Honest. is an analogue project out of Vienna, New York and California which was brought to life in 2014 by three film photography enthusiasts. In an effort to preserve the tangible aspect of the analogue lifestyle, at the heart of the Honest. tribe is a print magazine about analogue photography. We sat down with Luca-Mercedes, one of the founders, and talked to her about this ambitious project, their journey over the years and why it’s worth keeping the analogue spirit alive.
You're a film photographer yourself. How did you first get into analogue photography?
When I was about 12 years old my dad died and I got his old Leica camera. I never knew what I wanted to be. I shot my first black and white roll and started taking pictures, and I really loved it. Later, I applied for Die Graphische to study photography and was admitted. After four years, I was really depressed because they really pushed digital photography. I always knew I wanted to work with film, maybe not only, but it has always been a part of how I express myself. So I told them I was going to leave and just flew to New York for two months. I got back, worked various jobs, traveled a lot and after a few years got back into digital photography. I wasn't 100% fulfilled though and just had the feeling there was something missing and that something was definitely film photography. I was the happiest person on earth when I shot my first roll of film again at 24 or 25. I had an exhibition with these photos and I sold one third of the images. So that's when I knew that was what I was gonna do.
Later you founded Honest. What is your mission?
First and foremost, Honest. is a tribe. It connects people who want to work together in an honest way. It doesn't really matter whether you're a photographer, a graphic designer, a writer, or whether you clean toilets. The name "Honest." was there before the magazine was. The main idea behind it is to build a community of people who support and inspire each other. After thinking about the Honest. tribe for a few weeks, I realized I wanted to have something tangible. It really means a lot to me to keep this art form alive. That's when we camp up with Honest. magazine which is an art collection, an art collective and a coffee table magazine.
Was honesty something you were missing in the industry?
I had the feeling that so many people in the creative industries were longing for a place to feel safe, to exchange ideas. A place where you can just create without being pushed or judged. There is so much jealousy, especially in Austria, and I was tired of that. I want to be honest with people and I want people to be honest with me. Sometimes my own work sucks and I can totally accept that, I appreciate honesty in every realm of my life and I feel like a lot of people are longing for honesty, as well.
Why do think a print magazine is the perfect medium to showcase analogue photography?
Analogue photography is tangible. We live in an extremely fast world, you scroll and scroll and see a million things but actually don't really see anything. Analogue photography is already a tangible experience, you put the film into the camera, you develop your photos. I feel like you give away a part of your soul when you press the shutter. It had to be something you are going to sit down with, something you can touch, not just look at. Honest. would have never started as a digital magazine, no matter what, cause that just doesn't make sense for me with analogue photography. The internet is so quick. I think we should all slow down a little.
So, as I understand each issue has a dedicated theme, or Issue 1 does.
Yes, with issue 0 it was kind of like, we hadn't done a magazine before. So we just said, Let's do a magazine! We have 11 weeks until we launch in New York. We decided on the cover, just had a look at what works well together. From deciding on what goes into the magazine until print, it took us about two weeks. But from now on, every issue will have a theme. Issue 1 is the "Human" issue, issue 2 is going to be called "Two Rolls" and we're going to move on from there.
Can you explain what the curation process looks like?
There are two ways. We take submissions, we're actually getting a ton which is great. There are fantastic photographers that even I hadn't known about, and I constantly look for them. The other way is that we contact photographers that we really like. For the first issue, we worked with Reka Nyari, she is a really great nude photographer from New York. She hadn't shot film in 10 or 12 years when I approached her at Burning Man and asked her if she wanted to shoot an exclusive series for the "Human" issue. She was totally up for it and did a great job!
Looking at the status quo of the publishing industry, it's probably not been an easy time to set up a magazine. Could you tell us about your journey from the beginning when Honest. was founded?
I came up with the name of the magazine at Burning Man in 2014 and I kind of started thinking about what to do with it. I met up my friend Stephanie who I hadn't seen in seven or eight years, we ran into each other in San Diego after I got back from Burning Man and we had a blast. I flew back to Vienna where she worked in a bar at the time. I was completely jet-lagged and decided to pop by. We started drinking and talking about film photography, and I told her about my idea and about the magazine, so we wrote down the mission statement. The next day, totally hungover, we started working on it. On the first day, we were like, We're gonna get sponsors and advertisers! There weren't any other analogue photography magazines at the time, and I said: We need to this now, 'cause next year there are gonna be five or ten of time. Maybe they fail, maybe we fail, but I want to be part of this. So we started working on it and were convinced we would get at least five ads. Well, the story is, we didn't get any -- except for the printer who gave us a discount. So we put all of the money we had in it. We wanted to make the first issue big, start with a 1000 in order to have the capacity to give them to people so they can show them around. But it didn't get easier afterwards! [laughs] I didn't know anything about distribution, so eventually we realized we had to cut down, and now we offer the magazine as a limited edition. It's much easier to break even and we mainly distribute it via our website, with just a few shops selling it.
I saw you had a campaign on Indiegogo about a year ago, which may not have had the results you were expecting.
No, it wasn't successful. To run a successful campaign you need to be very well prepared in terms of social media and everything else and we weren’t. But another magazine from Oregon copied our text and actually successfully finished their campaign. We even pledged for it when there were only a $100 missing. Their text and mission statement was completely based on ours, but I was ok with it! At least something good came out of it. I like to see things being created.
Was there anything you took away from it for the future?
If you run an Indiegogo campaign, you need to start preparing earlier than just one week in advance! But it was still a good experience.
Are you considering doing another crowdfunding campaign for upcoming issues?
Not at the moment, to be honest, because we really found a way that works for us. I would like to find a few distribution hubs, but it takes up a lot of time. If you have around 10 to 15 great shops and the rest is distributed over the website, that would be fine for the next year or two, and then let it grow organically from there. I've become really good at doing lean projects, you know your options and figure out which one could work and then you just keep going from there.
Did that take away your faith in your idea? Was it hard for you to continue afterwards and still believe in what you do?
There was one moment when we almost gave up, but we just couldn't. We decided to do it for three years and if it doesn't grow organically, we stop. It was around the time we had our launch party for issue 0. We had already had a really small but cool launch party in New York, around 100 people showed up, it was -30 degrees outside, Sunday night, Oscar night, we sold 60 copies of the magazine. Then we had a huge party with an exhibition in Vienna with around 400 people. And my friends told me that people were complaining that there were no free drinks, even though we had 200 free drinks, and that the magazine wasn’t free. We sold 11 copies of the magazine that night. And I just thought, Are you all crazy? Are you really expecting other people to support you and your projects but not the other way around? That was a depressing moment, I really fell into this hole for a month where I didn't do anything. But then we pulled ourselves up and started working on the new issue. It took longer because we tried to find supporters and advertisers, but then I just said, Fuck it, we're gonna do it as a limited edition. That's the only way we can produce it without having to rely on anyone else, and I think we're gonna keep it that way.
In your Indiegogo campaign, you mentioned a few goals: higher circulation, worldwide distribution, workshops, exhibitions, ... Are you still holding on to these?
Absolutely. That's the goal of the Honest. tribe, creating a network. Basically, I would like to build an artist in residency. Our long term goal is to build this space people can come to and create, and see art. I'm thinking about Joshua Tree in California.
So Vienna, California and New York are your hubs?
Yes, exactly. The space for setting up the artist in residency would be perfect in Joshua Tree because land is cheap and there are a lot of things happening. I feel like Joshua Tree is going sort of towards the direction of Marfa, Texas, and what's been going on there for the last few years. It's a really small town in the middle of nowhere, in the desert. There are a lot of creatives from New York, L.A., a lot of art galleries, music festivals, film festivals. It's a really small community. I think Joshua Tree might develop the same way, because it's so close to L.A. but still far off, where you can buy cheap land. We'll see.
Talking about the magazine itself again, your co-founder Stephanie is a journalist. So how important is text to support the message the images are trying to convey? How does it interact with the images?
Not every series has text. We always saw text in a supporting role but not as a necessity as the magazine is more of an art collection. There's the information about the photographer and the equipment used. Some of them include texts with their photos and sometimes we include a passage from a book we really like, but it just has to work with the flow of the story -- which is an image-based story.
And what's the role of your blog?
We want to provide anyone who is interested with more information about the artists featured in the magazine. Journalist Christian Fuchs also wrote a beautiful piece about analogue photography for the blog. It supports the magazine and allows anyone who is interested to go deeper.
So it's like an extended experience to the magazine?
Exactly. Honest. is art collection but nobody says that there can't be honest texts. We're already thinking about that for the future, we're not there yet.
When's the next issue coming out?
Hopefully, at the end of July. That would be six months from our last issue. There will be another little launch party!
This interview was conducted in collaboration with Andreas Bischoff.