August 12, 2013
By Jim Colton
It’s been said that photographs speak volumes…and they do so without uttering a single word. Like math and music, photography is truly a universal language. It is understood and appreciated by all who view it, regardless of what continent you’re on. In the landlocked Central European country of Slovakia, the news magazine .týždeňis making its photographic voice heard loud and clear.
Half the size of Indiana, Slovakia’s population is a whopping 5.4 million people. Reaching out to that audience as well as Slovaks abroad since 2004, .týždeň’s impact on visuals has not gone unnoticed here in the US where it has been recognized by some of the largest photography contests. When the awards were announced, many photojournalists (including yours truly) were asking the question, “What’s .týždeň?”
In addition to publishing some remarkable imagery from around the world, .týždeň puts an international spin on US stories and displays, quite handsomely, many American photographers’ work throughout its pages. The driving force behind that visual display is its Creative Director Róbert Csere who was named Magazine Picture Editor of the Year three times by the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism contest as well as receiving honors from POYi.
Róbert Csere was born to Hungarian parents in Czechoslovakia in 1970. He studied at the Slovak military gymnasium and Czech military academy and has worked as a typographer, graphic editor and designer, and art director before landing the position of Creative Director at .týždeň.
According to Csere, “The publishing of a serious print magazine in Slovakia is on the edge between a miracle and madness!” Join us as we have a conversation with the dynamic, spirited and often humorous Róbert Csere.
Jim Colton: How did you first get started in the photography business? How long have you been with .týždeň and were you with any other publications before?
Róbert Csere: It’s difficult to say when I got started in this line of work. One thing for certain is that I started to work in the printing industry as a typographer at the beginning of 1990s, later I was working for a daily newspaper and then for a weekly magazine as a graphic editor and designer. By 2000 I was the art director for a multinational advertising agency. All these positions were connected with graphic design and creative advertisement rather than with photography, although that has always been a part of my work. I have been involved with the magazine .týždeň since it started in 2004 and during that time I really began to be fully engaged with photography.
JC: For our readers who are not familiar with your magazine, can you tell us a little about it? How long has the magazine been in business? How often is it published? Do you have staff photographers and photo editors?
RC: As I mentioned, the social-political magazine .týždeň started nine years ago. The Slovak word týždeň means “week” in English and so of course it is a weekly. It has a small editorial staff, two to three photographers, two picture editors, two graphic designers, and me, the creative director. The creative director combines the role of art director, director of photography, chief picture editor, and advertising creative team leader. Each week we sell fifteen thousand copies of our magazine, which is comparable to sales of similar print media in our market, as our country has sixty times less inhabitants as yours, so sales are proportionately lower.
JC: .týždeň has the look and feel of Time and Newsweek magazines except there seems to be a greater emphasis on photographic display. Was the magazine modeled after either one of those publications?
RC: As the creator of the visual concept and coauthor of graphic design of .týždeň I can answer this question quite well. I can remember that I liked three magazines in the world: Life, Time and Newsweek. So if you feel the soul of those magazines is inside .týždeň, then that´s great — it had to be like this and I did a good job.
JC: I was once the Director of Photography at Newsweek and I found myself struggling many times to get the magazine to commit to more pages and better display for the photography. Do you have similar struggles there? Or do you feel there is a true appreciation of the visuals from the word-side editors?
RC: This is the same all over the world: most word-side editors are not willing to understand that pictures, especially high-quality ones, have to appear not only on the television screen or in family albums, but also elsewhere. Thanks to our editor-in-chief the situation in our magazine is by far better than the average in Slovak print media, which can be best characterized by a naïve imagination: if anybody buys an expensive camera, then he immediately becomes a great photographer. Sure, I will buy a high-quality pen and I will become a famous writer!
JC: We have seen dramatic changes in the publishing business in US; Newsweek magazine is now available only on-line, many newspapers are eliminating their entire photography departments. Are you experiencing similar problems in the European market? Is circulation and advertising still strong? Is there still a healthy appetite for "news" as opposed to "entertainment?"
RC: Because of the variety of languages in Europe the European market is cut into pieces, so we hardly can speak of a single market here. Markets as big, for example, as the German-speaking ones have particular problems: there are respected daily newspapers and various magazines that are folding despite being meant for tens of millions of people. In small Slovakia, with five-million inhabitants, the publishing of a serious print magazine is on the edge between a miracle and madness. Just try to imagine what conditions would be like in Wisconsin if the inhabitants of other American states were not able to understand the language of people living in that state.
As to the lowering of the number of professional visual journalists, that is not the case with Slovak media. It cannot happen here because the number within the editorial staffs was always low…covering just the essential services. The circulation numbers for serious newspapers and magazines, as well as the income from advertising, are decreasing throughout Europe, the same way as in Slovakia. This decrease is happening at the same pace as the passion and curiosity for cheap entertainment is increasing.
JC: Digital photography has changed not only how we produce content but also how we present content. How important is .týždeň's on-line presence? Is there a lot of attention being paid to the web site in addition to the magazine? Is .týždeň available in alternate means such as the iPad or smart phone apps?
RC: In our humble conditions we mainly try to cultivate video journalism, the visual interpretation on our website. Naturally we charge for part of our website videos and also for articles from the printed issues. We are present on the iPad, where, for example, we have started sound installed front-pages and photo sections.
JC: .týždeň has been recognized by several photography contests here in the US for "Best Use of Photography." Can you give us a recent example of a story that you were particularly proud of the photography display?
RC: I feel honored to be the holder of three awards of the Magazine Picture Editor of the Year in the NPPA's competition. But I am happy about every meaningful work that gets an award or not. I am also glad that this year we started a new regular photo section on 10 to 12 pages in the printed issues of our magazine, where we show our readers that, from time to time, photographs can take precedence over text and speak freely with its own language.
JC: Are you optimistic about where the industry is heading? Do you have any advice you would like to give to young photojournalists who are contemplating a career in our business? Do you have any last thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?
RC: The picture is going to be here forever, be it in the form of cave painting, church fresco, journalistic photography, or three-dimensional hologram. In spite of the present crisis and transformations it will survive. Let me tell you one good argument why it is not desirable to undervalue and damn the visual language. Do you know how much I hammered away at these questions? I had to think about them in Hungarian (I am Hungarian) to put them down in Slovak (I live and work with Slovaks) and in the end I had to let them be translated into English (it is the language of your nation). This is what my compatriot Robert Capa was probably aware of and maybe that is why he began to use the universal language, the visual one, in order to be understood anywhere!