Photographers in Publishing: An interview with Chris Baker
Photographers in Publishing is a series of interviews that gather insights from those who balance both making and publishing photography.
Interview by Victoria Cagol –
I talked to London photographer Chris Baker about how the new way to move is rooted in the everyday. His biannual publication weMove, recently had its first birthday and here Chris discusses the philosophy behind the publication, the state of print & what is next for weMove.
Victoria Cagol: At a time when there is much talk about print dying, with many magazines moving to online platforms, why go against the trend?
Chris Baker: We realised when we started the magazine that digital is a format that can be consumed, digested and judged in milliseconds. There is no ’skin in the game’, no personal investment in consuming it. To buy our magazine you have to spend £12. If you’ve made that decision then you’ve made a commitment to read, or at least to consume it in some kind of mindful way. The feedback we’ve had is that people read the magazine from cover to cover in one sitting. That’s the dream scenario for any magazine and if we can create something that people want to consume in that way, we’re on the right track.
It’s worth noting that while print might be dying for the mainstream, if you look at the indie racks it’s more alive than ever. There’s an audience demanding good quality art in print, and there are independent companies across all fields producing it for a love of print, rather than financial gain. The mainstream tiles have to produce content to get paid at the end of the month. I would suggest that the commercial model lends itself to safe editorial decisions, safe design and little evolution, which in turn leads to un-exciting content. The opposite is true for the indie model.
VC: Your love of print clearly comes across in weMove. Flicking through the pages, the volume and quality of the content is impressive. How many minds are behind it?
CB: There are 2 of us, plus the design company. We did originally have a third person, but geographical issues (two of us are UK based and the third US based) were difficult. It was too hard to engage in regular communication and in all honesty, it works much better with just the 2 of us. My partner in the magazine, James, and I work and travel very well together and we’re keen on the idea of letting people do what they do best. This allows each of us to work freely. It also helps that we have similar interests. Consequently our process flows extremely well.
VC: There is a clear interest in the human element of the stories you publish. What inspires you in your life and work?
CB: Broadly speaking I have 3 main sources of inspiration; people, learning and the land. I photograph people because I’m interested in their stories and I want to learn from them. I photograph landscapes because I need stillness and peace in my life in order to reflect. Within the people category, I also photograph a lot of movement and sports. That is because it’s true to who I am. All of my earliest memories are of me being active in some way – climbing trees, riding bikes, playing football, doing martial arts, running.
A short while ago I realised all of my personal projects were biographical in some form. They were a representation of my past, what I was interested in and where I wanted to be. The magazine to me is also biographical. I want to learn and be the best person I can be. The magazine allows us to make contact and spend time with people who have wisdom that we want to learn from; we then share that information in the form of the magazine, and now in podcasts and films too. This keeps me travelling and visiting new lands.
VC: How did this personal interest in movement grow to inform the philosophy of the mag?
CB: My interest in physical movement has been there since I can remember, inspired by my parents. My father was in the military for 40 years, both my parents ran marathons and generally never sat still. Monkey Say, Monkey do! Later in life, movement took on a wider perspective for me to include ideas, thoughts, mental states, emotional states, travel. Movement really is everything. The common anecdote we hear is, the first thing we do in life is move our lungs and the last thing we do in life is our lungs stop moving. From that perspective, movement frames everything, and is everything. My perspective has evolved to the concept that we need to be flowing and moving through life. When we’re not, we become static and caught in a repetitive pattern, that’s when our problems occur. We all become stuck at numerous times in life and one of the ways to become unstuck is to look for inspiration – often outside of what we know. That’s the core philosophy of weMove.
VC: What was the catalyst to take this personal interest in people and movement, and begin collecting their stories in a publication?
CB: The magazine is in constant evolution. It started because James decided that he wanted to create a magazine. He had one interview in place in San Francisco and I happened to be in California at the time of it. I offered to take the portraits to accompany the piece. That one feature turned into a 3 week road trip around the state and then 10 days in Tokyo. By the end of those trips we’d created half of issue 1 and had spent countless hours discussing ideas, people we wanted to speak to and had been put in touch with other people by those we’d already spoken to. We didn’t know how big the magazine was going to be (it’s 164 pages), just that all the stories we were hearing were inspiring to us and we wanted to be able to in turn share the stories.
VC: You are now working on issue 3, how has your process developed since that first issue, and what taught you so far?
CB: On a micro level, the process has taught us the importance of remaining open. We start each issue with a theme in mind (the first issue was about ‘Play’, the second, ‘Evolution’ and the new issue will be focused on ‘Flow’) and with ideas on who and what we want to feature and really we let it happen naturally from there. We talk to people about what we’re doing, they introduce us to other people. We fall down rabbit holes on subjects which open up other subjects. We don’t fixate on what questions we want answered or what information we want to know from the individuals featured, but rather create an open environment and conversation to allow them to share with us what they want to share. And we trust that process. It’s incredible what people we have met as a result of it.
The lessons are never ending. There are constantly new things to be learnt from each person we spend time with, which result in a constant refining of our own practices.
VC: London, as with many other urban areas, has seen a strong increase in the attention given to keeping active and healthy living in the last years, with countless ‘boutique gyms’, studios, bouldering gyms and cold pressed juice bars appearing all over town. What do you think of this new phase? Is this a shift in mentality or another trend driven by brands and social media?
CB: It’s fantastic, more gyms and more healthy places to eat are a result of demand. More people are into taking care of themselves, and that’s where it starts. It really can’t be overemphasised how it starts with self-care. We get one body, one mind. You have to look after yourself to get the best out of yourself. City living can be amazing, but it’s also quite heavy living. Lots of stress, lots of distractions, not a lot of self-care. It’s also important to emphasise though, that you really only need yourself in order to do it. We live in a capitalist society and the purpose of that ideology is to make money, so at the slightest hint of a trend, or a difference in living, of course there are going to be brands and businesses exploiting it. But: breathing properly, spending time in nature, reducing your stress, allowing yourself to rest, hydrating, meditating, moving, caring for your body – these are all free.
VC: What is your goal for WeMove in the long term?
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