When Photographers Become Publishers: Tiny Atlas Quarterly

By Holly Stuart Hughes

© Deaja Fallas
An image from the “Fort Greene” series by Brooklyn-based photographer Deaja Fallas.

For some photographers, the only way to execute an idea without compromise is to publish it on their own. Whether creating print or digital publications, calling them quarterlies or magazines or even “manuals,” photographers-turned-publishers have pursued projects that they felt nobody else could make, building communities and brands around publications that have led to related work and no small amount of personal and creative satisfaction. As Daniel Wakefield Pasley, one of the founders of cycling journal Manual For Speed, points out, “No one is going to pay you or give you the space to do it right, so if you have this aim to do it right, then you basically have to be a publisher.” 

PDN recently spoke with the founders of three publications with different goals, subjects, audiences and business models—to find out why and how they became publishers and what they’ve learned about developing engaging content, reaching readers and collaborating with sponsors and advertisers. Below is the second part of this three-part series, which originally appeared in the August issue of PDN. Read part one, about the cycling journal Manual For Speed, here.

When commercial photographer Emily Nathan launched Tiny Atlas Quarterly (TAQ), the travel and lifestyle journal, in 2012, she envisioned it as a vehicle for personal images—and not just her own. “I knew I couldn’t sustain the momentum of a travel magazine on my own,” she says. “A magazine is an interesting thing because it has a lot of people working on it.” 

So she enlisted her friend and former client Liz Mullaly, a principal in the creative agency Lions and Tigers who had previously worked as in-house art director for Apple. Like Nathan, Mullaly loved the idea of a creative outlet outside of client work. Nathan’s husband, Jacob Huffman, an interface designer, built the site’s architecture and web pages. Nathan also reached out to photographers she knew who were shooting for themselves, sometimes in connection with assignment work on location, and asked them for story ideas or images they wanted to share. 

Among the first to contribute were Magdalena Wosinska, Jen Siska, Jaime Beechum, James Chiang and Terri Loewenthal. Like Nathan, they had a mix of editorial and commercial clients, but were regularly creating new personal work. 

“Great photographers shoot a lot on their own,” Mullaly notes. “This is an opportunity for photographers to post work they love or a great trip they photographed.” On TAQ, their work is presented as a feature story or as a slide show in the Place or Portraits sections, often with text about the subjects or the photographers’ experiences. After the first issue, more photographers contacted Nathan, asking how they could get involved. “The magazine is a way to elevate personal work” with the help of editing and art direction, says Nathan. 

Not every photographer who approaches TAQ fits its tone and point of view. Nathan often works with them to refine their story ideas, which might revolve around a past project or plans for an upcoming trip. She doesn’t make traditional assignments with shot lists of places or subjects to photograph, she says, but gives photographers a “project brief about what makes a successful TAQ story.” She wants TAQ stories to have a strong point of view and feel “immersive.” As Mullaly puts it, “We don’t run a lot of descriptive photos of a place, but you get the sense of what it’s like to stand in the light of a place in the evening.” 

The editorial mission of TAQ, Nathan says, is in part inspired by changes in the way photographers work and promote themselves. 

“It’s not enough to just be a great photographer anymore. You need to have a greater creative mission,” she says. A photographer’s personal projects are no longer relegated to the portfolios they show at the end of a meeting, after their client has seen what they’ve done on assignment, she notes: “Personal work and projects are king.” 

Her decision to take on the role of magazine publisher and creative director, she says, may represent the natural evolution of the roles she plays as a photographer. “Part of the job of a photographer now is to be a creative director,” she says. In shooting for advertising clients, “You have to do a treatment every time. You have to be able to describe your process and production. The magazine is partly a response to that.” 

To date, TAQ has been a labor of love for everyone involved. But that may change. Last year, TAQ launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000, and the money contributed to the production of a printed annual featuring all of the work posted on the site in 2013; backers who pledged to the campaign received a copy. “We didn’t want to introduce a paywall to the website,” Nathan explains. “People would prefer to support a magazine than a website.” In June, clothing and housewares retailer Anthropologie agreed to sell the annual in its stores. 

Nathan and her team were able to sell a small number of print ads in the annual. And, attracted by TAQ’s small but engaged network of creative, well-traveled readers and contributors, several brands have talked to the TAQ team about collaborating on marketing plans. 

What form that marketing might take is still under discussion. “We’ve had some interest in placing ads on the website. We want to be careful how we do that. We don’t want to, quote unquote, sell out,” Mullaly says. Another possibility is that TAQ could act as a creative agency, gathering its collaborators to design and shoot sponsored content or printed advertorials for a client. Says Mullaly, “We are a team of people with a certain point of view on travel experience. We can whip up travel ideas on where to go, what to do, and then [produce] great creative to go with that.” 

“The team that works on this magazine is amazing, all people at the top of their game.” Nathan says TAQ’s contributors have proven their ability to serve a brand’s needs. “The photographers who shoot our features are all advertising shooters who are used to working on big productions and can manage big projects.” They also know how to conceive and produce appealing content: Their work for TAQ proves it.

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