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September 2 2014

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Index A to Z: The Bible of Indie Culture—Now in Book Form

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indexatozIndex magazine truly was the “bible of indie culture.” Started in New York City by Bob Nickas and Peter Halley in 1996 as a low-budget zine, index quickly became a smart and influential magazine dedicated to in-depth interviews and memorable photographs. Index shed light on emerging photographers who went on to become household names, people like Juergen Teller, Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley, and Wolfgang Tillmans. The interviews covered a wide range of subjects from all the creative fields—Björk, Marc Jacobs, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Harmony Korine, Elizabeth Peyton, and David Sedaris, to name a few. It also gave outsiders an inside look at New York City’s nineties scene and the brilliant and strange personalities who made it tick.

Today marks the release of index A to Z: Art, Design, Fashion, Film, and Music in the Indie Era, a glossy and fun collection that really captures the spirit of this fruitful period in underground culture. Wendy Vogel, the editor, sat down to answer a few questions about the process and her favorite moments from the book.

I love how you organized the book. How did you decide who/what to include?

We organized the book in twenty-six alphabetical chapters, which points to the origin of the name of the magazine: index. Indexes are archival systems that are used by scholarly places, like libraries. But making an index can also be a really pleasurable experience. Of course, index also refers to the idea of an index of the times, and of the indexical nature of photography—that is, the index becomes a document of real life, a record of life being lived and contemporary culture being made.

We chose playful chapter titles that referenced the history of the magazine, from its thematic areas (Design, Film, Music, X-Rated) to the names of its founders (Halley and Nickas) to some terms that were, at least at the time, hipster buzzwords (Electro, Indie, Queer). And you cannot forget the party picture chapter, which we named Zeitgeist!

The founding editor of index and independent curator, Bob Nickas, played with the form of the index in his tables of contents. Bob Nickas worked with Peter Halley on the magazine from 1996 to 2000. For each of Nickas’ tables of contents, he would bold and embed the names of regular columns of the magazine—Interviews, Real Life, Scene and Herd—within a vertical list of alphabetical terms culled from crossword dictionaries. The themes were pretty oblique but would range from things from science fiction to cuisine.

How long did it take to put together?

I worked with Peter Halley, the cofounder of index and the publisher of the magazine throughout its fifty-one-issue, ten-year run [February 1996 to November/December 2005], to edit the book. Peter is first and foremost an accomplished artist, as well as a cultural and art critic. We worked for about two years on the book, from early 2012 to 2014. A lot of the groundwork was laid by Rachel Ward, who worked with Peter for about a year in 2008 to initiate the book project and the contract with Rizzoli.

Peter and I worked in collaboration to decide what to put in the book. We represent different generations, but we have a lot in common. I am now 30, and I discovered index as an undergrad in New York in the early 2000s. Peter had the inside scoop of working on the magazine, whereas I was thinking of what I was interested in as a reader and someone who is now into nineties nostalgia. I am also an art critic and independent curator, and I now work as an editor of the contemporary art magazine Modern Painters. Feminism and my early interest in riot grrrl culture provide the ethical touchstone to everything I do. There was a pointed effort in making sure that the book represented the perspectives of the many amazing contributors in the book—we made sure there was a balance of subjects, that it included women and people of color and queer folks.

It’s interesting to read the interviews from ten years ago—many of the subjects have gone on to be very successful. Which interview will today’s readers find the most surprising?

Oh, my God, there are so many! As for the photographs, I think a lot of readers will be surprised to see covers of Gaby Hoffmann (May/June 1997), Casey Affleck (November/December 1998), and Scarlett Johansson (April/May 2001). It was ScarJo’s first magazine cover. There’s also a great picture of Harmony Korine from the November/December 1997 issue, around the time of the Gummo premiere, and a hilarious piece by Bruce LaBruce—a porn director and one of index‘s contributing editors—about visiting the set of Julien Donkey-Boy. Don’t forget a devastatingly adorable photo of Lena Dunham at age 11 with Isaac Mizrahi, snapped by Lena’s mom, Laurie Simmons. Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham have been longtime friends with Peter, and Lena is very close with Peter’s daughter.

Index was important also for featuring people who wouldn’t ordinarily be cover stars of magazines, and I think readers will be surprised to see very candid, late-career interviews of such luminaries as Carol Channing, science fiction author J.G. Ballard, and soul diva Lyn (“Think About It”) Collins.

The old ads really evoke a specific time period in New York. How did that idea come about?

From the very beginning, Peter was into the idea of having Ads as the first alphabetical chapter in the book. By laying the Ads out as the inside covers and as the opening pages of the book, the design immediately evokes the feel of a magazine.

The ads reflect the growth of index, from its start in 1996 as a Downtown/Lower East Side stapled zine to a trade publication in 2005 that got ads from such high-end lifestyle brands as Gucci, Marc Jacobs, and Comme des Garçons. I think the readers will get a kick out of seeing the tiny quarter-page ads reproduced for stores that are no longer to brands that blew up, like Steven Alan.

Index has a very distinct cover style. My personal favorite is Morrissey by Wolfgang Tillmans. What’s yours?

My absolute favorite cover has to be Kathleen Hanna, photographed by Leeta Harding for the September/October 2000 issue, just after Le Tigre released their first album. That album changed everything for me—what I thought electro, punk, and feminism could be. Leeta is an incredible photographer, and she made Kathleen feel very at home. Kathleen went on to use those photographs for her personal website and even as part of the press packet for her recent documentary, The Punk Singer. Leeta was able to forge a path between glossy magazine photography and taking genuine portraits that really captured the spirit of her independent, stylish, and willful subjects. Her first cover photograph was the painter Elizabeth Peyton for the June 2000 issue. Just after that, Peyton scored huge prices at auction and had a phenomenal solo show.

I also happen to love some of the very first covers, especially the first issue cover with Alison Folland in February 1996. At the time, she was only 17 and had just played a role in one of Gus Van Sant’s early films, To Die For. She was interviewed by Christina Kelly, who came to index from the legendary punk-rock-laced teen magazine Sassy, and was photographed by Wolfgang Tillmans. It definitely set a precedent for Tillmans’ signature, un-made-up style for index. Tillmans went on to photograph John Waters for the February 1997 issue—another stunner. That picture has been shown in many of Tillmans’ exhibitions and books, including a show at the Met last year that paid tribute to Andy Warhol.

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