Welcome to the first edition of ‘It’s this one thing’, a new feature on the Journal which takes you gently by the (heavily-sanitised) hand and guides you into the world of notably-niche magazines which explore ‘this one thing’—be that wine, work, or women who skateboard.
To get things off the ground, we begin with a magazine obsessed with ‘the art and culture of bathing’. That’s right, baths—your Japanese hot springs, your Scandinavian saunas, your Korean scrubs and your rub-a-dub-dubs.
This is, perhaps, an interesting choice of reading during a pandemic when—at least here in the UK – public pools and bathhouses were closed for the whole of winter and well into spring of this year. Plus, my little London flat exists (unsurprisingly) sans tub. But. Reading on and consequently imagining being enveloped in the warmth of a steaming sauna? Now, that makes for a thick slice of welcome escapism.
Created by Ekin Balcıoğlu and Steve Weiner, Hamam—subtitled ‘The Magazine of Letting Go’—is now three issues into its physical existence with a fourth on its way. When it first cruised into the magCulture shop during the balmy summer of 2020, it was intrigue at first sight.
As some of you will remember, the cover of issue one—a shimmering royal purple with rose-red, bubbled title type—features a swirling plume of turquoise steam rising from the bottom edge of the cover to the very top where it slinks off the page and journeys into the atmosphere–the paper’s lustre finish adding to its ephemeral feel.
See? Just picturing one of their covers is enough to slip you into a coma (and issue two and three are no exceptions).
And so, that was how it began. I, who up until recently had barely set foot in a bathhouse, was hooked. I took that first issue home with me and read it cover-to-cover over a weekend. Features like The Way Of The Japanese Bath and The East In The West: Victorian Turkish Baths In The British Isles had me enthusiastically re-living a seemingly long-ago trip to Japan in which I’d found myself in an onsen (Japanese hot spring) early one February morning; alone and shoulder-deep in comfortably hot, volcanic water while snow fell silently all around me:
“Oh god. I think I might love bathing.” I exclaimed to my, by now, largely uninterested partner.
The thing is, (and in fact the whole reason this very piece came into being) is that though Hamam might position itself as the publication of ‘the art and culture of bathing’—and rightly so—there’s more to it than that. Speaking during one of our Instagram Live events, Ekin explained how the tagline ‘The Magazine of Letting Go’ came out of a wider “interest in impermanence”. Though its focus appears incredibly niche to most, the ritual of bathing is merely the tip of the iceberg (around which Finnish people probably swim).
Take the current, frost-covered third issue. Loosely themed ‘Water’, it includes features like Finding Comfort in Cold Water, Grandma Divers—which looks at the renowned haenyo or free diving women of the Korean Strait (above)—to a piece on erotic, sauna-themed ceramics (below) and another on the practice of ‘sound bathing’.
Though each link back to the magazine’s overarching theme, the subject matter and especially the people at the heart of each story are unique. This is something that’s accentuated by story-specific design; each feature looks wholly different to the next.
For me, what has become clearer with each new issue is that Hamam is so appealing because, at its (steamy) core, this is a magazine about something all of us grapple with—how to live. It explores the common idea of, and desire to cleanse ourselves—physically in water, spiritually, and mentally.
It’s an example of how we keenly observe one another. How we long to understand those around us and, underneath it all, feel a need to get closer – to relate. And, most crucially of all, it tells us in fine detail what it’s like to take a shower while onboard a submerged nuclear submarine [spoiler alert: it's terrifying]. To sum up? The crux of this magazine is that it offers tangible ways in which we might genuinely be able to live better (and without a drop of CBD oil in sight).
Oh yes! Hamam is the magazine for the bathing-obsessed and, absolutely, it’s about ‘Letting Go’. But it’s also about the experience of being human which is of course inextricably tied to Ekin’s aforementioned ‘impermanence’. This is a magazine about how to move through the world with a childlike curiosity, greater empathy and—if you're willing to get a bit wet—maybe even a greater understanding of what it means to be human today.
And best of all? You don't even need a bathtub.
Editor-in-chief: Ekin Balcıoğlu
Art director: Okay Karadayilar, Onagore
Watch Instagram Live magCulture Meets Hamam