This week our Roaming reported Alize Morand caught up with Rui Faria, Editor in chief of Volt Magazine and director of Photographic Agency ‘Areia’ to talk Helmut Newton, running an Agency, and fronting the cult magazine ‘VOLT’.
AM: Hi Rui, could you please tell me a bit about your background, and what’s the story on Helmut Newton?
RF: I was born in Portugal and at the age of 17 moved to London to study English. After one year in England I relocated to New York to study film. One evening a year into my studies I went to the cinema to see the film ‘The eyes of Laura Mars’. Set in New York City, leading lady Faye Dunaway played a Photographer that could predict tragic events such as a murder through her camera. I sat there and was mesmerized by the imagery.
There’s one scene where the character visits an exhibition of beautiful photography. I sat through the credits that read ‘Still fashion photographs: courtesy of Helmut Newton’. At that point I didn’t know who Helmut Newton was. The next day I visited the library and found a book called ‘White Nights’ by Helmut Newton. This is the point I realized my true calling. I then moved colleges to FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] in New York, to study Photography.
AM: What attracted you to Photography?
The images were very expressive and I could identify with them. In filmmaking, it is about collaboration with many people: the cameramen, sound pros, lighting pros… It creates a big team, and becomes decisions by committee. You can’t control the final look. Even when you’re shooting, someone does the editing, someone does the sound effects and as a Director, you lose control.
As a Photographer I realised I could be the one in control. I also love the element of fantasy that you can achieve with Photography. I’m a Pisces, a daydreamer and I like the idea that I can create a world that doesn’t exist.
AM: Your photography is far from trends or labels…
RF: I’m probably the least fashionable person you’ll ever meet. I dress for comfort, not necessarily for style. My thing is that I don’t become what I do, I do what I do. I was a Fashion Photographer for 15 years but then became disillusioned and moved into beauty photography. I find it more about creativity, lighting, and composition – less about the clothing. I’m able to have much more creative freedom!
AM: So you no longer shoot fashion photography?
RF: I do, but it’s very seldom. I’ve just done a shoot for The Guardian, which happened to be fashion, but I don’t market myself as a fashion photographer.
AM: You own Creative Agency ‘Areia’. What inspired its launch?
RF: The agency came about when I moved from New York back to London. I was looking to sign with a good agent, and in the space of three years, I went through three different agents. I was disillusioned with the way they were doing things and it seemed to me it was all about making as much money as possible and less about catering to your specific needs. At the time I was working a lot in Germany and had some really good clients such as German Marie Claire.
I found out that my agent at the time sent a fax to one of my clients saying ‘We know you’d like to work with Rui but we have another photographer that would be suitable’. The client called me from Germany and said ‘your agent’s not being very loyal to you’ and sent me a copy of the fax. Needless to say, I was livid and left the agency. Then one evening over a drink with a friend at a Munich bar I was explaining what happened and he said ‘Why don’t you set up your own agency?’ That was 10 years ago.
Myself and another Photographer started working from my sitting room in my apartment. It was great training as I was forced to learn how to become a successful agent very quickly. I wanted to create an agency with a difference, with specific photographers, targeting specific clients. Gradually we started adding new talent and Photographers and eventually we went through some changes and I added a Make-up Artist, Stylist and Art Director.
AM: The agency grew organically?
RF: It did. For me it’s important that I like the people as well as the work. You can be the most talented person on earth, but if you and I don’t get on, there’s no way I’m going to represent you.
The relationship between a Photographer and an Agent is like a marriage. There must be a relationship with mutual trust and mutual respect. My experience as a Photographer enables me to understand the artist’s needs and forces me to put the artist’s best interest first.
AM: So you encourage creativity wherever possible?
RF: Exactly, because as an Artist or Photographer, you have to be passionate about what you do. If all you want to do is make money, this is the wrong industry.
AM: How do you manage to balance running the agency, working as a photographer and editing a magazine?
RF: The enjoyment I get from my job and my passion drives me to get the job done. However, I don’t see it as a job. I’m often here until late in the evening and on weekends but it doesn’t bother me. It’s part of my life. A lot of people in the industry have this absurd notion that it’s all about going to parties and glamorous dinners, which is not true. It’s hard work but I believe hard work pays off.
AM: How did the idea for Volt magazine arise?
RF: Fashion magazines in general tend to be incestuous; it tends to be the same thing over and over again. They find a format and they do the same things. You also tend to see the same photographers over and over again.
Volt magazine is designed to be something that you treasure, want to keep, collect and take pride of. We’re not interested in what celebrities eat, or who they go out with or who they’ve been sleeping with. We have a no-celebrity policy to start with, and you have to be talented somehow to be in the magazine. Our approach is different, we’re trying to give people quality rather than something that people flick through and throw away.
AM: And the advertising is feeding editorials and features.
RF: We designed Volt with the view of how a Photographer would want a magazine to appear. We stripped away all the unnecessary stuff as Volt is a visual magazine with about 2 or 3 pages of text, but all the text is relevant: we feature an artist, a fashion designer or an up and coming singer.
AM: Do you personally select your advertisers?
RF: Yes, we approach them and each issue has between 4 or 6 pages of ads that fit with the editorials and design. There has been one ad in particular that was shot for Volt exclusively. We’ve had a very privileged collaboration with Puma-McQueen from the launch. But in the beginning it’s hard to convince advertisers. We had all sorts of excuses: ‘It’s too big, it is loose, it’s not bound…’
AM: Why the large format?
RF: We wanted to do something different because most magazines tend to follow a formula. I wanted to stand out. I didn’t want to go small. So I thought ‘Let’s be outrageous and do something that people will pay attention to, people will talk about, and either love it or hate it’. We only printed 2000 copies of the first issue and I distributed it to all the advertising agencies and other creative people. I found myself with 200 copies spare so I went to R.D. Franks [a specialist magazine store in Central London] and asked if they would like to stock Volt. Within two weeks they had sold out completely.
When I approached Borders they told me ‘You need to find a distributor’. At this point I wasn’t aware of the need for a distributor but I began contacting them but most said ‘No, it’s too big, it doesn’t fit the shelves, etc’. I was about to give up when I called the last name on the list and he said ‘Do you have a website?‘ I said yes, he looked at the website and said ‘I love it. I’ll come and get it tomorrow.’ That was for UK distribution only, but I wanted to get the magazine sold abroad. I faced the same trouble but eventually found a small independent distributor who said ‘Yeah, we’ll take it.’ Now Volt is distributed in 30 countries worldwide.
AM: Volt is printed beautifully… How do you feel about the trend for Magazines moving online?
RF: A lot of people ask ‘Why don’t you have an internet version?’ But it is intended to be seen in its present form: large, paper, the smell of the ink, that’s what makes the magazine exciting. The magazine is printed on recycled organic paper, in a self-sustained forestry because we are very conscious about the environment and the amount of paper used too. That’s important.
AM: Do you think the younger digital-fed generations might rather access it online?
RF: Well, there are previews online such as on F.TAPE, which is great as an introduction, but I wouldn’t put the entire magazine online. People get tired, I am conscious that nowadays our attention span is very small. To put the entire magazine online? – it would take quite some time to download all the files and because people are in such a hurry to go somewhere, or nowhere in particular, it doesn’t give them time to appreciate the beauty. The very reason the magazine is not bound is on purpose because each image is supposed to be a poster, so you can frame it.
AM: Volt is always very original. How do you avoid the mainstream?
RF: We’ve been lucky enough to spot new talents and to have the right connections to locate and feature them. For example as a direct result of our current issue, there was a feature in Vogue of an artist, after they saw her in Volt. It makes me feel proud but also it shows we have our finger on the pulse. And that’s why our collaboration with F.TAPE has been amazing. We support these talents, and F.TAPE helps Volt by suggesting particular talent that they feel fits the Volt aesthetic. I also love to be surrounded by people that are creative and passionate.
AM: Now, concerning the ‘Best of Volt so far…’ exhibition: With all the quality imagery you feature in the magazine, how did you manage to select the images to exhibit?
RF: Between myself, our Creative Director and the designers, we thought that the fairest way is to have one picture from each Photographer; bearing in mind that all the pictures have to compliment each other.
We purposely didn’t use images from Issue 01 as I shot the pictures myself along with another photographer so it wouldn’t be balanced. We decided on ten prints, so my original idea was to have two from each issue but when we went though the first selection it didn’t really work. We made another selection and then our designers helped us with the layout of the exhibition, the same way they design the magazine, placing pictures that work well together.
AM: The words ‘Best of’ usually imply the end of something or the beginning of something new, do you see it as a new beginning for Volt?
RF: Well, it’s more a continuation, this is what we have produced so far but there is definitely more to come. I want it to be something that grows. For issue 05 we brought in a team of guest designers who created a new logo and font just for Volt.
Issue 06 is going to offer something different and we’ll bring readers some exceptional guests! I cannot reveal them yet, but it’s exciting. The only thing that will never change is the size.
AM: One last question: What real-world advice would you give to Students or Graduates who want to work in photography or in the magazines industry?
RF: There are lots of obstacles but you really need to be persistent and don’t give up easily. There were 25 students in my class and I know that only two of us are still practicing photography. You have to be truly passionate about what you do, be true to yourself, set your goals in life and stick to them. There’s always a temptation, especially when you’re young, to live for today. I remember my days back in New York; I used to walk from my home to the studio. I had the choice to save two dollars a day by not taking the metro so I could buy my lunch. It was a discipline and it was my priority.
Most people are too eager to rush into things in life, which I believe is creating a disposable society. People have no time to build up relationships and to learn things. I see a lot of Photographers come straight from school and want to be a Photographer tomorrow, to set up a business and shoot campaigns for Dior and Chanel without assisting anyone. I think it’s fundamental, no matter how talented you are, to assist a working Photographer. Whilst in New York I assisted for 4 years because as well as improving technique, you also get the hands on experience of learning how to relate to other human beings.