magCulture Live, London 2021—the morning
The London edition of magCulture Live took place in real life again last week, after 18 months of online events. Here we look back at the first half of the day.
The postponement of our 2020 conference was by no means the worst result of the pandemic, but it still seemed unthinkable. There was no way we could miss a 2021 edition, so we pressed launch in late summer and when the day arrived it was a relief to slip back into the familiar Conway Hall home and its wood panelled walls.
After a year of new indie launches and significant indie anniversaries, we set out to celebrate the independent magazine and its many voices; from major new launches like Inque and Kindling, via established favourites like MacGuffin and Modern Matter, to the original indie i-D, and bold newbies like Louche, Paperboy and Chutney.
This is what we learned from the morning session; next week we’ll reflect on the afternoon session.
Christoph Amend, editorial director of the Germany weekly ZEITmagazin opened the day discussing the growing links between mainstream and independent magazines with host Jeremy Leslie. He described how the continued success of his weekly had led to a string of spin-offs: local editions in Hamburg and Switzerland, a men’s title, and most recently a new food magazine, before explaining his love of indies.
‘The biggest inspirations in the magazine world in recent years have come from the independent scene,’ he explained, describing the launch of the Athens edition of Flaneur, set in the street the issue was based on, when the writers and collaborators mingled with the locals. ‘It was a very personal and very passionate moment, seeing the team talking to the people they were covering. I realised this is the way we have to go, even for a big, mainstream title like ZEITmagazin. Back at my hotel later, I thought more about this: we really have to learn from independent magazines.’
Editor Dan Crowe is a familiar figure in indie publishing, having struck up a successful long-term collaboration with art director Matt Willey on Zembla in the nineties. They later launched Port together ten years ago (happy birthday!), and Dan told the story of that title before presenting their latest and much-anticipated new launch Inque (above).
Even as they established their credentials with Port, the commercial realities meant some compromises were necessary; in short, with the collapse in display advertising, Dan found that brands and content were becoming intractably linked.
He spoke frankly about the success of the resulting stories and the relief at Port turning into a business, while admitting, ‘A bit of me wondered what would happen if there weren’t any constraints. If something is working, it gets bigger, it potentially loses its focus as other agendas appear.’
The two began to wonder what would happen if you didn’t have such constraints, if they had the money to pay writers and photographers to do just what they wanted. A truly self-contained magazine project.
Raising significant funds on Kickstarter, they established a financial base and clear strategy for thae new project. Inque will appear one issue a year for ten years, then cease in 2030. ‘I loved the idea of there being a build up of content over ten issues that might turn into a novel or a photographic exhibition.’
‘It’s thrilling not having to think about where you have to put the masthead, or the barcode. We had none of these constraints.’
Not that Dan was totally devoid of constraint. He shared some advice from legendary ex-New York magazine editor-in-chief Adam Moss, ‘When I showed him the layouts, Adam asked, “What features do you love the most?” I said I really loved this one piece (above), a long, dense essay. Quite daunting. Adam said, “Right, put that story first.”
‘That was incredible to me. But why not open the issue with a 6,000 word essay?’
One immediate highlight from issue one of Inque are these paintings of Mexican Lucha Libre wrestlers by Seymour Chwast.
The magazine looked beautiful on screen, and launches next week, when we’ll get a chance to see the actual thing. Look out for our review!
We first heard from creative director Sachini Imbuldeniya during one of last year’s online editions of magCulture Live, shortly after she’d launched illustration/photography agency Studio PI. We welcomed her back to update us on its progress, but also asked her to share more about the origins of the agency.
Studio PI exists to promote creative work from people so often overlooked by publishers and studios: people of colour, women, the less abled and those from outside traditional art education. It was borne of personal experience; Sach has experienced extreme racism in her career—the image above illustrated one particularly sorry example when a colleague was looking for a hand to use in a shot and liked hers, but said he would have to Photoshop it paler.
Sach was preaching to a room full of the converted (she acknowledged the indies are more progressive than the mainstream), but hearing her stories of life as a young designer was a powerful statement of what needs to change.
It’s easy to complain about the way things are, but channeling her experience into the launch of an agency to promote fundamental change is an inspirational example of making good from bad. And her story is all the stronger for the quality of the work coming from her artists. Check out Studio PI here.
After a break, Harriet Fitch Little presented another new magazine developed from an existing title. Opening with an overview of indie stalwart Kinfolk, which she edits, she described how it had developed since its early days, when it was so easily parodied for its Instagram-ready aesthetic.
‘It was ironic that a magazine championing an offline vision of what it was to live well, became synonymous with a certain lifestyle aesthetic on Instagram.’
While Port and its new sibling Inque share obvious traits, Kinfolk and Kindling are less immediately related. Harriet described how the two have both similarities and differences, and how new launch Kindling has a clear strategy to appeal to both Kinfolk readers and those without allegiance to that title.
She clearly outlined the difference between her parenting mag and the traditional forms of the genre; Kindling is aimed at anyone interested in/helping with young children (ie not just mums in a nuclear family context); it wants to help people feel good about their relationship with kids, avoiding the aspirational language of traditional publishing; and lastly leaving vital advice to Google—‘We don’t want to add to the noise and anxiety around that’.
A feature of recent magCulture Lives has been our quick fire series of five speakers, designed to let relatively new publishers introduce their magazines in a fast paced energy-boosting series of 10minute talks. This year’s five did not disappoint, offering variety of experience, ambition and subject.
David McKendrick is an experienced magazine art director, for whom the recently launched Paperboy is a first move into self-publishing. Beautifully designed and produced, it reflects its creator: witty, intelligent and with a strong sense of purpose.
Paperboy appears light and easy, yet is a very nuanced mix of work by big name writers and photographers working alongside school kids and students. It aims to celebrate happiness—it describes itself an an antidote to bad news—and I defy anyone not to enjoy it.
Next we heard from Rhona Ezuma, founder of Thiiird Journal, who opened by explaining the origins of her magazine’s name in Third Space Theory. Another experienced contributor to magazines, Rhona launched Thiiird to amplify under-represented voices in the beauty and fashion worlds.
Like Sachini Imbuldeniya earlier in the day, Rhona is using her talent to promote change, a positive direction in its own right but also emblematic of how so many new indies use print to express better versions of our world.
Design mag Dirty Furniture recently published their fifth issue after a break of three years. Supposedly annual, co-editor Anna Bates explained how two babies, her colleague Elizabeth Glickfield’s move to Australia and a pandemic meant the issue ‘took a little bit longer.’The pandemic also saw the team shift from print to online events and other ideas, ‘In many ways Dirty Furniture is as much an approach as it is a magazine,’ she explained.
Thankfully though, the pair returned to print and Anna presented some of the content of the latest issue, themed Phone, skilfully interlinking the issue itself and more general ideas about her magazine, such as its redesign (above, right).
‘We now have a stronger sense of who we are. Visually, we feel we’re part Instagram, part Newsweek and part Elle Deco. We aim to be kept in your bag, not on your coffee table.’
Osman Bari presented his risograph mag Chutney next. ‘I was in my third year at architecture school and I needed an out,’ he explained. He was also disillusioned by the Eurocentric nature of the media surrounding him in Canada.
The name Chutney comes from an Urdu quote much used by his mother, Don’t make chutney with my brain.
‘Just the fact that something as simple as chutney could warrant its own idiom is a testament to its versatility and influence on cultural identity,’ Osman explained.
This sums up his magazine’s scope and character, taking on serious matters with a bright, witty tone. The issue is split into three sections, each named after the stages of chutney production, Chop, Mix and Preserve (above).
The last of our quick fire five was the editor of Louche, a London-born magazine celebrating drag culture.
We first met them at one of our Flatplan masterclasses, so it’s been exciting watching the mag come to life. Appearing as their drag king persona Georgeous Michael, we heard about the launch strategy; a print flyer (‘I really recommend having something tangible to get people excited about your mag’), followed by social media and then the magazine itself.
Drag King Orlando reads ‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf, from issue one of Louche
Introduced as a flagship shoot from issue one, a series of portraits of drag performers taken in archive and library spaces, ‘with the idea to reinsert ourselves into these spaces’ showed the ambition to move beyond the surface representation of the form (above).
Feedback from the day indicated this section was a highlight for many; the passion of the five publishers shone through, with each telling their distinct story and together adding up to a powerful vindication of the power of print.
Ticketholders can watch back the entire day on video— you should have received a Vimeo password by email this week.Read our report from the afternoon session.