Lydia Garnett and Lucy Nurnberg are editors of Accent, a biannual print magazine dedicated to celebrating lives lived outside the ordinary from around the world. It is a collection of true stories about inspirational, extraordinary people who dare to live life on their own terms.
Lydia and Lucy are our guest curators all this week, check back each day this week to see their recommendations.
From a reader’s perspective it appears to me that a sense of discovery is awakened through your stories, how much of Accent is about appealing to that desire to see cultures other than our own?
A big part of Accent is about reflecting diversity and showing different perspectives from around the world. The idea of Accent is that you can read about someone who’s carved out a unique lifestyle for themselves and that might inspire you to see things differently, go out and travel or make some changes to your own life. In so much of western media and culture we’re seeing the same narratives told again and again, and we want to show how much more there is in the world.
Does the impulse to feature a particular person or community come mostly from you or is it more about giving your collaborators the freedom to roam?
It depends on the story – sometimes there’s a particular subject or community that we think is extraordinary and we’ll commission someone to document it, but often it’s the photographers who bring an interesting subject to our attention and we’ll work with them to draw it out. We often find photographers can write really beautiful pieces about their subjects, despite not thinking of themselves as writers, because their motivations for documenting are so personal and they’re completely invested in their subjects.
Has there ever been a temptation to feature not only extraordinary lives, but extraordinary celebrity lives?
We’re interested in all kinds of extraordinary experiences, so of course that includes celebrities, but we always want to bring out a new side to the story. We’re interested in really getting to know our subjects and celebrating everyone for the right reasons; so it would all come back to why we thought that subject was special. Also it’s really important that we celebrate all our subjects equally, so Accent is completely free from hierarchy.
Whatever the particular subject, we’re interested in bringing out the personal stories behind that way of life.
The print magazine (which is beautiful by the way) is now out. As a preview, can you describe one of the people you’ve featured and how you put that story together?
Our cover story is about Kia Labeija, a 25-year-old vogue ballroom dancer, artist and HIV activist from New York City. I saw Kia speaking at an art event in Glasgow a couple of years ago, and was really inspired by her life story – I thought she’d be an amazing subject for Accent. We commissioned photographer Will Hacker to shoot an editorial that was inspired by the classic ballroom photography of the 80s. We then invited a London-based writer, Bwalya Newton, to interview Kia over Skype about how she got pulled into vogue ballroom as a teenager and hear more about the history of the subculture.
One of the stories from the print edition that particularly captured my attention were the street kids of Mexico City. Tell me a little about that community and what about that way of life you and the photographer wanted to capture?
Tyler Hubby shot this series in 1999 when he was part of a team working on a documentary film about the community of orphaned and homeless street kids around the Alameda Central. The kids had been exploited by the local media and were mistrustful of their camera team until Tyler had the idea of taking 35mm portraits of the kids and getting them developed at local one-hour photo shop. When he brought the photos back and shared them around, the kids were amazed to see their own image on film and immediately warmed up to the crew. By handing out those snapshots, Tyler got access to a closed community and saw another side to these tough street kids.
The old website archived collections of all the people you’d featured over the years. What is the new website going to do differently and what will happen to all the old stories?
The original website housed online issues that we released every three months, and became a great archive of all the content we’d ever released. When we decided to move into print, releasing Accent as a biannual, we felt we needed a website that wasn’t as static and could support more regular news-based content. We’re redesigning the website for that purpose, and we’ll be migrating our old stories over at the same time. Ultimately we want the website to be somewhere you can go and get lost in, learning about a wide range of lives and experiences from all over the world.
Counting the online and offline editions, is it 11 collections of stories now? Are there particular themes that you’ve continued returning to, and are there other ways of living you’d like the magazine to explore more?
The theme of Accent is always ‘living outside the ordinary’, which is intentionally open and broad, and an endless source of content. To us, it means people who’ve gone against the mainstream to pursue a truly independent lifestyle and do things on their own terms. We’re really interested in alternative lifestyles – for example in this issue, we feature a piece by Andrew Waits in the US that documents the experiences of people who live full-time in their RVs or cars. Some of Andrew’s subjects have chosen a nomadic way of life for the freedom it allows them; others were forced into the lifestyle after losing a job or experiencing a personal tragedy. It ties in nicely to a story we ran a few years ago by Tom Hunter about a group of twenty-somethings in the early 90s who left London in a double-decker bus called Le Crowbar to go on a free-party tour of Europe, with no plans to return. Whatever the particular subject, we’re interested in bringing out the personal stories behind that way of life.
We think of Accent as the go-to place for extraordinary, inspirational stories about real people, whether that’s in the print issues or on the new website. We’re always on the lookout for stories that fit that theme, and we love getting submissions. There are so many dream subjects we’ve yet to explore, and we’re always pushing for a more international range of stories – we want to know about the little-known subcultures and communities in parts of the world that don’t get mainstream media attention.
Lydia + Lucy's recommendations