Photographers in Publishing: An Interview with Tom Price
Photographers in Publishing is a series of interviews that gather insights from those who balance both making and publishing photography.
Interview By Scarlett O’Flaherty
Continuing with our series, I talk with Tom Price about starting a magazine, the collaborative design process and the future of independent publishing. Run for Your Life tells the stories of eleven inspirational runners, and is a magazine both aimed at both those who run, and those who enjoy a great story.
Scarlett O’Flaherty: I’d like to begin by saying what a lovely story it is that inspired you to initiate Run For Your Life, I want to meet Ken already. Can you talk a little about his story and how it came to inspire the mag?
Tom Price: You’d love Ken! He’s one of those characters that has somehow weathered the high winds of postmodernity and kept his classic charm and genteel charisma intact. He’s an absolute gent, who just happens to love running marathons in his seventies. The idea began when Luke (the editor) was working in Sweden, in a job he didn’t like, and burnt off a lot of the emotional frustration by running around the beautiful forests and lakes that were on his doorstep. It struck him then that this really life-giving thing that he was doing was also something he shared in common with others he knew or had heard of. This was maybe 3 years ago now, and he just began to explore what running meant to those people, how they used it to process difficult things they were facing, or ground them in something difficult but rewarding, or simply challenge themselves and have fun. There were loads of stories, quite different, but this thread of ‘running is important to me’ was in them all, so we explored that. And then at some point decided it should be made into something tangible for others to enjoy.
SO: Other than the stories of everyday runners, where do you take inspiration from? Are there any magazines out there that you particularly admire?
TP: In terms of this project, The Great Discontent was a major inspiration. Long-form interviews, where the voice of the subject really gets a chance to breathe, paired with beautiful portrait photography laid out in a way that lets it shine – we’re big fans.
SO: What are your thoughts on the the rise in independent and self-publishing? Where do you think the publishing industry will be in a few years time?
TP: We’d got a bit burnt out with the pace of reading and looking at things online. In the same way that running was a discipline that calmed our frenzied minds and soothed our anxieties a little, making something physical and beautiful that people could enjoy slowly, away from screens, was key for us. Essentially, we did it because we wanted to.
I’m hesitant to talk more generally, but I think it’s true that there are now a lot more photographers looking for publishers, and fewer publishers with decent budget. The smaller magazines can offer a niche audience and nice paper, but if you’ve got a good idea and it’s not getting picked up elsewhere, I don’t think there’s a massive difference in publishing with a small indie publication and just doing it yourself. Obviously it’s more work, but you get to make it your way. Which is nice.
I have no idea where publishing will be in a few years if I’m honest. There seem to be a lot of brands and agencies creating magazines now as a vehicle for promoting their own thing. Content advertising is on the rise, and the lines between articles and ‘paid features’ are getting progressively more blurred. But I guess it’s the same with online platforms like Instagram and Twitter who are struggling to monetise their products and turn them into sustainable businesses. People become very suspicious when they feel like they’re being marketed at, but I imagine there will still be advertisers trying to get people to look at and buy things and people stubbornly finding a way to express themselves their own way, even if only a small group of people get to see it. Maybe the print resurgence is only a little nostalgic blip, but I hope not.
SO: The Kickstarter campaign, with its well designed mock ups, demonstrated that the magazine is worthy of becoming printed matter. Tell us about the process of visualising the concept of the magazine in the images you take.
TP: The great thing about this project was that everyone on the team had the creative freedom to make their own decisions. Regarding the photography, I decided early on that I didn’t want the magazine to look anything like a normal running magazine. This was largely because the stories we were telling weren’t about fitness, or herculean feats of human strength – the whole point of the magazine was to move away from this idea that running is best left to the professionals, and explore how it worked for everyday people. For me, this meant moving away from the usual sports tropes of people ‘in action’, ready to spring into a toned, sweatless world record from a carefully art-directed starting line. Instead I wanted to make images that were calmer, and focused purely on the person, in their normal clothes and in places that made sense to their routines and story.
I also wanted the images to show something of the material culture. Obviously, when you’re taking pictures of running kit, you run the risk of it looking like product placement. But the clothes we wear and the uniforms we put on to mark exercise as a different sort of time (and to stop chafing, of course) are interesting to me, so I wanted to show them.
SO: It’s said that you’d like “these eleven stories to be something that people spend time with away from a screen.” How important do you think it is for there to be magazines in print? How often do you intend on launching an issue of Run For Your Life?
TP: Principally, for me, the unbounded nature of the internet, allowing viewers to disrupt their own reading experience by making a potentially unending journey – sometimes mid-article – from page to page, link to link, creates all kinds of problems for attention span, memory and cognition. The nice thing about a magazine is that it’s a curated, bounded experience that has limits to how it can be consumed. I think creativity thrives with certain kinds of limits, and I think the magazine is a fantastic and enduring format for presenting information on a theme. I’m not at all anti-internet, but I don’t think it’s either/or and right now, I wouldn’t want that to end. The experience of holding pictures and words in my hands, knowing their weight, seeing the thickness of the magazine diminish as I approach the end of an article, watching the pages age and change with my use – it’s a beautiful thing, I love it.
In terms of the next edition, that’s currently up for debate. The whole team has to be into it as it’s a lot of work, so it’s something that we’re discussing at the moment. Whether the theme remains with running, or simply things that ‘give you life’ is also undecided.
SO: Run for Your Life has been extremely successful through Kickstarter, you raised more than you had hoped and this is not the first project you have successfully raised funds for. Have you any advice on writing a successful funding bid?
TP: Luke is a master of this, but the principles are fairly basic – tell a good genesis story, illustrate the process of making it well through words and images, think about what your audience might want in exchange for supporting you – then give them a bit more – and then it’s a bit of a marketing slog.
SO: You have an extensive background of engaging with people in your photographic career. This experience clearly helps you to create beautiful portraits. Could you tell us a little about the previous ventures you have undertaken?
TP: Photographically I’ve shot all kinds of things over the years, but I’m always drawn back to using it as a tool for empathy and understanding. Before I was a photographer, I studied languages and transnationalism, which took me to Latin America where I spent nearly a couple of years living, studying and working. There I saw a vibrancy in history and politics that I hadn’t encountered before, which took me on a bit of a journey and ultimately got me involved with relief and development work. Since then, I’ve worked for a variety of NGOs producing images, films and articles in Africa, Asia and South America. I’m probably at my happiest when I’m getting alongside communities in the majority world to help tell stories of empowerment and that celebrate who they are. Obviously, this has been a huge privilege, and I think that ultimately good portraiture is brought about firstly by connecting with people, overcoming the equipment and technology. For me, portraiture is about listening.
SO: Do you have any particular plans for the future of Run for Your Life? We’re looking forward to hearing more stories of inspirational runners.
TP: Watch this space…
SO: Thank you for taking the time to chat. It’s been great to hear about your experience with Run for your Life so far. Lastly, do you have any advice for other creatives out there who may be thinking about a start-up of some kind?
TP: My greatest barrier to getting anything done is overthinking things, so it’s good to find people who help me overcome that in some way. Finding people who compliment your strengths and weaknesses and who you can have fun with is gold in making things happen.
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