Colors was born in 1991 with the aim of publishing a stateless, shape-shifting magazine that told stories about the world. It was founded by photographer Oliviero Toscani, who brought in former Interview art director Tibor Kalman as editor in chief, Oliviero described his vision for Colors as something “eccentrically intelligent, a little different from the idiotic marketing world.” Themed editions have included “Sports”, “Marriage”, “Smoking”, “Water”, “HIV/AIDS”, “Teenagers” and “Dance” amongst many others, all communicating with the humour, unconventional approach to photography and design and off-kilter intelligence that Colors is still known for today.
" Oliviero Toscani described his vision for _Colors_ as something 'eccentrically intelligent, a little different from the idiotic marketing world'"
In collaboration with Fabrica, the research centre established by Oliviero with Godfrey Reggio in 1994, Damiani has published COLORS: A Book About a Magazine About the Rest of the World which pulls together some of the key visual and textual material from the last 90 issues of the magazine. In the introduction to the book, curator Francesco Bonami describes his impression of the impetus behind Colors : “[It] was uniquely about the people of the world, while wholly unafraid of what people thought about it. It was an ode to all that was beautiful and a testament of what needed to be known. To be sure, to read Colors in [the early] days was to see the world in colour.” Its features examined the rise of globalisation and the emergence of multiculturalism at a time when no other publication was, and it was the first magazine to erase the distinction between first, second and third world.
To mark the release of the book we spoke with current Colors editor in chief, Patrick Waterhouse who sees COLORS: A Book About a Magazine About the Rest of the World as a “good [opportunity] for having a fresh viewpoint”, having been produced without input from the magazine editors.
Colors has gone through many iterations, and Patrick’s editorial focus has been “looking at institutions and ideas which seem very familiar and close to our lives and exploring them from as many different perspectives as possible.” The magazine’s central thematic premise, of globalisation and diversity has become ever more essential over the last twenty years; highlighting the need to address such complex issues through familiar topics, Patrick cites “investigating financial markets and inequality; institutional power and human rights; industrialisation and environmental issues” as key examples from recent editions. He goes on: “I think the earlier issues were new in the editorial landscape, they were iconoclastic and provocative, sometimes for the sake of it. Today you need to have something with more substance, if the element of surprise is a by-product of exploring difficult issues that’s okay but as a goal in and of itself it doesn’t cut it.”
Since its founding Colors has been published with Benetton, initially being built into their communications budget. Oliviero says that although Luciano Benetton took Colors on as a paper that would talk about Formula 1 and Benetton’s employees, he was aware that Oliviero had different ideas. He says: “I knew very well how Colors needed to be. I wanted a magazine without any stars, without any celebrities and without any news. I wanted current events but the kind of things we have no power over, issues that never go away. I wanted a paper that would be different every month, surprising and moving in form and substance, even if this went right against the publishing industry’s marketing logic.”
"Although the context that _Colors_ exists in is very different to the art world, at its best it shares something with good art which is an engagement with ideas"Patrick Waterhouse
Benetton granted Colors a degree of independence rarely seen in commercial partnerships. They “understood that both Colors and Fabrica [would be] more effective through creating work and communication which expressed values”, Patrick says, “something companies often struggle to understand as it has an intangible worth as opposed to just promoting products.”
As well as his role as editor in chief at Colors , Patrick is a practicing artist – awarded the 2015 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for his and Mikhael Subotzky’s project Ponte City, a publication about the decline of an apartment block in Johannesburg. He sees the way he approaches his artwork as informing his approach to Colors , “the truth is I don’t draw a distinction between the two in terms of making an in-depth project which is exploring social structures that shape our world.” He elaborates, “Although the context that Colors exists in is very different to the art world, at its best it shares something with good art which is an engagement with ideas as opposed to market forces or the bottom line. Colors in the end represents and expresses humanistic values – humanism as a reaction to ideologies and dogma.”
COLORS: A Book About a Magazine About the Rest of the World is available to buy for £35
About the Author
Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.