The Village Cry
In 1976, the Swiss photographer Beat Presser launched a large-format, black and white publication called The Village Cry. Taking inspiration from Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’ concept, it would soon brim with contributions by renowned fashion photographers, actors, architects, and visual artists. For Fall/Winter 2018, Carhartt WIP pays tribute to this seminal publication, reprinting a selection of its iconic photographs, graphics, and slogans.
When media theorist Marshall McLuhan first coined the term ‘the global village’ in the mid-60s, the digitized lives we lead now still seemed like that of science fiction. Human connections were largely cultivated through letters or personal visits, and international collaboration required expensive, long-distance calls.
In 1976, when a new photography journal was conceived in the Swiss town of Basel, its founder sought to reflect McLuhan’s ideas of a globalized cultural landscape. The Village Cry brought together a host of renowned, international contributors. Its second issue featured the work of iconic fashion photographers Claude Guillaumin and Laurence Sackman; the third was co-edited by architect duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron; and the fourth chronicled Klaus Kinski’s notorious tempers in a series of portraits by Beat Presser, the moniker of the photographer who launched the publication from his meagrely furnished studio apartment.
“There was no hot water, no en-suite toilet, but a lot of space and a great energy, so the place somehow turned into that magnet for a motley crowd of people,” recalls the photographer, who was in his early twenties at the time. Together with Rolf Paltzer, who spent much of his time with the creative crowd in his apartment, Beat Presser began putting together a catalogue for his upcoming art show. The result was Palm Beach News – a large-format newsprint journal with a lo-fi Caribbean landscape shot on the cover.
A subsequent encounter with the Basel-based art dealer Carlo Lazlo would point them towards the ideas of Marshall McLuhan. “Sooner or later, mediamakers will be able to reach global audiences, even when working from relatively small towns like ours,” Beat Presser remembers him saying. While there was already a sense of the world getting smaller, he and Paltzer felt that, based in the ‘village’ of Basel, they would have to ‘cry’ out loud to be heard, giving rise to the publication’s new name.
For Beat Presser, the project was, above all, a refusal to accept the status quo of how images were presented in print media. “It really bothered me from the moment my first pictures were published,” he says. “Of course I was happy to see them in magazines, but they were either too small or placed next to some ugly ad. Most publications emphasized the word, visuals mainly existed to illustrate it. The Village Cry allowed me to create the context for my pictures and offer an appreciative platform to others.” Issue one paid tribute to the city of Paris, where Beat Presser had previously spent two years assisting a number of renowned fashion photographers, and included contributions from the photographer Peter Knapp, the then-art director of Elle. When asked in an interview in the issue if he thought the magazine would be a success, Knapp responded, “Not a chance. You make your readers work too hard.”
Whether dealing with architecture or aliens, the publication’s monothematic issues presented themselves as subjective journeys into not necessarily unchartered, but decidedly uneven terrain, asking their audience to “enter into a dialogue with the image.” The approach called to mind the films of experimental European cinema of that era, which preferred to provoke rather
than entertain its audience. Beat Presser had met many of its protagonists, including Udo Kier and Veruschka von Lehndorff, star of the film Blow-Up, while working for French director Juste Jackin in Paris. His keen interest in filmmaking inspired the entire fourth issue, which was closely followed by an issue on UFOs. “We never had a specific readership in mind, but simply delved into topics we thought were interesting,” Beat Presser says. This idiosyncratic approach eventually saw The Village Cry’s print run reaching 10,000, (at a time when French Vogue’s numbered around 20,000).
To avoid the clash of quality photographs and bland commercial content, Beat Presser and Rolf Paltzer also designed all adverts themselves. Beat Presser recounts how they once received a request from Fogal, an exclusive Swiss hosiery brand with a conservative clientele. He called upon photographer Doris Quarella, a frequent collaborator, and a week later received a picture by express mail. “I thought, ‘What has she done?’ It was Friday afternoon and on Monday we went to print. I called Fogal’s advertising manager and described it as best I could: ‘Well, there is this stocking on an amazingly long, beautiful leg, but on the upper margin of the page, there is also quite a bit of pubic hair...’ But he just said, ‘Oh, no worries, everything you’ve done so far is great. We’re looking forward to see the ad, have a lovely weekend!’ There were a lot of people who trusted in us, who took risks, because they really believed in what we did.”
There’s a lengthy list of subjects they planned to tackle, including, the Far East, Boredom, and Loch Ness. However, by issue seven, Beat Presser had been recruited as Creative Director of an advertising agency in East Asia, while Rolf Paltzer had been offered the role of photo editor at art, one of Germany’s biggest art magazines. The Village Cry was shuttered, only to briefly return in the early 80s, at the request of a major Swiss publisher. Titled Flitz Flying Magazine, and a solo effort by Beat Presser, the reissue focussed on the making of Werner Herzog’s iconic film Fitzcaraldo, which he had worked on as a set photographer and assistant cinematographer.
“The Village Cry really was a product of its time,” reflects Beat Presser. “There is a time for everything – a right time to do it.” However, he has no time for nostalgia. He is currently busy editing a book on the New German Cinema, and heading to Colombia for a series of exhibitions. Four decades on from The Village Cry, as data accelerates and social connections sprawl across the globe, he still prefers to pick up the phone for (now less expensive) long-distance calls.
The Carhartt WIP x The Village Cry capsule collection will be available in the U.S. on September 17th.
Words by Anna Sinofzik
All images taken from The Village Cry