“The European perception of the African continent is oftentimes awkwardly undifferentiated, almost as if it was one single country,” explains Sereina Rothenberger and David Schatz of graphic design studio Hammer. Alongside, Sereina’s sister Flurina Rothenberger, a photographer, the pair art direct Nice magazine in an attempt to present the diversity of the multiple realities in African cities.
Now in its second, Nice focusses on one location per issue, utilising Africa’s high concentration of young people to generate its content. “In images and in their own words they share their individual point of view on money, job, love and what identity means to them. Both locally and globally,” writes Flurina on her website. So far Flurina, Sereina and David have captured the energy of Pemba in Mozambique followed by Abidjan in Ivory Coast.
Both Sereina and Flurina, although Swiss, grew up in Zuénoula, Ivory Coast. Flurina has spent most of her career photographing the African continent and her images paint a picture of its rapid development and the swings of globalisation, all with a strong and varied cultural heritage. The trio first collaborated on Flurina’s book I love to dress like I am coming from somewhere, in 2014. In the decade previous, she had accumulated a huge archive of images either shot “on the side” when on commission or pictures that were never picked by clients as they “somehow didn’t fit the common perception of Africa.” Sereina and David convinced her to compile the images into a book. “She handed us her complete archive of thousands of photos and pretty much gave us carte blanche. The book showcased everyday life in Africa, beyond the clichés the news repeat over and over,” Hammer explains.
Nice has become a project which embodies these same motivations, taking it a step further to showcase Africa’s breadth of talent, as well as its realities. “Flurina found it a little strange that NGOs and magazines mostly hire foreign photographers to cover stories on the African continent,” David tells It’s Nice That. From her experience, she knew there was a plethora of talented photographers but hardly any cultural interface and no mediator for international collaborations in that field. “So the magazine itself serves as a portfolio for these young professionals that exposes their work to an international crowd,” he adds.
Whereas in Europe, there is a rich tradition of print and editorial design, in West Africa this is not the case. “For young contributors, being published in a magazine opens doors into the local business world because they get a kind of physical validation,” Hammer explains.
Although rich in its purpose and output, Nice’s method of production is particularly stand-out. Each issue kicks off with a series of workshops in which all content is developed in-situ. Starting with a discussion between said contributors about the stories they would like to tell, national and international mentors then conduct masterclasses in photography, writing, typography and editorial design. “From our experience, this dense mode of working is most likely to produce an authentic representation of the situation on-site. The editorial may be partially imperfect but it’s honest,” David and Sereina remark.
As well as its stories, the design of Nice is a product of these workshops and is heavily influenced by the visual culture of each issue’s location. For example, “issue two might seem cluttered to the western eye but that is only a reflection of the appealing chaos of a city like Abidjan,” Hammer offers. The majority of issue two’s contributors belong to the first generation on the African continent to have direct access to high technology. The result is an extremely playful digital aesthetic jam-packed full of drop shadows, gradients and three-dimensional fonts.
Sereina, David and Flurina’s work for Nice is encouraging not just because of its visually fresh output but also because of its authentic intentions. Even though Hammer is responsible for the magazine’s art direction, what it provides is a framework in which a group of people can portray themselves. One which would not exist otherwise. Instead of imposing preconceived ideas, it nurtures and honestly represents. Having just been nominated for this year’s Swiss Design Awards, the trio are discussing Cairo, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg as potential locations for issue three.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.