In Conversation With The Journal‘s Michael Nevin
When Michael Nevin launched The Journal ten years ago, the magazine was a skinny black-and-white zine dedicated to all things skate and snowboard. A decade later, the issue of The Journal that comes out tomorrow comprises, among other features, new work by Jonathan Meese in memorial to Dash Snow, semi-destroyed photographs of Kate Moss and Mario Sorrenti taken from photographer Glen Luchford’s archives, a lengthy interview with Walter Pfeiffer, and a supplement dedicated to William Eggleston. The Journal is glossy now, and hard-bound, and printed in color; there’s a gallery in Williamsburg attached to it, too. Contributions from the likes of Juergen Teller, Helmut Lang, Mark Gonzales, and Miranda July fill The Journal archives. Not bad for a magazine first stapled together at a highway-side Kinko’s in New England by a kid who was all of 19. Now, more transformations are afoot. The tenth anniversary issue of The Journal is physically larger than the previous one, it’s been given an engaging redesign by Peter Miles, and it includes the magazine’s first-ever fashion spread, starring Jamie Bochert. And yet, for all that, The Journal has changed less than it might appear. “The magazine has always been—and I hope will always be—an honest reflection of my interests,” explains Nevin. “It’s just that those interests have shifted over time.” Here, Nevin talks to Style.com about dialing up the Internet, cold-calling art stars, and texting Rodarte.
This is going to sound like a snotty question, but—why launch a magazine? This is the digital age, or hadn’t you heard?
When I first started The Journal, “online” wasn’t really a thing yet. I mean, I can remember signing up for my first e-mail account after I published the first issue of The Journal. I just wasn’t looking for the things that interested me on the Web. At the time, I was looking at magazines. Really looking—I mean, I grew up in Vermont, and there weren’t too many progressive publications around, so I’d have to work to cobble together bits and pieces of what interested me from the mainstream stuff I had access to. I’d spend hours in the bookstore, poring over magazines. And there was nothing out there covering this whole creative universe that derives from skateboarding and snowboarding. I wanted to read about that, and having just come off a year entering pro contests as a snowboarder, I felt like starting a magazine was a way to continue being a part of something I’d loved.
In other words, magazine-ness—print—runs deep in you.
Yeah, it does. But for reasons that are more than sentimental. I think they’re more than sentimental, anyway. I love the printed image, I love being able to open up the magazine and flip through the pages, I love being able to give a copy to somebody, I love seeing it in stores. I love what it represents. It’s essentially my curation in those pages, and to send the magazine overseas, and know that what I’ve worked on is being looked at, in the same material way, is really fantastic.
The Journal has changed a lot over the years. Was there one particular moment when you thought to yourself, it’s time to evolve?
There have been a few of those moments. When I first moved to the city, five or six years ago, I wound up in this gigantic space in the East Village. Which is how we wound up with the gallery, by the way—it was sort of an accident of having that space. And moving to color and to bound copies, that happened because, I mean, I was working on The Journal with one other guy, we had 3,000 square feet in Manhattan and dial-up Internet, because we were trying to save money. We’d literally be unplugging the cord and handing it to each other anytime one of us needed to get online. And there was some moment when it became clear that we had to make a change, go bigger, or else it was always going to be like that. Later, as I was feeling ready to steer the magazine away from the skateboard/snowboard focus, I managed to get Mark Gonzales, who is both an amazing skateboarder and an amazing artist, to guest-edit an issue. He was a longtime hero of mine, and that issue definitely felt like an inflection point. This new issue feels that way, too—the change in format, the redesign.
I’ll come back to the redesign and other new changes, but since you bring up Mark Gonzales, I have to ask: How have you managed to pull all these VIP contributors into The Journal‘s wheelhouse? You consistently punch above your level.
I think on the one hand, it’s that they see the magazine, they see what we’ve done, and they identify with our spirit. And on the other hand, it’s amazing what you’ll get if you just ask. Pick up the phone, you know?
That’s how you got William Eggleston in the new issue, you picked up the phone?
That is literally what happened. I mean, the catalyst was that I’d heard he was making drawings—and I like drawings a lot, I like their quickness. I feel like you can learn a ton about a person’s work from their drawings. So I called his son, who heads the Eggleston Trust, and then a while later I was on a plane to Tennesssee to meet William Eggleston. He showed me this one piece of his, and I was like—”Wow, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.” And he said, “Well, I’m glad you found it.” It was very cool.
You shot his portrait for the supplement. Was that intimidating?
Yes. At first it was, and then it wasn’t. Obviously, I mean, I studied photography at school, and what art student isn’t inspired by William Eggleston? So it was weird to be taking his picture, sure. But then he grabbed my camera and started shooting with it, and after that I wasn’t intimidated anymore. He made it easy for me to let my guard down.
This whole “pick up the phone thing”—has there ever been a hard sell? Name names, please.
Honestly…I can’t think of anyone. It’s kind of like, if it’s a hard sell, then it’s probably not the right thing. I only want to work with people who are enthusiastic.
Back to the redesign, etc. Do these changes signify a new era at The Journal? And if so, what’s happening? Where are you headed? Is fashion now a priority?
It was just time for a change. A magazine requires a lot of people and a lot of elements, and for a while now, I’ve felt like the design, the thing that ties all that stuff together, needed to be stronger. I feel really lucky that Peter [Miles], who is my dream design director, agreed to take this on. As for the fashion, that just feels like a natural development. It does to me, at least. What’s funny is that friends of mine, people who have been reading the magazine for a long time, when they find out that we have a fashion spread in this issue, they seem sort of…disappointed. But that shoot came about the same way a lot of work makes its way into the magazine—I’m friends with someone, I respect his or her work, I want to make a space for it somehow. And I have so many friends, at this point, who are involved in fashion, it felt more unnatural to keep it out of The Journal.
You’re actually launching the issue at the Rodarte show, correct? Attendees are going to find the new issue waiting for them at their seats.
Yeah. Kate’s a good friend of mine, so…
How did you meet?
Well, before we actually met, she and Laura contributed something to the magazine, part of a Miranda July piece called “Learning to Love You More.” And then Kate and I somehow wound up text pen pals. It’s strange, I can’t even remember the first time we met face-to-face. But now we talk all the time.
Do you ever imagine turning The Journal into a monthly, or going bigger in some other way?
I think a monthly would drive me crazy. Bigger otherwise—yes and no. I’d like the business to be successful enough that I don’t have to spend so much time thinking about the business, and I believe in what we’re creating, so obviously I’d like it to reach as many people as possible. But ultimately, my heart is in the magazine itself, and as long as I can keep doing it the way I want to do it, that’s really all I want. I like being accessible. It’s like, we have this gallery space, and the nice thing about that is that people come through all the time; readers stop by to ask questions or drop off submissions, and I actually get to meet them. I like having that feedback. I like face-to-face. I mean, the first issue of the magazine, a friend and I drove down to an art opening in New York and handed out copies outside the gallery.
Not something you can do with a blog, really.
No. I mean, isn’t there some stuff you just want to hold in your hand?