AL: Do you think about the future of media more than when you lived in New York, given you are living and working alongside the tech industry (at least geographically)? What’s exciting about where we are heading and what’s troubling?
JB: Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve definitely thought more about the intersection of media and tech. Naturally, California Sunday has covered the tech industry heavily and in a variety of ways—we’ve interviewed tech workers pushing for a more ethical Silicon Valley, we’ve published interviews about the lack of diversity in tech, and much more. I’m proud of the stories we’ve told about the industry. With regards to the media landscape specifically, our company, Pop-Up Magazine Productions, was acquired by Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective in November 2018. That was a really exciting, positive moment for us—to work with an organization that shares our belief that great journalism and storytelling can inspire people. What troubles you about the future of publishing?
AL: Publishing has and is and will continue to change dramatically. The art book fairs, now in most major cities around the world, always make me reflect a lot about photobook making specifically. When I attend or work the booths, I always ride an emotional roller coaster that includes, “Wow this is so inspiring. Look at all these people who have actualized their creative ideas. What a nice community!” and, moments later, “Why do all these people think they need books? Look at all this paper and shipping, there’s too much” and back around to, “I am so inspired, humans are incredible!” But you asked me about the future and what really troubles me is the increasing lack of government support for structures like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and public arts education. This is a much more macro worry than art book publishing and photo editing and maybe it’s because my mom was an art teacher, but I really see that arts education and national support of creative thinking and learning is essential and being threatened. I want our culture to value a new generation of artists and a new generation of people that support artists. And I see the cost of living and funding cuts making it really hard to work in the arts and be an artist. That’s what troubles me deeply. But we can’t end with troubles! I know that you’ve started working with organizations like Los Fotos and Project Rebound through California Sunday. Tell me about that.
JB: Whenever we are about to start a new issue, Leo and I try to look at it as a whole and how we can tell each story in the most surprising, visually dynamic way. Also, what story lends itself to an experiment—perhaps working with an unexpected artist. When we were working on the Teens issue in 2017, we did a ton of research into youth organizations across California. Paloma (Schutes, photo editor at California Sunday) found Las Fotos Project, whose mission is to elevate the voices of teenage girls from communities of color through photography between the ages of 13 and 18 from low-to middle-income households. She worked closely with a student there, 18-year-old Textli Gallegos and had her shoot a young teen boxer in Fresno. It was her first editorial assignment. She did an amazing job. Several months ago, photographer Brian Frank was teaching a photojournalism class at SFSU in partnership with Project Rebound, which is an organization that helps men and women returning from prison. He called me in the middle of class one day and said I had to meet some of his students—that they were incredible. Fast forward to our April 2019 issue, we were tasked with commissioning Elizabeth Weil’s story about a mobile classroom, via bus, that’s parking in some of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods to offer adults a third, fourth, and fifth chance to get a GED. Weil examines the lives of these adults—who have been failed educationally and many of whom were formerly incarcerated—in a city where it’s incredibly hard to be poor, and what this opportunity means. Brian’s students, Chris Shurn and Eugene Riley, were a perfect fit for the story. Brian mentored them through the process, since it was their first editorial assignment—which I was grateful for. We also featured an interview with Chris and Eugene with my editor Doug McGray, which is one of my favorites.
AL: These initiatives are really encouraging. And a good reminder that no matter what seat you are sitting in, be that as a photo editor, publisher, photographer, we can all make choices that reflect the direction we hope our culture will head in. I’m inspired by you, Jackie Bates! Let’s end our chat on this: what has been your favorite issue or commission so far?
JB: That’s a hard one because I love all of our stories equally. Just kidding. I’d say our first cover shoot by Holly Andres was memorable—Leo and I flew to Portland—making the first cover was full of experiments and questions and playing and making mistakes, and Holly was so game and delightful. I love a photo essay we did for our first themed issue (we do one a year), which was all about sounds of the West, and I commissioned Elle Perez to shoot music scenes in rural parts of California and Michael Schmelling to shoot the urban music scenes. Our next themed issue was about Teenagers—and Alessandra Sanguinetti photographed teens across California hanging out. Lastly, in December, we published our first photography issue, on the theme of Home. There were 34 photographers in the issue (our normal issues have around five). The issue was organized into three sections: stories about people far from home, in between home, and close to home. The anchoring photo essay had the work of 19 photographers in it, and, as you know very well, we expanded that photo essay into a gallery show, which was at Aperture Gallery. I owe so much of that to you and your support of what we’re doing at the magazine. Tell me about yours!
AL: That show was all you guys! It was so fun to have so many Californians in the office while the gallery was getting installed. I loved working on Aperture Magazine Anthology—the Minor White Years: 1952-1976, edited by Peter C. Bunnell and Lesley Martin. I know you have a copy of this! It was published on Aperture’s 60th anniversary, in 2012, and covers the first 25 years of the magazine. To circle back to what we talked about earlier—how magazines start—I love how this book charts those early conversations and the editorial decisions that went into shaping the first issue and the direction of the publication. There are selected articles and images that appeared in the original issues reproduced in the book and a really wonderful timeline that includes images of each cover, and the early covers are so beautifully designed. A lot of the founders had West Coast roots (Aperture was founded in San Francisco) and many of the early issues include images of the West, which you know I love. Peter Bunnell, who began working for Minor White in 1955, would call me every morning during the proofing stages of the book. Aside from the corrections or adjustments to the sequencing and images changes, etc., those phone calls also included anecdotes about working with the photographers and writers of that time period, a morning photo history class, of sorts.
JB: I love that book. And I love you. Text me later.