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Behind California Sunday’s teen issue, made (mostly) by teenagers

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The latest issue of The California Sunday Magazine set out to focus on teenagers across its remit in California and the American West, and in order to truly embody its subject, worked with largely teenage contributors. From writers to illustrators and photographers, teens were involved in every step of making the magazine. “We’re living in an odd and anxious time here in the US,” says photography director Jacqueline Bates, “so we decided to spend time listening to teenagers to learn more about their lives and what they make of the world around them. In the end, we think it represents a wide variety of teen experiences.”

One of the landmark features of the issue is Hanging Out shot by Magnum photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti. The beautiful, 20-page series shot across California took two months, encapsulating teen culture across the state, is dotted throughout the issue spliced with shoots by teenage photographers. “For most it was their first magazine assignment,” says Jacqueline. While seasoned photographers need little direction, these young contributors required much more feedback. “While it was more work for us to go over the process from start to finish with teen photographers, it was so gratifying to be able to help them further their passion for image making and give them advice on best practices and how to work with publications.”

Illustrators and artists Lena Costales-Downey (17), Esther Grover (15), Roma Soep Edwards (15) and Renn Lim (14) of Singapore were commissioned to create artwork for the edition, all of which creative director Leo Jung says approached the task with “maturity and thoughtfulness”. “Had we not listed their ages, I’m sure readers would’ve just assumed the illustrations were done by professionals.”

One article saw experienced professionals working with their teenage daughters. Writer Elizabeth Weil’s piece features comments and corrections by her daughter Hannah, and photographer Tabitha Soren was assisted by her 15-year-old Dixie. Another piece by Chris Colin interviews two teens affected by the massive wild fire in Calififornia that destroyed 200,000 acres of property and 5,700 structures. The words are accompanied by polaroid photos by the teens themselves, “allowing us to see their world through their eyes,” says Leo.

From a design perspective, Leo says he aimed to pare down the design elements to “let the teens shine through, unfiltered”. This also allows eclectic visual styles to come together cohesively, linked by clean typography ranging in scale and orientation, and places prominence on the issue’s USP – the removal of page numbers. Instead, the issue is structured around time stamps, following a day in the life of a teenager – starting at 5am, stopping for lunch, etc. “if you want to read about a group of students who witnessed a school shooting, you’d turn up at 10:10am – which is when it happened,” Leo explains. “We wanted the sunlight to be a recurring character to convey the passage of time. You’ll notice the art also reflects the time of day the stories took place.”

This unusual structure also meant some of the stories are split up throughout the issue, such as the story about students who commute long distances to school. Illustrated by Byun Young Geun, the story starts in the “morning” section and is revisited later in the day.

“In my opinion, it’s these experimental storytelling formats that make special issues that much more special. I’m a firm believer that readers are more visually literate than most people think they are.”

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Alessandra Sanguinetti (Magnum Photos): California Sunday Teen issue

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Alessandra Sanguinetti (Magnum Photos): California Sunday Teen issue

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Alessandra Sanguinetti (Magnum Photos): California Sunday Teen issue

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Alessandra Sanguinetti (Magnum Photos): California Sunday Teen issue

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Alessandra Sanguinetti (Magnum Photos): California Sunday Teen issue

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Alessandra Sanguinetti (Magnum Photos): California Sunday Teen issue

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Byun Young Geun: Teen commute
Spot illustration: Renn Lim
California Sunday Teen issue

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Photography: Holly Andres, assisted by Agatha Olson, Raya Vinar and Ryland Vinar
Illustration: Rose Wong
California Sunday Teen issue

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Wendy MacNaughton: California Sunday Teen issue

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Tabitha Soren, assisted by Dixie Lewis: California Sunday Teen issue

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Maria Castillo and Sam Joslyn: California Sunday Teen issue