Since its launch in 2014, The California Sunday Magazine has been telling important and compelling stories from across California, the West, Asia and Latin America through “ambitious features and cinematic photography”. For its special December issue titled The Way Home, the publication has chosen to hone in on stories close to its base, sending a variety of photographers across ten states to speak to people about what, and where, home is.
An increasingly relevant topic in light of global tensions, the issue tells stories from across the American West solely through the medium of photography. The images will also be exhibited at Aperture Foundation from 6 December – 4 January 2019, bringing the photography from the issue to life in a gallery setting – a first for California Sunday.
Below, we catch up with the magazine’s photography director Jacqueline Bates to find out more about the upcoming issue.
It’s Nice That: When and why did the idea come about to create an issue on the topic of home? And why did photography seem like the appropriate medium to communicate these stories?
Jacqueline Bates: In 2018, the question of how people define “home” has never felt more important. Thousands of migrant children have been sent to live in tent cities, rents for a San Francisco apartment average $3,750, and wildfires have destroyed, and continue to destroy entire communities. When it came time to think about what theme to focus on this year, “home” was at the forefront (in 2016, we covered sounds across the West; in 2017, the lives of teenagers). And The California Sunday Magazine has always been driven by photography. For this special issue, we wanted photos to drive the narrative of this theme, to stand alone as their own form of storytelling. While there will be minimal text throughout the issue, audio will accompany each story, so that you can hear directly from the subjects you’ll meet throughout.
INT: How did you set about commissioning the stories and deciding which were the most pertinent to tell?
JB: We commissioned over 30 photographers for this issue, including Katy Grannan, Jim Goldberg, Erica Deeman, Kristine Potter, Michelle Groskopf, Texas Isaiah, Star Montana, Ahndraya Parlato and Gregory Halpern, Mark Steinmetz and Irina Rozovksy. Our associate editor, Joy Shan, jumpstarted the process by doing a tremendous amount of research. When we began, we took each state west of the Rocky Mountains and thought about the interesting or important events that were taking place there – many of which were being overlooked by the national news – and how those stories might relate to people’s conception of home. In Montana, for example, we photographed a rancher who spoke to the increasingly high cost of raising cattle; in Portland, where the Occupy movement had a strong presence nearly a decade ago, we photographed a woman who lost her home to foreclosure and who became a rallying point for the local activist community.
We always give our photographers a lot of breathing room when shooting our stories. We don’t overly art direct them. For most issues, we have a draft of a story to use a jumping-off point. For this issue, we didn’t have that, so there were more brainstorming sessions and more was left up to chance – which is really exciting for both us, to see what we might get back, and for the photographers, to flex their creativity in different ways. For the At Home photo essay – our cover story – it was a mix of approaches: We used Joy’s research to help determine which cities or regions to start looking for subjects. And then once we assigned a photographer to a region, we gave them the freedom to wander and to find interesting stories of home that we never could’ve dreamed up.
INT: Clearly it’s a theme which could become imbued with politics. Did you embrace this or try to remain neutral?
JB: Home is a topic that’s both highly personal and highly politicised. We don’t offer our own opinion on how people define and find home, but we allow the subjects of our stories to of course express theirs. The issue is incredibly vocal – we hear from our subjects in both the captions and through an audio experience. And it’s through them that we see what home means.
INT: Could you tell us in detail about some of the stories that feature in the issue?
JB: Sure! Our cover story, At Home, is a sweeping photo essay in which we sent photographers to ten states in the West to ask people where they feel most at home. In the mountains of Utah, we found a mother of four who designed her dream mansion with some help from Pinterest; an hour north, we accompanied a young engineer as she sought the solitude of a trail beneath the night sky. In Oregon, we visited a woman who lost her house to foreclosure in 2013; convinced she would get the house back, she moved to an apartment four blocks down the street. We caught up with a screenwriter as he drifts between Los Angeles Airbnbs, and, in Seattle, we met a formerly homeless woman who has found stability and privacy in a tiny house of her own.
Other interesting stories include Michelle Groskopf capturing the essence of a San Diego-based care facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which attempts to engage participants with reminiscence therapy. And, a Polaroid by Jim Goldberg closes out the issue with a story on two formerly homeless men, who spent about a combined 30 years on the street, as they move into a new supportive-housing complex in San Francisco.
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