A tribute to print media

by Tess Paterson

As a photography student, magazines just made sense to me. Words, beautiful imagery, stories. Vogue was the undisputed vanguard. And my mom’s collection of seventies’ Fair Ladys – filled with gorgeous stylised illustrations, fizzed in my brain. I wrote to Habitat Magazine (paper and pen) and landed my first job. The letter of appointment said ‘Photographer and general dogsbody.’ At least they were honest.     Tess Paterson

It’s a sad goodbye as many outstanding print magazines shut down in South Africa. It was an era worth celebrating

Words and photographs Tess Paterson

Like so many print journos, magazines were my happy place for over two decades. It was the only realm I wanted to work in. Titles like Femina and National Geo were always just there. Anticipated each month, devoured in an afternoon, re-read at leisure. The art of delayed gratification, before the internet taught us to want everything yesterday.

Editors were influencers long before the term was coined

Over the past few years, amid a growing choice of content platforms, print has been on the wane. Looking back, working in this medium was an extraordinary adventure – chasing the high of landing those really worthwhile stories. In the mid nineties  there was ad spend and optimism. We tracked down interesting people using trusty tools like actual conversation and landlines. Invitations to cool places and events arrived by fax. Editors were influencers long before the term was coined; the advent of email entranced us all.  The lead times were longer, yet we were always on deadline. We photographed on transparency, kept our favourite polaroids, schlepped tripods like Uzzis. It was the antithesis of office job monotony.

Press trips were a thing. New titles swooped in among the stalwarts. SA Country Life was launched, and contributing to this wonderful brand always gave me a kick: fending off giant crickets in the Namib desert with a large G&T. Trying not to think about puffadders as we plunged through waist-height grass on foot in Kruger. Island hopping in Mozambique’s sublime Quirimbas. 

Mostly the pay was spectacularly average. But the reward was work that at its best felt like a good party with friends. When working at Food & Home Entertaining, a press trip to Mexico came up. I said, ‘Gotta check my diary, get back to you.’ Not. That ebullient, creative country still pulses through my mind – Chichen Itza, the blue walls of Frida Kahlo’s home, the juicy tang of fresh pineapple in Mexico City’s Zocalo. And an incurable devotion to frozen margheritas. That same year, my colleague and friend Angela Richardson and I parasailed over Le Touessrok in Mauritius. Seriously, people. For work!

Being surrounded by creative people and beautiful things is just good for the soul

In between some hum-drum jobs and the pursuit of freelance travel, I worked as a decor editor and stylist. Being surrounded by creative people and beautiful things is just good for the soul. Styling proved to be an underrated art; bigger decor features meant weeks of sourcing. Whole centuries were spent in a hot car, packing and unpacking fragile appro’d props. En route I’d shoot the breeze with lovely shop owners, drink too much coffee, get uncharacteristically chatty. The upshot was a lifelong besottedness with Lewis & Wood, the Eames House Bird and anything Pierre Frey.

On location, decor shoots were like moving house. We laughed a lot. There was a manic rearranging of furniture. Pets were shuffled into shot, cajoled to sit on linen sofas and look appealing. Once, for a patient hour, our photographer whispered sweet nothings to a pug’s hunched, turned back. Fleetingly, when we got it right, we summonsed up a bit of print magic – beautiful products, glorious settings, stunning light. When we looked again, the pug had dozed off and was drooling on a hand-knotted silk rug.

One editor wisely advised, ‘Tone it down, it’s not the bloody Taj Mahal’

I learned some useful lessons from print media. From legendary editor Mary Jane Harris, I learned to recognise the difference between interesting trends, passing fads, and eternal classics. When I waxed too lyrical over a destination, another editor advised, ‘Tone it down, it’s not the bloody Taj Mahal.’ I discovered that the true professionals, no matter their industry, would always respond when asked for editorial comment. They instinctively understood the very real power of print. And war journalist Al J Venter, who encouraged me to fly to Mogadishu and write a story on women in the combat zone, told me this: ‘The intro is everything. You’ve got to grab them by the balls and drag them in!’ (Sorry, language).

Working for magazines took me to the pristine Okavango Delta, a battered post-Tsunami Thailand, an overcrowded Venice which, as Covid-19 has shown, deserves less cruise ships and more clean waterways. For Panorama Magazine, at the very beginning, I visited a rural community in the dry wasteland of Sekhukhuneland (now part of Limpopo). Like countless unsung women, Rose Mazibuko had initiated an upliftment programme – primary school feeding schemes, veggie farming, adult literacy. The hope was completely life-affirming. 25 years on, that hope desperately needs rekindling in South Africa.

Digital publishing is a marvelous thing. But I will always have a soft spot for print: settling in with a new mag, a bar of dark Lindt and a quiet hour is one of life’s wondrous escapes. It was a privilege to work with mad, creative originals who produced quality reads, remaining true to their brands issue after issue. To the editorial teams, photographers, PRs, designers, retailers, and everyone who shared their world with us – it’s been real. And to the readers, our lifeblood, perhaps with your support, some of these gems will continue sustainably online.

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Les Abercrombie May 2020 - 10:23 am

Thank you, Tess. It was a privilege and pleasure working with you all those years ago. We had loads of fun. Mad times and sad times but every second was worthwhile.

Post C19 Ballito awaits another visit from you!
Les A

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 11:01 am

I learned so much from you Les. Speak soon x

david murray May 2020 - 10:42 am

Brilliant article Tess! I must confess I had to look up Lewis & Wood and Pierre Frey, and now know I really need an Eames House Bird!

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 10:55 am

Thanks David, that bird is a beauty!

Renelle Rampersad May 2020 - 11:46 am

What a beautiful tribute:-) so glad we met!
Friends forever and my cats godmother ? my first published photo was for you, it was a portrait
of Mark Lanning in black and white!

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 12:56 pm

Those were brilliant times. Friends forever

Angela Richardson May 2020 - 11:49 am

Aah beautifully written and such happy memories! So glad to have met so many special people, but especially you Tess, and that our friendship grows despite the death of our beloved mags ❤️

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 12:39 pm

Ditto my friend

Claire Clarke May 2020 - 12:07 pm

Hi Tess

I sit here and respond to your email with tears rolling down my face. I just cant imagine my life without those magazines and the smell of those freshly printed pages, that I inhale so deeply. My house is probably physically sinking from all the piled up issues of beautiful pages and adventures you brought us. Thank you for always asking my opinion and interpreting it so well. Please don’t leave us without your beautiful stories!!
All my Love

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 12:14 pm

Thank you Claire. The stories will continue! X

yvonne obrien May 2020 - 12:19 pm

Hi Tess
will follow your stories and lets hope something good comes out of this. when one door closes another opens.
stay in touch.
best regards Yvonne

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 12:55 pm

Thank you Yvonne

Leigh May 2020 - 1:25 pm

Loved reading this …. brings back so many memories … it was such an exciting time to be in the magazine industry. It was a pleasure working with you Tess … and little Abi was a true rockstar poser that day! xxx Leigh

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 2:00 pm

You too Leigh. The hounds made the shot x

JANIE VAN DER SPUY May 2020 - 1:05 pm

Thanks for the lovely memories Tess, I so enjoyed reading this and me too, can not imagine a world without glossy magazines. May the last ones standing survive these trying times!

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 2:01 pm

Thank you Janie

Claire Frost May 2020 - 12:59 am

Tess, your gentle and kind spirit permeates every word. Your wonderful work will continue and it must, no matter the medium.

Janyon Boshoff May 2020 - 12:46 pm

Beautiful words and fond memories. Yourself and Ang and Food & Home gave me my start twenty four years ago. Lots of water under the bridge and we’ve lived through the biggest changes and ultimately sadly the demise of mainstream print. Thank you for all.

Jo May 2020 - 4:18 pm

What a lovely article Tess, has always been a pleasure to work with you and hope we will again in the future x

David Muirhead May 2020 - 6:28 pm

Tess Paterson you are a true inspiration.We adore your sincerity and love of life.Your essence is essential for the way forward.?

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 6:41 pm

Thank you David Muirhead X

Caroline Browne May 2020 - 9:29 pm

What a journey it’s been Tess and what an adventure! Always wonderful to read your words and your gift for conjuring up a mood…
So sad to see some of these old favourite print mags disappearing. However, with the slower pace of life imposed on us by Covid 19, I’m strangely finding myself relishing a printed magazine again – something I haven’t done in a long time. It’s not over yet! Thanks for sharing,

Tess Paterson May 2020 - 9:17 am

Thank you Caroline Xx

Graeme Borchers May 2020 - 3:31 pm

Thank you Tess for popping nostalgia’s lid wide open. Now I remember the laughs… and I mean those gut aching, cheek wrenching ones that emboss on your memory forever. The magazine industry shaped so many of us into what we are today. I count myself really lucky to have been part of it and to have worked with you. Thank you for this wonderful website too! I may just curl up and sleep amongst your words and imagery.

Debra neilson May 2020 - 10:33 am

Tess, so eloquent, how else do we know you friend. What a beautiful tribute, your writing is a beautiful gift, continue as you do to ignite people’s imaginations and giving them the privilege of visiting places they may never have the opportunity of personally visiting otherwise.

lauren royston May 2020 - 2:36 pm

What a tribute Tess. So glad you did this: for the medium, for us and for you. Your words and images carry me to places of beauty. What a ride it must have been. I”m sad though and can already feel nostalgia creeping in. Love, and hugs.

Linda Dreyer May 2020 - 4:48 pm

I loved reading this beautiful reflection on your rich and rewarding career in print media. As someone who knows very little about the workings of the media world, but who has always savoured the possibilities evoked by skilled writing, I read it with equal measures of delight and laughter, and the nostalgia for a recently bygone era. We will all miss the quiet indulgence of consuming some of these iconic print publications, and there will be many who will especially miss the tactile experience of reading your humorous, but piercingly perceptive, writing in print. You have a wonderful gift for immersing your readers in deliciously sensory experiences, whilst simultaneously inspiring them to seek out these exotic locations that they might not otherwise not have considered. I have so often felt compelled to book a trip the moment I have finished reading your travel articles. Please don’t stop writing!

Sue Adams May 2020 - 6:37 pm

Wonderful words Tess. Nothing like a magazine and a cosy couch and a cuppa tea. We’ve had a fabulous time writing for magazines and it’s a sad end to a great era. Let’s hope we can resurrect mags in a different way


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