash, I feel that my expectations for production and dissemination have shifted over the years: what success and engagement with our editorial program looks and feels like has changed. I’m now much more concerned with how we support artists and writers in our community. Providing experiences, tools, and dialogue is valuable and I use that ethos to inform our publishing program.
I also feel that there is more conversation and camaraderie within the contemporary art publishing community now. I feel a sense of unification growing—that in order to survive we must support and uphold each other. That drive for autonomy, community, and innovation gives me hope for the future of art publishing in Canada.
What one message would you give photographers who want to publish their work?
Connect with the curators and art writers in your community whose work you value—invite them for studio visits or exhibition tours.
I recognize this can be daunting or uncomfortable but it’s the best way, in my opinion, to share your practice and develop advocates in the community. This is the best way to foster quality writing about your practice, which is incredibly valuable to curators or galleries looking at your work.
What's one thing that would surprise our readers about your work behind the scenes?
I don’t think this is necessarily surprising, but I think readers and members of the art community forget how underfunded and under-resourced arts organizations are. I’m the only full-time permanent staff member at BlackFlash. We are incredibly grateful to our generous funders but we don’t have an excess of resources to commit to new projects, hire consultants, or bring on support staff. We rely on countless hours of unpaid labour from volunteers and short-term project grants. This makes our future precarious and sometimes overwhelming. I wish I could communicate to the art community just how important it is to us that they subscribe to the magazine.
Is there anything else that our readers should know about BLACKFLASH or the work you do?
Art writing and publishing is a seemingly small but incredibly important part of the contemporary art ecology. Art publications foster timely engagements with art practices and are valuable records of the conversations happening about contemporary art and the world around us—which is the foundation of art history and will inform future generations of artists.
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