We stumbled upon Hometown Journal at some point last year and proceeded to purchase the magazine on a whim. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the experience that it provided, as it is one of the most detailed, quality publications we’ve ever had the pleasure of getting our hands on. The writing is exceptional, as is the variety of paper stocks they print on -- making it feel as though each story comes alive through your finger tips. We’ve been curious about the folks behind these pages, so we reached out to founders Jan Eric Hühn and Alex Schuchmann to dig into why they started Hometown, what it means to them, and how they’ve gone about producing the tangible product they have.
Born Rival: What spurred the thought of starting the magazine? What was the impetus for the initial idea?
Alex: Eric and I have always had a passion for the printed word and we’ve always liked magazines. When COVID came about and we couldn't fulfill jobs because of working restrictions, one day we said, why don't we do a magazine? We've always wanted to do a podcast or something so we could reach out to people that inspire us, but we felt that a magazine was possibly a better excuse especially at times where people want to shoot on film, they want to listen to records again, especially our generation who craves for the feeling of an event. And we want to touch things. That’s why we started.
Eric: It was about getting in touch with other people who we had questions for. We wanted to know what they do, how they do it and how someone can become a bit more, not successful, but become better at what they are doing and learn what it takes to really, really grasp the moment. We wanted to make the magazine what we were sort of looking for, one that we would say like, “Oh, this is so amazing. We love that.”
BR: What was the process to actually conceptualizing the magazine, both in tangible form and the ethos of it all?
Alex: We made a list with potential people we could reach out to. We wanted to have some self written parts in it, but also features, interviews and maybe some exclusive content. So we had our guidelines and we just started reaching out to illustrators and photographers. And yeah, then we got people like Pat Martin, a photographer from California, we got in touch with an illustrator from Chile and many other people from all around the globe, and suddenly all of these people were part of our hometown.
Eric: I think in terms of the moment of starting the entire magazine, it was just like, yeah, I know how print works. Like I've done flyers [laughs]. And then all of a sudden, as Alex just said, people actually said yes, and we were like, fuck we have like 10 different artists. Now we have to go through with this. We had to start it.
Alex: And that was a really, I don't know, really fulfilling feeling that kept us going. We printed the thing [laughs] and yeah, now we are on the third episode and it just keeps adding up. It’s a very fulfilling job to do, especially for us to be interacting with the artists and photographers.
BR: Considering that you are both artists in your own right, how was it interacting with others in the creative community? Was there any pressure in portraying their work?
Eric: One of the nicest things about this is to get insight into other people's work and to be able to try to assemble what you learn and to then be able to give it to others and help people become better at what they love to do. We had to explain our vision of the magazine’s worth to the artists, like how crazy it was going to be to utilize special paper in order to make their work really stand out. It's all a form of presentation and it's the way we want to produce and present things to its value to what's printed on the page. We would look at each work, look at each image we were getting and be like, okay, how can we really capture that feeling and enhance the quality of the picture on the page?
It was a big moment in the second episode when I reached out to Miles Jay, who's a director I admire for his work, and he just said, ‘yes’. And I was like, whoop [laughs]. Okay, now I'm going to talk to Miles Jay tomorrow. Shit. These are the moments where it really, really, really is fun, where you get these moments where like, fuck - I can actually talk to an idol of mine and I can ask him the questions I wanted to ask him.
BR: It seems as if you had the concept and had artists who were on board with your vision, but did you have a means to actually print the magazine? How did you translate that need to portray a feeling onto the page?
Eric: So yes, we had to then reach out to print shops. I think the first 10 print shops that I reached out to were like, what the fuck do you wanna do? Like, how do you wanna put this stuff together? And I was like, yeah, that's what I hoped you could tell me. We finally found one close to Berlin who just came back and said like, yeah, we can do this. He was definitely not the cheapest one, but I felt like he was the person who can actually pull this off apparently, or at least believes in it and understands what we are going for. Since then we have been working with him and he has also been a great source of inspiration when it comes to printing stuff because he is an old book binder. He started binding books together with his brother 30, 40 years back. He knows all these old techniques, as well as new techniques. So the printing machines we are using are both like super old machines, but also very, very new ones. We are combining craftsmanship with technology in a way.
BR: So why did you choose to have it printed the way you did? I mean, I'm sure there's places online where you could've just put together the PDF and clicked ‘order’ and it would've showed up at your doorstep. It would have still been printed and would have had the same content, but of course it would've had a completely different look and feel. So why did you choose to go to this shop?
Alex: I mean, why do you want to shoot on 16mm? Or why do you want to shoot on Alexa LF? It's just a look you're going for to tell a story. We felt like with print and especially with mixing these unique things together, they had a real nice contrast to each other. For example, if you look at this new episode, there is one part that has this very shiny paper, especially on the pictures. Then you go to the next part and it has this really hard carton feeling and you immediately recognize what it is about. It's just about your senses and that they are triggered. Once readers go through it I'm sure they will realize it more easily. Especially in the last one, I don't know how you feel about it, Eric, but the mixes or transitions between the papers are more harsh.
Eric: In the current episode we did entire chapters with a different paper stock. We chose to go that way because when we started we hadn’t seen a magazine which we really thought was great in terms of how it's crafted. By now, I know that there's a ton of amazing independent magazines, but I didn't know it really at the time. Doing the magazine has introduced us to a lot of other indie magazines or books or resellers or stores which think in a similar way. But I have yet to see a publication that is quite as excessive as we are about the paper and about the craftsmanship behind it.
BR: That's very cool. And I mean, those details are so well woven in, I don't even know if I caught all of those subtleties and I thought I did look at it very closely! I think that’s what's cool about what you guys are doing, you know, it’s great, it's tangible, you can pick it up, you can read it, but then you can also, it just as easily reread it. When it has so many details, you almost have to give it a couple reads. Maybe put it down and pick it up six months later and you you'll discover something new because it has all this depth to it, which is amazing and really makes it just such a quality publication.
BR: Who’s the whole team behind the latest issue?
Alex: The core team consists of three friends. It’s us, Eric and Alex, who have known each other since high school, and we’re joined by our art director and graphic designer Zoé. It’s been very interesting to see how our collaboration has changed during the last few episodes, and in terms of team dynamics, it has definitely evolved since the start. Everyone was new in their role, so the first episode was directed a bit more by founders Eric and me. None of us pictured how this collaboration would turn out. It was trial and error. From then on after moving to Berlin and Haarlem, Zoé took over the art direction role, while Eric and I became mainly curators and editors of Episodes 2 and 3. It can be pretty challenging to work with your best friends, but once the moment comes and you all align on a creative decision the feeling is very satisfying. But to be honest the real challenge lies within the desire for constant improvement, the urge to make a better episode by being harsh on every decision made. It’s wanting to reinvent yourself each time, while still staying true to your identity.
BR: You guys have really put in the time and effort and have been there physically and mentally. What's the feeling now that you've put in all that work? Have you found it a rewarding journey?
Alex: Because of all the visuals you see, like all the illustrations, all the words — it feels like an explosion to me. A visual explosion. I can't put it all into words. So I think for me, I can only get a feeling of reward once I can really enjoy the magazine myself for the first time. We were just really busy with printing it, assembling all the contents, designing it. We just had the release party for Episode 3, and now all the shipping will start. There are many steps to do, and we are just a small team - a very small team of three. I’m really looking forward to some down days where I can maybe sit in a shack close by the sea and just read through the magazine.
BR: Let’s talk about the release party, because we think that's great. You guys had a bunch of people in the same room that were coming out to support the publication, but you were also building and shaping the community that was there and you guys were the ones that brought them all together. So whatever conversations were had, whatever good times were were shared, it was because you guys decided to start a magazine and started to share & tell these stories. What was it like to feel that you guys created that sense of community?
Eric: So many people had a good time, including both of us. That was the first time we really felt like, okay, we finished something and this is the moment to celebrate it. That was definitely lacking with the first two episodes. Due to the pandemic, we made online releases, but it's like an email with a confirmation when somebody buys something or whatever. It's not you standing there with somebody going through the pages, really explaining to them what went into this. There were so many people who wanted to get to know things and they were interested and they were happy about it. This is what we are trying to communicate more to people who are getting the magazine, that we are really in need of help of our readers to tell others what this is about, because it's something we can't show on the internet because it's not made for the internet - it's made to hold in your hands and it's made to touch. It’s a tactile experience and we can't show that to everybody.
Alex: This has been a passion project, same as with some of the films we've made. It's just something for ourselves. It's something we want to give back to our community. But it’s not made to make money, and it's the same with the party. It wasn't meant to push our egos or to showcase ‘Hey guys. We’re the people who made this.” It’s meant to connect people. We had artists that were featured in the magazine who were there at the party itself. So if we can give something back to the community, even if it’s just bringing them together with other people, that is what it is about.
BR: You might not have immediate financial success in terms of selling, but you were successful in bringing people together and sharing the work of so many artists. And as you said, some of the artists you featured were at the event. Are you shocked how the idea of this magazine and reaching out to artist on a whim, especially during a separated and singular time during covid, has resulted in cultivating community and sharing art in person?
Alex: It's a dream come true to just talk to other people like you guys. Maybe it's a bit just my point of view, but it’s a bummer that there's such rare touching points between all of us. So it's cool that you reached out to us so that we can take part on your journey and you are taking part on our journey. And I don't know, that's what life is about; being social, being together and making crazy stuff [laughs].
Eric: I think what's super interesting about all of this is that we are making a product which is about being tactile, about turning your back a bit on the internet. You guys are also talking about analog photography, vinyls, etc. but I think in the end, everything we do wouldn't be possible in the way we are doing it without having those possibilities online. Every single artist we found we've gone through Instagram or other websites. I think while we are trying to take a step away from the Internet, it's a great tool to connect and it's a great tool to make this world a little bit more global and to forget about borders a bit, which yeah, I guess is more valid again, more than ever, that there are too many.
BR: Having the magazines ourselves, we definitely understand that it’s hard to explain without physically putting it in a reader’s hands. Do you think that as the readership grows, more people will understand what it’s about?
Eric: This is what we are now are trying to communicate more to the people who are actually buying the magazine, who are taking part in our journey, that we are really in need of help of our readers to tell others what this is about, because it's something we can't show on the Internet. It's made to hold in your hands and it's made to touch. It’s a tactile experience and we can't show that to everybody.
I think this is the only way we can grow as a magazine and how we can actually keep doing this because as of now, it's three crazy human beings who are insane enough to put in the time and money and not be getting any value back financially. But what we are getting back, which is why I think we keep doing it, is when we get a message from somebody saying, “I just read the text and it touched me. Thank you for doing this”. It's like, okay, we actually managed to touch base with people and they understand what we are doing, or at least appreciate it. That is what we’re doing this for.
Do yourself a favor and pickup the latest issue of Hometown Journal: www.hometownjournal.eu
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