A West Coast magazine explores the concept of ‘home’ in a special issue and exhibition
British Journal of Photography
Issue #7879, The Portrait Issue, January 2019
In the October 2014 issue of Mother Jones magazine, Rebecca Cohen authored an article titled: “Will This New Magazine Be California’s Answer to The New Yorker?” The subject of her piece was the newly launched California Sunday Magazine, a bi-monthly supplement distributed with select Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle in addition to subscribers. According to Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief, Douglas McGray, the magazine would “produce ambitious reported features and beautiful photography from across California, the West, Asia, and Latin America for a national audience.” Four years and over thirty issues later, the San Francisco-based magazine has become a celebrated model, praised for its deft blending of content, form, and design, and for commissioning both lesser known and established photographers in each issue. A willingness to reimagine what a magazine can be is always at the forefront of their approach.
Since 2016, the editors have devoted one issue annually to a single subject; past topics have included sounds of the West and the lives of teenagers. In this year’s special December issue, all of the stories—which will focus on the subject of home—will be told almost exclusively through photography. “In a year when 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 entire communities, the question of how people define ‘home’ has never felt more urgent,” remarks Jacqueline Bates, the magazine’s Photography Director. She continues, “there will be minimal text in this issue, and that’s intentional: photos are their own form of storytelling.” The magazine commissioned over thirty photographers for the issue ranging from familiar names such as Katy Grannan, Jim Goldberg, and Gregory Halpern, to more emerging talent like Erica Deeman, Taylor Kay Johnson, Pixy Liao, and Ricardo Nagaoka; each was assigned to a region and given the freedom to seek out stories about home. “We pride ourselves on representing many diverse people, geographies, and definitions of home in this issue,” says Bates. Audio clips available on the magazine’s website will accompany many of the stories so the reader can hear the subjects in the photos. The result: a multilayered storytelling experience.
And they are taking things even a step further this year. They are collaborating with the Aperture Foundation in New York—an organization also devoted to advancing the medium—to create an exhibition drawn from the magazine’s content and other relevant photographs. The exhibition At Home: In the American West “is an interesting experiment for us,” Bates explains, “because you can approach the narrative in a variety of ways. Unlike a magazine story, it doesn’t have to be as linear and have a beginning and end. It’s an immersive storytelling experience that you don’t necessarily get from the smaller-scale printed page. You can walk through the show and just look at the photos or choose to digest them even more by reading the captions about the subjects. Or you can go even deeper and listen to the subjects as you walk through.” The special issue and exhibition demonstrate California Sunday Magazine’s innovative approach to the printed magazine, willingness to work creatively across media, and commitment to cultivating photographers and the dialogue around the medium.