Port issue 15: Q&A with Kuchar Swara

Port magazine has just launched its 15th issue, which features a striking series of portraits of composer Esa-Pekka Salonen shot by Pieter Hugo, and photo features on New York cricket, sea bass fishing and SCP owner Sheridan Coakley’s Hampshire home. We spoke to creative director Kuchar Swara about the issue, and some of his favourite Port features to date

Port magazine has just launched its 15th issue, which features a striking series of portraits of composer Esa-Pekka Salonen shot by Pieter Hugo, and photo features on New York cricket, sea bass fishing and SCP owner Sheridan Coakley’s Hampshire home. We spoke to creative director Kuchar Swara about the issue, and some of his favourite Port features to date…

Port was founded in 2011 by Swara, Dan Crowe and Matt Willey, who created the magazine’s bespoke typeface. As Swara and Crowe explained to CR at the launch of issue one (interview here), the title was founded with the aim of providing a broader and more in-depth range of content than mainstream men’s magazines. Each issue combines photographic essays, long-form articles and features spanning film, design, architecture, business, food and literature. Past cover stars include Ralph Lauren and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Here, Swara discusses the new issue, talks about some of his favourites to date and explains how the magazine has evolved since its launch.

Composer Esa-Pekka Salonen photographed by Pieter Hugo. Feature by Timothy Mangan. Styling by Patrik Milani

 

CR: The cover image and portraits of Esa-Pekka Salonen are really striking. Why did you commission Pieter for this feature? And what were you looking to convey in the images?

Kuchar Swara: The choice of Pieter Hugo was initially pitched by our new photographic director, Rebecca McClelland, who knows Pieter well.

Like so many others, I’ve been a big fan of Pieter’s work for a long time so we were delighted when he agreed to shoot for us. I wanted the cover to be his artwork: Pieter Hugo the artist shooting Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Pieter’s series of portraits, There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends, is a brilliant personal project both technically and artistically [Hugo’s photographic process is explained here] and it felt like a great fit with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the revolutionary sound he has brought to music. It was the meeting of two brilliant artists from different fields.

 

CR: And what else can readers expect in issue 15?

KS: For me, it’s the team and our contributors really showing their stuff – the latest issue might be our best so far, I look forward to hearing what the readers think.

The New York Cricket story is the work of Alex Vadukul and Benjamin Norman turning NYC upside down, revealing a side to the city that not many people really know about. Also in the issue is the house [a 1970s building in Hampshire] of SCP owner and champion of British design Sheridan Coakley, shot by Robin Broadbent.

Photography by Benjamin Norman. Feature by Alex Vadukul

Photography by Tobias Harvey. Feature by Ali Morris

 

CR: You’ve featured some fantastic imagery in past issues of Port – how would you describe your approach to photography, and the kind of work you like to feature?

KS: I don’t think we champion just one style of imagery – I would say it’s more our subject matter and approach; for example, our still life images feature typically one object; our interiors images are usually shot on 5 x 4 using only natural light. We use no colour in our typography – which allows anything with colour, i.e illustration or photography, to have presence on page.

We tend to use words like ‘iconic’ and ‘bold’ a lot in our briefs. ­ I guess that might have something to do with it. We are very fortunate to be working with a mixture of photographers from different generations who all posses a similar outlook on what it means to produce a quality image.

Shadow Play shoot by Robin Broadbent. Styling by Alyn Griffiths

The Man of the Crowd shoot by Kate Jackling. Styling by Alex Petsetkis. Set design by Gemma Tickle

 

CR: How would you say the magazine has evolved since the first issue, both stylistically and in terms of content?

KS: I think initially when we started Port we had an idea of what we wanted. Issue on issue, I feel we are getting closer to achieving those goals we set for ourselves.

Whilst I’m proud of what we achieved in the early years, I feel we have all matured and learnt a great deal from experiments and ideas that worked and those that didn’t and naturally this has informed where we are today.

I would say the magazine is now more Port than it’s ever been; from the investigative articles and long-form journalism, to the photographic quality and printing.

 

CR: One of the most notable changes throughout issues has been the section openers. Why have you continued to develop them?

KS: I am quite interested in this area of graphic design, it’s one of the fundamental editorial/typographic gestures that gives a magazines its identity.

 

We first experimented with single page openers, which I enjoyed playing with. It’s not something I was used to seeing – usually, it’s a [double page spread] opener.

We then decided to play with something more expressive in the double page spread format; type only, blown up to the biggest size possible with forced returns, and in the latest issue the introduction of images and grid lines borrowing from newspaper language.

 

CR: When we interviewed you back in 2011, you said independent print mags are in a really strong position. Do you still think this is the case, and were you anticipating the success Port has had?

KS: The number of independent magazines is growing, be it to support other business interests, cultural expression, for pleasure (or pain however you decide to look at it). They are still in a strong position to challenge the status quo, whichever sector that happens to be in.

I don’t think any of us expected Port to reach issue 15. I was nervous when we bought barcodes for eight issues when we were working on our first issue. I calculated how old I would be, and how much work that meant; I think we went for a beer to calm us down.

 

CR: And, finally, what have been some of your favourite issues or features?

1. The retail special [from issue 12, spreads shown below] was an investigation into the state of retail and how it works and how it’s changing; from the quarry that supplies the marble to the boutiques, to the shop floor that sells goods, to the business brains that run them.

 

Investigations like this, and our Architecture and Design Survey in issue 13, are great ways for independent magazines to prove that it’s not just about nice images and lush pages, but also a return to good honest journalism. Informing as well as entertaining.

 

I am particularly fond of this feature as I think you’d be hard pushed to find a more expansive investigation into how retail works, from Tuscan quarries to shop floors in Tokyo, to design studios in London developing the next generation of retail displays – we really went for it.

2. The chateaux of Toulouse Lautrec shot by the brilliant Tobias Harvey and written by Huw Griffith (issue 13, below). I think our interior’s editors Tobias and Huw worked for a year and a half on securing the shoot and for me it’s a brilliant example of medium format photography. I tried to leave no white space, using every image that Tobias shot.

 

 

3. Afghanistan (issue 12) remains one of the most incredible photo essays I’ve seen, shot by Frédéric Lagrange (below). I am originally Kurdish-Iranian and before I came to London I grew up in the mountains. Frederic’s images really took me back to that time, and I wanted to give it a real sense of location and context.

It was quite a coup for us to get that feature, as I know other big magazines were in contention also.

 

 

 

Issue 15 of Port is on sale now and priced at £6. To order a copy, visit port-magazine.com.

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