by Chloe in February 2012
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ESsAY is a bi-annual journal created by design consultancy studioAhira. It covers culture, art, fashion, politics and design. Brilliant, I thought; apart from the edgy lower case ‘s’, this is just my kind of thing.

And ESsAY doesn’t disappoint, pulling in some impressive big name contributors. Guardian columnist Deborah Orr writes an affecting and lengthy account of her own rape, approaching the subject from the perspective of forgiveness. It happened just over 20 years ago, and her honesty and self-reflection is quite disarming.

Orr’s piece is followed by Flying Nowhere, a picture-led piece by photographer Martin Parr about a former airline engineer who bought an Airbus A-300 in Delhi and reassembled it in his garden to give Indians a chance to experience the inside of a plane and learn a bit about how aircraft operate. His photographs show groups of schoolchildren visiting, their boarding passes inspected as they board the plane.

Either of these stories would fit well in the best Sunday supplements, and there’s the rub. They’re great pieces in themselves, but it’s hard to see where they fit into a wider editorial policy that is specifically ESsAY. Worse, the rape story is followed immediately by a photograph of children visiting the plane. The tone and subject matter of the two clash, and the contrast is quite disconcerting.

That’s not to say ESsAY doesn’t have a distinctive voice. Editorial and Creative Director Balwant Ahira, in his editor’s letter, reveals the themes of the magazine and his motivations for creating it: “ESsAY is about personal journeys, about the decisions we make that shape our lives.” This is clearly a very personal project and while that doesn’t exclude the reader, it certainly establishes a gap that doesn’t close throughout the rest of the magazine.


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