8th ESPRit Conference 2019, Athens, Greece
Visuality and Materiality of Contemporary Independent Magazines
While the turn to digital media challenges the mainstream lifestyle press and forces publishers to turn their products into transmedial, branded platforms often side-lining print, digitalisation at the same time facilitated the rise of independent magazines. Now, widely available tools like crowdfunding, desktop publishing and design software, and online distribution and communication channels have turned magazine publishing into a creative project that may be realised on a smaller and more immediate scale. Since at least a decade, independent magazines have increasingly gained visibility in the media and at newsstands, creating their own transnational audiences and communities of readers by targeting specific subcultural niches, urban styles and tribes through their reliance on print and its material, aesthetic, and affective qualities.
Defining themselves against a mass-market glossy aesthetic, independent magazines still self-consciously engage with mainstream aesthetic conventions, which they adopt, parody, transform and innovate, break apart and re-assemble. Indies follow different strategies to set themselves off from both the mainstream press and digital media by either capitalising on their ‘printy-ness,’ i.e., the media-specific visuality and hapticity of the printed page, or experimenting with hybrid forms that dissolve the boundaries of the page and genre. Reading indies as part of the contemporary periodical landscape brings into view a different and often disruptive aesthetics that puts to the test our preconceptions and methods when approaching magazines.
On this panel, we propose to discuss three transnational independent magazines which variously engage with the perceived opposition between independent and mainstream sensibilities as well as print and digital. Kinfolk successfully cultivates its globally recognisable minimalist visual style and aims to monetise its brand beyond the printed magazine. Sabat and Flaneur, on the other hand, experiment with the magazine and its material body (Sabat) and the magazine’s fusion with visual fragments (Flaneur), reflecting on both the aesthetics and conjured demise of print.
Oliver Scheiding (University of Mainz): “A Photoshopped World: Kinfolk and the Politics of the Page”
Reading a lifestyle magazine is a way to learn about a specific way of life and participate in it at the same time. Unlike reading a newspaper, reading a lifestyle magazine is more an aesthetic than functional choice, a way of pursuing immediate interests like art, fashion, food, and good manners. Over the past years, Kinfolk’s minimalist aesthetics has created a visual voice for a global slow lifestyle audience. Published as a quarterly by Ouur, Kinfolk includes print and digital media, translated international book editions, clothing lines, and community spaces to extend its “ethos of putting creative collaboration at the heart of contemporary life” (Kinfolk, vol. 28, 2018, 193). Although Kinfolk has become a publishing phenomenon with many imitators, lifestyle magazines are frequently treated as light fare. Pioneering this particular genre of lifestyle magazine, Kinfolk fulfills a deeper purpose of helping readers define themselves. The magazine helps curate and perform lives and strives for authenticity, attraction, and positive valuation to generate short-term affective experiences and long-term cultural value. This paper discusses Kinfolk’s aesthetics as an architecture of relations assembling visual and textual page arrangement that are recurrently meant to be looked at more than read. While current studies associate Kinfolk’s slow lifestyle with Instagram’s blend of people and photography, my paper discusses how editors, designers, and art directors have extended the visual personality of the magazine. In doing so, it will explore the magazine’s multimodal performances of the human body, establishing Kinfolk as the template for the millennial set and the culture of neoliberalism.
Sabina Fazli (University of Göttingen): “‘Sabat must die’: Materiality and the Magazine Object”
According to Elisabeth Krohn, editor and founder of Sabat, the magazine is a ‘lifestyle magazine’ centred on the exploration of ‘dark femininity’ and was inspired by the teenage witches of 90s TV shows, the ‘witchesofinstagram’ hashtag and online community, and feminist reclamations of the witch as an empowering figure. Sabat Magazine ran for four themed issues, starting in 2016 with The Maiden, followed by The Mother, The Crone, and The Elements. The first three issues of Sabat focus on the three faces of the neo-pagan triple Goddess; as biographical stages, the periodical publication spreads them over time in a biannual rhythm, while the last issue, The Elements, marks both the endpoint of the series and the explosion of the magazine form into a compilation of loosely bound pages of varying formats. However, visually, Sabat does not follow conventional new age aesthetics and instead creates a unique atmospheric space of sophisticated dark monochromatic colour schemes in its photography and design. The magazine highlights its three-dimensionality as an artefact that the reader has to hold, handle, and touch while reading: Sabat foregrounds its status as a print object by incorporating features that only become visible when the magazine is angled or held in a certain way or otherwise manipulated in a mode of reception that redirects attention from the level of text to the materiality and hapticity of the object. My paper will demonstrate how the magazine involves readers in explorative games that translate the arcane and occult associated with witchcraft into hidden affordances of the print artefact.
Natasha Anderson (University of Mainz): “Strolling the Streets to Discover the Cities: Cosmopolitan Collage in The Flaneur”
The independent travel magazine The Flaneur: Fragments of a Street communicates an amalgamation of vivacity and leisureliness via its cosmopolitan theme and vibrant visuals. Starting with a portrait of the Kantstrasse in Berlin in 2013 and continuing with six subsequent issues, the German publishing team has examined a single street in a different city for every edition, thereby meshing global diversity with a focus on specific locations. The biannual periodical published in English deliberately evokes the image of the nineteenth-century flâneur by presenting a collage of impressions through the eyes of a pedestrian, who discovers little-known wonders of the urban landscape hidden in plain sight. By traveling to such varied locations as Athens, Montreal, Moscow, Rome, and São Paulo, the editors balance an international reach with an interpersonal approach. The magazine seeks to recreate the experience of an unhurried stroll and to evoke an atmosphere of intimacy via drawings, interviews, and comics telling the surprising stories of people who call the street in question their home. The distinctive, urban atmosphere comes to life via bold background colors, large pictures covering the glossy pages, as well as historical photographs juxtaposed against modern-day images of the locality. Although the magazine offers a relaxed counterweight to the rapidity of modern life, online supplements provide an additional glimpse of the vitality of city life through blog posts, videos, music, and poetry. Just as a collection of cobblestones can together form a street, so does the combination of diverse visual fragments constitute the unique appeal of The Flaneur.
Sabina Fazli is a postdoctoral researcher at the department of English Literature and Culture at Göttingen University and affiliated with the project “Transnational Periodical Cultures” at Mainz University. Her current research focuses on contemporary anglophone lifestyle magazines through the lens of sociological theories of human categorisation. She completed her PhD thesis at Göttingen University on Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins and the role of keepsakes in the plots of his sensation novels.
Natasha Audrey Anderson will be a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Fall 2019. She wrote a M.A. thesis on “Nineteenth-Century German Migrant Letters and Periodical Articles: A Transnational Analysis”. She earned her B.A. in English and History at the University of Stuttgart and spent a year abroad on scholarship at Marymount University in Virginia, U.S.A. She is currently working as a research assistant at the Obama Institute for Transnational Studies and representing the University of Mainz at the Institute for World Literature at Harvard University in July 2019. Her research interests include foreign correspondence articles, migration networks, transatlantic literature, and nineteenth-century transnational periodicals.
Oliver Scheiding is Professor of North American Literature and Culture at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. His research focuses on periodical studies, short fiction studies, print culture and material culture studies. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief of Amerikastudien / American Studies, the quarterly of the German Association of American Studies. He has conducted numerous research projects in the field of transnational magazine cultures and religious periodicals, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).