“It feels more like putting together a mixtape for your crush than curating an art book,” says Berlin-based editor of Romka Magazine, Joscha Bruckert. Having started the magazine in late 2008, Romka is launching its tenth issue today (5 December) and to celebrate the milestone, Joscha has decided to call it a day and leave things at a satisfyingly round number.
Romka is a fascinating publication with an altogether unique concept. Each issue presents an amalgamation of personal photos from established artists as well as amateurs who Joscha asks to share the stories behind their treasured images. “I’ve been collecting and publishing these images over the years, because I’ve always been interested in the interplay of photography and personal memories. How we link life changing events and mere anecdotes to photography – sometimes at the very moment of exposure, sometimes in retrospect, way after the fact,” he explains in his final letter as editor.
It was during his tenth grade at school that Joscha, while flipping through a job centre publication that listed every major available to study at university, discovered that photography was one of them. “I decided ‘sure, might as well’, got myself a camera and started taking pictures. However, I quickly found that working with photos suited me better than creating them,” he explains. While studying, Joscha developed an interest for arranging, juxtaposing and deconstructing images. Romka Magazine grew out of this interest as means to challenge the interchangeable nature of the photography magazines that existed at the time.
“‘Emerging photographers’ kept popping up in every project description, they basically all did the same thing: featuring new works by hip young artists,” Joscha tells It’s Nice That. Romka is a direct challenge to this notion – uninterested by groundbreaking aesthetics, instead, it’s concerned with the nondescript, inconspicuous photographs that are close to our hearts. “Pictures of people we love, places that are important to us, memories of great nights, all those tiny life changers. I decided to create a platform for these images – after all, preserving memories is what the vast majority of people use photography for,” he explains.
Romka Magazine got its name in a thoroughly fitting manner for a publication about personal stories. “When I was 17, I was certain that I’d publish a grandiose monograph of my photographic works someday,” says Joscha. At this time, he promised his Polish friend, Roma, that he would dedicate it to her. Despite the fact that they were no longer in touch when the magazine began, Joscha honoured his word and named it Romka – the Polish diminutive of Roma.
Having initially existed exclusively online, Joscha made the decision to transfer to print after the first four issues. This resolve was prompted by a want to produce something that would last longer than a browser tab. “I sincerely believe that the stories featured in Romka are worth looking at, worth keeping in your home, worth giving to a friend. The idea of one of theses magazines collecting dust in some random bookshelf in South America for a decade makes me giddy with excitement,” he describes.
Over the years, the magazine has continued to adapt and change its format in a fluid manner. Having previously worked with designers Benedikt Bock and Lysanne Ballemare, it was Daniel Rother who headed up the tenth issue. His strict and rigid approach can be seen in the magazine’s final design: a stack of printed out emails, derivative of something you’d find in a stationary store as opposed to a bookshop. It appropriates the intimacy of email correspondences, “this weird hybrid on the edge, somewhere between digital and physical media: more serious than a DM, less serious than a letter and somewhat obsolete.” The accompanying text of each story is printed in the typeface they originally received it in and so much of the design was dictated by arbitrary email settings.
“The three designers I worked with brought very diverse approaches to the table, so every issue provides a slightly different perspective on the project. With this latest issue, I feel like Romka has actually taken on its final form. We’re done now!” As a means of acknowledging the incredible stories contained within the past ten issues, below we asked Joscha to highlight his top ten images and their respective narratives – one from each volume.
“Having featured more than 400 artists over the course of this project, it’s very hard to pick favourites. However, there are a few contributions that have stuck with me over the years and that’s for various reasons. Some because they show an interesting aspect of photography as a medium, some for their compelling narrative, some just for being cultural artefacts. Here are some of these photos and stories, one per issue, starting with Nina Hartmann, the very first photo from the very first issue.”
Nina Hartmann (Issue One)
“I took this of my boyfriend in a weird stage between us. I had just gotten back from travelling and we were spending time together for the first time in two months. I didn’t want the picture to look all blurry and distorted like this, but I really like how it came out. It looks exactly the way his room makes me feel. It’s one of my favourite pictures.”
Sofia Rojas (Issue Two)
“One of our last moments together before I decided to move to Paris alone.”
Charlie Engman (Issue Three)
“The man in this photograph looks exactly, exactly like my Dad, and every time I look at it I can‘t help thinking Dad does this, too, and it makes me feel guilty for going so far from home and never calling.”
Poppy Carmel (Issue Four)
“This is a picture of my two friends Charley and Danielle after one too many glasses of wine the night before we graduated. I love this photo because it captures such a pure emotion of happiness, friendship and excitement!”
Martina Korosec (Issue Five)
“This photograph shows my grandmother-in-law. She was a dog’s guardian. This was taken when I met her for the first and the last time.”
Aoife O’Dwyer (Issue Six)
“This is the only photo I have of these people. They were in my life only briefly but for that time they defined it. Their names are Michael and Caroline. Michael took his own life and I lost touch with Caroline to the extent that I cannot even reconnect with her online in the vast interconnectedness of it all. I am not sure if she even knows that Michael is dead.”
Alec Soth (Issue Seven)
“When I was a kid, Chanhassen, Minnesota still felt like the county. We lived in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse surrounded by cornfields on one side and woods on the other. In the years since, those forests and fields have been turned into suburban developments — but not our home. The people who bought our house when I was a teenager eventually sold it to our nearest neighbor: Prince. (No, I never met him. All I ever saw was his security guards on snowmobiles.)
“Prince eventually tore down the house. But last summer, when I went out there with my five-year-old son, I was happy to discover that our old barn was still standing. When I was a five-year-old, that barn was my castle, my retreat. In the years since, it’s still a place I go when I close my eyes. I cannot tell you how weird and wonderful it was to see my own son standing there, like he’d walked right into the kingdom of my imagination.”
Jason Fulford (Issue Eight)
“I was unloading my bike in the parking lot of a motel somewhere in Louisiana, on my way to New Orleans. It was the middle of nowhere. I had just quit my job in New York and found myself on a month long trip, zig zagging down the Mississippi River from top to bottom. A guy came up to me out of the shadows and said, ‘Nice bike,’ in a long drawl. I don’t remember what he looked like, but he was pretty loaded. ‘You’d better take that inside, unless you want somebody to take it.’ I don’t think he was a good samaritan – I think he himself was tempted to steal the bike and wanted it to be out of reach for his own sake. He helped me carrying it up a flight of stairs and into my room. I had to get it down by myself the next morning.”
Coey Kerr (Issue Nine)
“My parents decorated a barren branch and called it a Christmas tree. They took out books from the library and called them gifts from Santa – and I was as happy as could be. This photograph symbolises all the great things my parents taught me about life.”
John Houck (Issue Ten)
“Every few months I have this nightmare in which I’m still working in a cubicle at Sun Microsystems. This is a photo of my desk on my last day at Sun. I worked there as a software engineer for five years. Everything in the office is beige and “Sun blue.” There is an empty Snickers wrapper and a very old flip phone on the desk.
“In my nightmare, the world is simple. I find all the right answers, nothing is messy, and life feels hopelessly lonely and futile in its repetitiveness. I’m grateful that feeling of isolation propelled me to go to graduate school and to find a more embodied, messy, and fulfilling life.”