Boat magazine, as its name suggests, was born out of a desire to see the world. But what’s remarkable is that the studio behind it relocates to a different city for each issue. Having worked in Sarajevo, the itinerant title moves to Detroit next month…
When we meet, Davey Spens, who launched Boat as a communications studio with his wife Erin last year, is two weeks into fatherhood and a few months into planning taking his studio to the US midwest to work on the next edition of their magazine. From its movements to date, it’s clear that Boat has no interest in documenting the more obvious creative hubs. But why begin with Bosnia and Herzegovina?
“Sarajevo isn’t on Google Maps,” says Spens. “It’s hard to get into, there’s very little English language information about anything going on. But here’s a city that dominated the news for years and years and, now, there’s this vacuum.”
Boat’s raison d’être is to explore the places that the media has tired of. Cities, like Sarajevo, which fall under the media spotlight for a while (in this case because of the Bosnian war), then fade away forgotten.
Detroit, too, suffers from what Davey calls the “millstone” of media attention. The collapse of industry in the city is well reported, less so the upswing in young creative talent now working there. So Boat’s aim is to use media once again, as part of the answer, to redress the balance.
“In Detroit everyone is piling in to do this ‘ruin porn’ stuff. It’s just tiresome,” says Spens. “Speaking to friends in Michigan, it’s destroying the place because the headlines are about how the population has dropped and ‘here’s a shot of a beautiful building that’s in ruins’, while the reality is that it’s become a creative boom town.
“We don’t want to sugar coat it, but there are amazing stories there. It’s set to be one of the first US cities where the food it consumes is grown within the city perimeters, the urban farming movement has taken off, for example. Rent is cheap and studios are popping up everywhere.”
For the inaugural issue of Boat, the studio took a handful of photographers along for the month-long stay in Sarajevo but had to arrange most of the collaborations once in the city.
“The hardest part was finding people,” says Spens. “But the film director, Danis Tanovic [interviewed in the issue], was amazing. He got his little black book out and pointed us in the direction of a few people. The requirement of filling 100 pages also pushes you out there,” Spens adds. “And we just had one rule: that we didn’t show bullet holes.”
Preparations are well under way for the next issue, but Boat is still interested in hearing from writers, photographers, illustrators, even filmmakers who may want to contribute to the Detroit edition.
“We look for things to be created with us, rather than for us,” says Spens. “Ideally people come out with us, or we’ll work with them there on the ground. We’d love more illustrators to be involved, and would really like to speak to people from the midwest who might want to come and see us. We want the magazine to be a blank canvas from which to tell stories – there’s no editorial agenda.”
Not wishing to gauge a course prematurely but I wondered where Boat might end up once it leaves the US? Mexico City is one place high on Spens’ agenda. “We want to go to these ‘millstone’ places,” he says. “And they exist everywhere, really.
“We live in a world that tells us we can do all our research from a laptop, but it means that half of the world is hidden, while the other half is in the spotlight. You don’t think of it this way, but the internet is really good at hiding places. We want to go and find those places and do them justice.”
The Sarajevo issue of Boat features contributions from Dave Eggers, Jasmin Brutus, Milomir Kovacevic, Ziyah Gafic, Sophie Cooke, Max Knight, Agatha Nitecka, Zoe Barker, Jonathan Cherry and Danis Tanovic.