I first heard of James Hyman during a long drive on a drizzly February morning whilst listening to Saturday Live on BBC Radio Four. I learnt of his ever-expanding magazine collection (20% per year) and his subsequent entry into the Guinness Book of World Records with a personal collection standing at over 75,000 individual issues. James’ love of magazines started at an early age but grew enormously when he took up a script writing job at MTV in the late eighties. Back then magazines were, as he says, “the internet of the day”. If you needed to know anything in popular culture, such as what bands were playing and where, or the latest fashion trends, you had to pick up a magazine. As the years progressed James’ collection grew. He never discarded a single issue and amassed his collection in homes where ceilings cracked under the weight; in best friends’ garages and spare rooms.
Realising the pivotal role magazines play in documenting cultural history James decided his collection needed to be properly catalogued and shown to the world. He is now embarking on the reality of digitising each page of every magazine in the archive and creating a database of magazine-based knowledge. The digitisation will make full use of content analytics by meta-tagging photos, people, articles and events to provide specific information and make links. How many magazine front covers in 1997 featured Kate Moss? The database will tell you. Did David Bowie smoke with his right or left hand? The database will tell you. The level of detail and amount of information is staggering!
Inside a solid Victorian former munitions factory in South East London I met with James and his dedicated team a few days ago to view the vast collection. As an avid magazine collector myself I came armed with a donation to add to the archive, a list of quizzical questions and my camera. James gave me a warm welcome and an in-depth tour of his archive. The collection spans all genres from popular culture to niche interests and I was invited to flick through issues of Tatler from 1901 alongside the latest NME. Meeting James in his ordered space inspired me to photograph him immersed in the archive, a place he is passionate about and eager to share with others. Conscious of space and time among the narrow aisles I created just a few key set-ups to produce these intimate portraits.
I am very grateful to James for introducing me to his fascinating archive. When you next discover a pile of old magazines please consider making a donation to The Hyman Archive – the final resting place for magazines.