“Ever since its first issue, published in 2003, the magazine has tried to do ‘magazines’ differently,” Centrefold’s new creative director Ted Lovett says. “From the magazine’s inception, the question of what constitutes a publication has been integral to the creation of each issue. “Initially,” Ted continues, “the magazine was conceived as multiple A2 posters which were folded and collated as a loose bound set of A3 pages. Images would be split and merged with one another to create a new visual dynamic which was as much about the physicality of the printed page as with the individual images.”
Joining the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief Andrew G. Hobbs and fashion director Katie Burnett, Ted brought with him a change in direction for Centrefold’s 13th issue, deciding to publish platform-specific content. “We never want to repeat content verbatim across our platforms,” Ted explains. “We want all the different channels to be as considered as each other, we specifically commission for the medium the work appears in – content will bleed across and cross-fertilise but we won’t just repeat the same stuff over and over in different contexts.”
We caught up with the creative director to pick his brains on creating a point of difference in any increasingly noisy publishing landscape.
First things first: tell us how you joined the team at Centrefold.
Serendipity brought us together really; I was introduced to Katie by a friend and I checked out issue 12. I’d not seen the magazine for a few years but had always been a fan when I lived in London. We’re literally all over the place, but I think that gives us a really healthy perspective and I hope also means our identity is harder to pin down. We all work really closely: Andrew has been really generous in giving me a lot of creative freedom and support to get things moving.
Why did the Centrefold need a relaunch?
While retaining the original spirit of the magazine, we have taken it in a new different direction both in commissioning and its physical production. We wanted to keep challenging the concept of a magazine while also evolving the idea and making it more relevant to today’s environment. With so many more smaller niche publications out there vying for attention it seemed even more important that we where making something which also acted as a beautiful and compelling object which emphasised tactility and experience.
We teamed up with HP Indigo, G . F Smith Papers and F.E. Burman Printers for this issue. By using the HP Indigo digital press we had an amazing flexibility to create right up to the last minute and then to adjust in real time as pages came off the press. The press is really incredible, you can basically create 1/1 prints unlike with litho where you’ll be printing 1500 sheets before you even get started. We were able effectively to make all 1100 copies completely unique with small tweaks to sections of the issue here and there, which would be possible otherwise. The quality is probably the most amazing thing for me – the difference between the Indigo and a litho press is barely noticeable now and the range of G . F Smith stocks you can use is also basically the same – for a smaller run publication like Centrefold it’s an amazing set of partners to be working with.
Physicality aside, what have you changed about the mag since you joined as creative director?
To me, in an age of ubiquitous digital information, I know that print’s currency isn’t speed or reach so we decided to focus on what only it can do. I was really interested in timescales and the duration of certain types of content. We’re operating on a kind of sliding scale of permanence from print, which is (relatively) forever, to social, which can vary from a couple of days to a couple of minutes – with the website landing somewhere in the middle. Using this as a structure I wanted us to commission with this as our guide, utilising what makes each platform unique as a way to frame the conversation around commissioning and the creative process. Within this we also created interesting loops or meta-narratives; for example we printed a three sets of 100 unique posters (300 total), one set of which came with each of the 100 boxed editions of the issue. We then fly-posted up the remains 200 posters around New York and filmed the process. This film then became content for our Instagram feed and was played at our launch event in New York. We never want to repeat content verbatim across our platforms – if an image was printed we won’t post that image on our feed out of context of the magazine, so if it does appear you’ll see it as a printed page. We want all the different channels to be as considered as each other, we specifically commission for the medium the work appears in – content will bleed across and cross fertilise but we won’t just repeat the same stuff over and over in different contexts.
What has changed in 13 issues of Centrefold, and, more broadly, the publishing landscape during that time?
Since 2003 the magazine industry is almost unrecognisable. A lot of the stuff in the middle has disappeared because blogs can do a better job – I think it’s analogous to the way the music industry has changed. You get huge stars like Drake or Lady Gaga at the top then there’s a huge gap between them and all the other performers at the bottom who have a way more defined audience. As so with magazines, there are a few titans at the top with big circulations and big name contributors, then a big number of small super niche titles who cater for a much more specific audience. All of the stuff in the middle like weekly or even monthly magazines have been replaced because the internet can deliver so much more so much more quickly and mostly for free. Again with a music analogy, I read that vinyl sales eclipsed CDs for the first time last year, that’s not because a ton of people are buying records but because most people under 45 stream all of their music now. When people do buy vinyl it’s more to do with expanding their musical experience beyond just the music and I think magazines now are a lot like that. When so much is immaterial and transient they lend gravitas and permanence to images and I think that’s what attracts both the readers and artists to them.
I think all this has made the photography world a really diverse and exciting place, access to talented people is so much easier now. We find people on our phones from all over the world who might just be starting out (like Ryan Skelton) but at the same time work with more established amazing artists who want a more creative outlet than they’d get with a larger commercial title (like Viviane Sassen and Paul Kookier).
You mentioned that you “work with our contributors to create work which would not be possible with any other publication.” In what ways is the work you create with your contributors unique or different?
A lot of it is the creative freedom we give them. We operate a very ‘light touch’ policy. We will help establish a tone related to our issue’s theme but from there will let things fly. I think it’s really important to be able to trust each other in those situations, so much of the magazine world (especially in fashion) is a pretty cut-throat and disrespectful. If people are going to the effort of creating for us we want to make that experience as supportive and inspiring as possible and in turn we want them to be able to trust us to reproduce the work as beautifully as possible. Everyone is so connected now you can’t get away with being an arsehole, especially when your business model is heavily reliant on good faith!
I also think the way we want to commission with the final production outcome in mind is different. We’re really pushing what a publication can be so if someone wants to create a story which runs across a poster, a postcard, an audio recording and a short film? We can do it. For us it’s how to tell the story in the most compelling way. Our collaboration with Thomas Albdorf and Comme Des Garçon is a good example of this. Thomas’ create multiple versions of the same image, in a sort of hyperreal replication and this lead us to create 250 unique versions of his still life story by switching images and page orders. This symbiosis of artistic practice and final outcome but in the context of a magazine is something I’ve not seen before and want to do more of. Walking the conceptual walk as well as the talk!
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