Sophie Willison, Terra Firma
Fine art photographer Sophie Willison is one of those people that makes things happen; as well as producing her own work, she runs a series of photography and design workshops and has just published the eighth issue of her magazine Terra Firma.
Each issue of the magazine takes on a different theme—this time Anxiety—and presents images and personal experiences by a series of contributors. Here she shares her week and the origins of her magazine.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
I am preparing for my residency in Budapest which begins next week. It’s the first time I have travelled solo and my first ever residency, so I am mixed with a feeling of excitement and anticipation! I’ve started to pack my suitcase, deciding what books, what art materials and how many swimming costumes to take! Shortly I’ll be heading to a local cafe in East London to go through some emails and then I am going to start posting out copies of the latest issue of terra firma!
Where are you today?
This morning I am at home in my humble flat share in Stoke Newington, after a wild wedding weekend in Newcastle.
What can you see from your desk/ through the window?
I can see my wonderful collection of books and a few little pieces of art decorating my walls. I am also blessed with a very leafy window view of the front garden and a park!
Which magazine do you first remember?
Auto-Trader! Every time I went to the local super-market as a child I remember picking up the car sales magazine. I really enjoyed the way the images were assorted, a mixture of many images alongside a ton of information I appreciated, but didn’t quite understand. I started to collect them and really enjoyed this feeling of owning this small little free thing. I didn’t quite understand why I liked them so much and now looking back, I still find them visually really stimulating.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
Boys! Boys! Boys! This year for me has been so much about coming into my queerness and celebrating that more than ever, which I got to do massively with my Solo show back in March at the Photobook Cafe and at the Paris Ass Book fair back in June. The next issue of terra firma I want to be REALLY GAY and I also want to put on a REALLY GAY book fair in London next year with some pals. So watch this space…! (Eyes emoji)
Describe Terra Firma in three words.
Thematic. Interrogative. Collaborative.
You work with an open submissions process. Do you accept everything submitted?
It’s always a really interesting process collecting content for the magazine, the main port of call is through the open submissions process, but we also like to collaborate with artists who we have worked with before. I am always so open to new ideas and connections and there’s never any set or rigid way of collecting / making material for the issue. I am always incredibly inspired to see how people respond to the theme of each issue and with this issue in particular—the Anxiety issue—it has been so moving and inspiring to see work created in response to that topic.
No we don’t accept everything submitted, I would say it’s about 35% of what we receive goes in the final magazine. It’s always constantly evolving as I am putting it together and you can never know for sure what will definitely be included right up to the final stage. This issue was the hardest one to date to put together, as I really wanted to include everyone’s work in some way, but it just wasn’t possible.
The magazine regularly changes size and format, this one is the biggest yet with over 200 pages. How do you decide on this?
The core reason started with the desire to stand out amongst other magazines, who often stick to specific parameters when it comes to the size, format and paper stock of each issue. This certainly isn’t the case so much now as it was nine years ago when I started terra firma.
terra firma doesn’t exist as one fixed entity, it is always evolving and expanding in some way and I think this is very much expressed in the final physical form of each issue. In a way the last issue whose theme was terra firma itself, felt like a quiet issue, as it was reflective, looking back on the history of the magazine, whilst also looking to the future and connecting with others who have a relationship with the words terra firma. Whereas this issues feels much louder and needed to take up more space.
This is the first time terra firma has had a thick glossy cover and with the title of the magazine so large and bold on the front!
The new issue is about Anxiety—what did you learn from the submitted work?
I learnt that so much amazing work can be made from people’s experiences of living with anxiety. I knew it was important to make a space for this topic, but it really hit home at the launch party last week at the ICA, with so many people genuinely thanking me for focusing on this topic.
Having the opportunity to dedicate the last 16 months to this topic has allowed me to create so much space for exploring my own anxiety, as well as creating a platform for friends and family around me. The opening work featured in the issue was a piece made collaboratively with Lina Ivanova (from Revolv Collective). We spent an entire day in the darkroom collectively exploring our anxiety!
Having this time and space carved out, dedicated to discussion, thought, reflection and creativity was really powerful and I am so proud of the work we made together.
There’s a beautifully illustrated double page spread at the end of the issue by my friend Caitlin Hespe. Which demonstrates a very functional thing you can do if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It was a technique my therapist taught me, that I use frequently to level my heart rate and as a starting point to reconnect my mind with my body. To pair this with breathing slowly and deeply, can really help in certain situations.
What advice can you offer a wannabe publisher?
The best thing is all of the amazing connections you make with artists around the world. I’ve formed such strong friendships with so many people who’s work I’ve published and that means so much to me!
Also it’s always a really great excuse to delve deeply into a subject you’re interested in, it’s almost like being in charge of a big group project that you guide into existence. I guess I would say if you want to do it, do it. Pave your own way, don’t look at what others are doing as an example of the direction to go in. But do look at what others are doing so that you can see where the spaces are to speak about things that are not spoken about enough.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
I think I have to say the weather paired with coffees with friends. I am also keen to find some time amongst the chaos of freelance life to do some reading at the Lido.