“Seeing things exploding isn’t particularly rare,” says founder of Kilimanjaro magazine Olu Odukoya, “but seeing a teddy bear exploding evokes an emotional response.” Indeed. This is one of several images shot for Kilimanjaro’s latest issue by Dan Tobin Smith and art directed by Odukoya. Read on to see the feature on Kilimanjaro from the current (November) issue of CR and an exclusive film of the teddy bear shoot…
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Footage produced during the process of creating Kilimanjaro’s Exploding Teddy photostory, one of which appears in the current issue of the magazine (in the Just For Kids supplement). To create the images the pair went to a specialist studio to enlist the help of professional pyrotechnics experts who filmed explosions at a super fast frame rate in order to establish the perfect timing for Tobin Smith to take his shots. Creatives: Olu Odukoya, Dan Tobin Smith. Edit by Sam Blair
Dispensing optician and founder of a cutting edge arts magazine: the two don’t really go together, somehow. Yet, until recently, Olu Michael Odukoya was balancing both.
Odukoya took a risk and published the first issue of Kilimanjaro magazine in 2004 with his own money. “Basically, I saved up in order to do it,” he says. “I was so pleased when Magma in London sold 400 copies of that first issue. I’d printed 500 so I’d made my money straight back.”
Kilimanjaro, which is published twice a year, is in no way a typical magazine. For a start it has a (very) large format with a spread in its main section measuring a whopping 96 × 68cm. Reading it requires space – a large table or even the floor all come into play when attempting to unfold, dissect and explore the thing. “Because of the format, you immediately have a ‘dialogue’ with it,” says Odukoya. ‘Dialogue’ or not, you certainly can’t deal with it like you would any other magazine. There are no staples or any other form of binding holding it together either, so readers can take it apart, rearrange it, lay it out, interact with it and in doing so discover different supplements with varying textures thanks to the use of different paper stocks or printing techniques. “With Kilmanjaro,” he continues, “you know the format is outrageous so if you found an empty page you wouldn’t be surprised.”
Though it gives the magazine a distinct identity, such an unusual format is not without its problems – stockists have to give Kilimanjaro special treatment because it won’t fit on regular magazine shelves. “The Tate Modern puts it in the book section – because it won’t fit with the magazines,” says Odukoya.
As you might expect for someone who started his own magazine from scratch, Odukoya has an infectious enthusiasm. “I’m interested in creating a vibe, a buzz about projects and ideas,” he explains of his approach to editing and curating the content of Kilimanjaro. “I want to harness the energy that can make things happen. I see the magazine as a space, an opportunity for people to create, to express their ideas.”
To fill this space, Odukoya tirelessly makes connections with potential contributors, planting creative seeds in the minds of the photographers, illustrators and writers that he seeks out and comes into contact with. For example, a recent conversation with photographer Dan Tobin Smith about why it is we cuddle teddy bears when real bears would tear us limb from limb given half the chance, led the duo to create a series of images of exploding teddies, one of which appears in the latest issue (number 8). “Seeing things exploding isn’t particularly rare,” comments Odukoya of the image, “but seeing a teddy bear exploding evokes an emotional response.”
Other contributors to date include Jenny Van Sommers, Tim Gutt, Alan Aldridge and Noma Bar. However, Odukoya says that he is wary of allowing any ‘star’ contributors to overwhelm the magazine. “Alan Fletcher was one of the first contributors to Kilimanjaro,” Odukoya reveals. “I didn’t know he was famous or anything, I saw some work somewhere I really liked, saw it was by him so I called him up and asked if he could do something for the magazine. When I took in all the content for issue one to show Loran Stosskopf [Kilimanjaro’s art director for issues 1–3], he said: ‘Oh, wow, you got something by Alan Fletcher.’ I knew then that I couldn’t include the work in the magazine because I didn’t want any one piece of work to be bigger than Kilimanjaro [itself].”
“I liked what Colors magazine was doing at the time I started Kilimanjaro,” continues Odukoya, speaking about his curatorial approach to the magazine (his official title is director and curator). “I thought they showed a really fresh take on what’s happening in the world – but I thought I’d do things a different way. I didn’t have budgets to fly to Peru to photograph poor people [Odukoya maintains he has never paid anyone to contribute to the magazine] and with photography everybody thinks that if it’s not emotionally heavy, or conscience-calling or over-creative, then you can’t make a statement. So I thought I’d make Kilimanjaro about art, love and everyday life. I want to be honest with what I do and I try to create this character of the guy that finds everything interesting in a simple way. If I stray from that character, I think I will be really fucked. It’s about finding little details in things and giving them a twist,” he claims.
As with all magazines, Kilimanjaro faces the perennial issue of funding. Some issues carry no advertising at all while others allow just one position, usually with artwork created specially for the magazine. For the back cover of Issue 5 for example, Paul Smith created a bespoke ‘advert’ in which he drew an apple cut in half accompanied by the message “Paul Smith for Kilimanjaro”. “The ad or magazine didn’t feature any of his clothing,” adds Odukoya. “So it was a huge compliment for Paul Smith to do that.”
So is Kilimanjaro making Odukoya rich? Subscriptions and newsstand sales mean that: “Kilimanjaro supports itself at the moment,” he says. “Any advertising in the magazine is to aid profile rather than a funding necessity.”
Odukoya now finds himself in a day job somewhat more befitting his publication – the ad agency Fallon recently took him on in its creative department. Still, in these troubled times, it’s good to know you have a trade to fall back on…