New magazine The Collective Quarterly combines travel journalism with an artist residency programme and online shop. We spoke to founders Jesse Lenz and Seth Putnam about the concept and the latest issue, which offers a fascinating look at the sights, scenery and residents of the Absaroka mountain range in rural Montana…
Founded in 2013, The Collective Quarterly focuses on a different destination each issue – the pilot explored Marfa, a remote desert town in Texas while issue one, out now, covers Absaroka and Livingston, a tiny city at the foot of the Yellowstone National Park with just a few thousand residents.
As well as some tips on where to eat, drink and stay, each issue features articles documenting the history of the featured destination and the lives of people who live there – issue one includes an interview with a local glassblower as well as articles on husky sledding, fishing, a celebrity chef who lost his hand during a freak accident and the 100-year-old Chico Hot Springs Resort where Jeff Bridges met his wife. There’s some stunning photography too, capturing turquoise springs, sweeping mountain ranges and ghost towns filled with long abandoned wooden buildings.
For each issue, the magazine also invites a handful of artists to complete a week-long residency in the area featured, before returning to their home or studio and crafting a piece inspired by their trip. Works are then sold via the magazine’s online shop and the process of making it is documented in the issue.
Jesse Lenz, the magazine’s creative director and Seth Putnam, its editor, had the idea for the title after meeting by chance through social media: Lenz, an artist who has created editorial illustrations for the New York Times, GQ and Rolling Stone (including last year’s brilliant Planet Hillary cover), commented on one of Putnam (a journalist)’s Instagram posts, the pair got talking and discussed the possibility of creating a magazine about the creative process. Combining the idea with travel was a way to make it “relatable”, say the pair. “We wanted to make a magazine about people making things, but didn’t want some high concept art title. When we looked at what inspired us to create things, it was often travel – going somewhere new, meeting new people – so we decided to put the two ideas together,” explains Lenz.
Elk-dog print, taken by Jon Levitt on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana
Horseback baseball cap, made in collaboration with Montana hat maker FairEnds
It takes several months to produce each issue: Putnam and Lenz will research a new location for a few weeks, then visit to meet local residents and “get a feel for the area.” Around four months later, they’ll visit with an editorial team for a week, gathering stories and carrying out interviews, before being joined by the artists. Photoshoots are commissioned before, during and after each trip.
“Taking this amount of time is costly and it’s very labour intensive, but it helps us get deeper, more intimate stories, and visually, we can capture an area in all four seasons,” says Putnam. “We visited Livingston in summer and fall, but our photographers also took shots in spring and winter, so you feel like get quite a well-rounded experience when you read [the magazine],” he adds.
Glacier anorak, made by Kristina Angelozzi (Fischer Clothing)
Objects produced by artists in residency so far include photographic prints, woollen blankets, an anorak, a stool and a set of wooden spoons and artists span a range of disciplines, from wood to sculpture and textiles. “We try to bring people from different regions and backgrounds on each trip,” explains Lenz. “We have an idea of what they’re going to make based on their discipline, but we give them a lot of freedom to explore and create what they want.”
While income from limited edition products is fairly modest, it’s a platform Putnam and Lenz are looking to expand with each issue. “As well as being a product line, it’s a way of bringing the experience of the magazine to readers – you can support the artists featured and feel connected to their experience by buying the outcome of it. We’re also looking at creating pop-up events in each location after new issues come out, so people can come along and meet the people featured [in the magazine],” Putnam adds.
The Collective Quarterly isn’t the first magazine to focus on one destination per issue – Boat also examines a single city and German magazine Flaneur, a single street – but both tend to focus on well-known cities such as Los Angeles, London and Berlin. Lenz and Putnam, however, are keen to avoid popular tourist spots, opting instead for relatively undiscovered parts of America. The next issue will feature a small town in Vermont and the following Ojai, the smallest city in Ventura Country, California.
“We always look for somewhere unexpected – most people visit Montana to see the two big cities [Helena, the capital and Billings] or the Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, while Livingston is this tiny town, really off the beaten path, yet there’s a surprising amount of actors and writers and painters who’ve stayed or lived there,” explains Lenz.
“We also look for places that are visually interesting – but that doesn’t have to mean classically beautiful. Montana was visually overwhelming but we try to capture the less picturesque parts of places too. Sometimes with travel mags, you see these stunning pictures and you’re really let down when you get there, so we want to show what places look like in real life, beauty and ugliness,” he adds.
There isn’t much ugliness in issue one of The Collective Quarterly – even the shots of crumbling buildings and deserted streets are eerily beautiful – but it does feature images of garden workshops, sheep being sheared and fish being gutted, as well as a glimpse inside homes, hotels, bars and local studios.
With scenery varying dramatically from place to place, Lenz says each issue has to be designed almost from scratch by design director Jesse Southerland. “We want each issue to feel as if it was custom made, tailored to that place. We might change the fonts or add some new symbols and extra embellishments – little details to reflect its character and add some excitement,” he explains.
“We do have a loose template, but we want the magazine to be surprising,” adds Putnam. “A lot of people approach quarterly magazines a bit like a book, but you can have a lot more fun with magazine layouts.”
Like Boat and Flaneur, The Collective Quarterly’s appeal lies not just in its use of beautiful imagery, but in its in-depth treatment of destinations: by focusing on a single town or city per issue, it aims to capture the character of a place, rather than merely point its readers in the direction of key sights, restaurants or tourist highlights.
“It’s almost like the magazine makes people feel like a local, because they can go [to a place] knowing some of the residents and their stories, where they go and how they like to spend their time,” says Putnam. “I think it’s important to give readers some practical content – a 36-hour itinerary, for example – but what really inspires me are human interest stories,” he adds.
With slow journalism and documentary style travel magazines becoming increasingly popular, The Collective Quarterly has some tough competition (Cereal, too, combines long form articles with beautiful photography, while The American Guide, a crowdsourced series of titles, explores each of America’s states). But with its artist residency programme and e-commerce site, coupled with its choice of small, remote destinations, it has carved out an interesting niche. It’s a fascinating read and a great platform for local artists and designers to showcase their work.
Issue one of The Collective Quarterly costs $25 and is available to buy at collectivequarterly.com. Issues will be on sale at selected UK shops later this year.