The Weekly Edit: Tiny Atlas Quarterly with Emily Nathan

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Tiny Atlas Quarterly

Founder and Publisher: Emily Nathan

Director of User Experience: Jake Huffman

Director of Art and Design: Liz Mullally

Photo EditorDeb Hearey

Why did you start this project? What sort of market space were you hoping to disrupt?
After my son was born, I was still busy shooting for clients but stopped shooting personal projects almost completely for about a year. I was kind of going crazy not being able to shoot for myself so I set up a project in Montana to just go shoot a lifestyle project/test in a part of Glacier National Park. Once I did the Montana shoot I realized that big lifestyle shoots like I had done had the potential to be a magazine.

The pictures that are expected for traditional travel magazines are not as interesting to me over time. A hotel bed, a cup of coffee, and a romantic landscape type of imagery is nice to see but after many years shooting big lifestyle productions, those pictures feel not as compelling to make. I want people! And I want people to do all the stuff there is to do in a given location.

On the flip side, with commercial shoots, you do all this planning and production and activities but viewers never know where you are, where you stayed, who your awesome team was, etc. Additionally with commercial shoots you have budget but obviously a lot of decisions about the content of images (and choices like styling) are made based on a client’s needs and not only your vision. Tiny Atlas seemed like a place to put those things together.

Big beautiful travel stories filled with people experiencing the places we wanted to go, or had been and wanted to share. I have so many creative friends who love travel (and are already traveling for work) and who also yearn to work on projects of their own devising that I figured we could band together and make it happen.

Tell me about the evolution of this, and how it’s either exceeded or disappointed your goals?
I can’t quite even remember how we got started. I had the idea, I spoke with my friend, our art director Liz Mullally, who had just left Apple after many years to move to LA.  Liz had some time to think about a new project while she was in transition and we got started. My husband Jake built Tiny Atlas. He works full time as a UX designer but we have always built my sites together. A big part of the fresh quality of TAQ comes from the UX and that is credited to Jake mostly, or our collaboration.
Tiny Atlas has grown so much and it is becoming very exciting. The magazine hasn’t disappointed me but it has sapped my business financially and time-wise.

You must have had space in your mind in order to think up this type of project, did you have some slow periods with your photography?
Well after you have a child you both lose a lot of free time and then gain a lot of time where you have to stay home at night because there is a baby sleeping in the other room. My husband and I used to go out all the time and now it is pretty rare. A lot of Tiny Atlas happens between 8pm-midnight.

How will you monetize this?
We have purposely put in all the production info and links so that potential branded partners and advertisers will see the opportunity and how open we are to work together, but also so that when the time comes, readers will not be surprised about the more branded connections being made. We are thinking of lots of ways for brands  to work with us, but we have kept the magazine really beautiful and grounded and it will never feel commercial. All of the places, clothing, activities have come from our creators . They are OUR favorite places, and our favorite clothing  and we want to share them. But we are open to sponsors and the great ideas they can bring, as well.  There is also the potential to have an online marketplace for our imagery and favorite crafted objects and destination suggestions in a curated way. We’re starting to examine ideas such as this, for example,  in a small way with our Oakland gallery show in conjunction with our Kickstarter campaign and possibly in a popup gallery/shop in the new year in Oakland, as well.

In a perfect world how do you see this taking off?
In the perfect world, places with fascinating stories, writers with a taste for exploration, and beautiful exciting destinations  (on or off the radar) will approach us with projects they want to collaborate on and we will choose the right ones to shoot/write about/collaborate on. This will be in addition to just going to places we want to share with our readers who will hopefully support the printed magazine/shop.

Why Kickstarter and not private investors?
Tiny Atlas has been completely created by me and a growing group of artists that have a lot in common. We are interested in personal stories and personal vision and we want to share work that feels intentional but also casual and real. Unfortunately we are at a point where we can’t continue to share this work without funding. But, there seem to be many individuals who appreciate what we are doing and a general interest in small magazines with unique vision. We hope to connect with all these affiliated folks directly through the Kickstarter campaign and expand on the groundwork we have done as well as listen to direct thoughts from our readers about what they are liking about what we do. While we are not opposed to funding, we want to continue to grow what we already have going and not to change focus.

How did you start your career in photography?
I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and got my degree in English Literature and creative writing/poetry. For me photography has always been visual storytelling and poetic editing mixed together. I grew up traveling a bit with my family and I developed a pretty strong love of travel. I took photo classes in high school and university, but I also did a study abroad in Chile where I had an internship as a photojournalist with the national daily newspaper in Santiago. Everything came together for me there. I wanted to shoot and travel. After my study abroad I traveled alone through parts of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina for a few months. I thought I would become a photojournalist and travel and shoot, but I was not interested in war as much as humanity. My husband and I met when I was a few months out of college trying to be a stringer for the AP (at 21 years old) in SF and he was an art director at the SF Bay Guardian where I started getting portrait assignments. I excelled far more at that than taking pictures of Willie Brown shaking someone’s hand for a Thanksgiving benefit for AP.

How did your experience at Apple fold into the evolution of this project?
Apple was amazing for my career. I started shooting for them on lifestyle projects when I was still just working editorially mostly. They had a lot more freedom in what they were looking for from photographers than other commercial clients so the goal was to take great images of people-often real families on real trips. But they put production muscle, great producers and amazing vision behind what they do and it set my course for making images.

Does your agent support you on this project?
Bernstein & Andriulli has been very supportive. Carol Alda and Howard Bernstein have been especially helpful in getting the word out. They are enthusiastic about my work coming in from Tiny Atlas and they are excited to share it with their clients and network. It feels fresh and relevant to them and that feels good to me.

Why do you think this style of photography is emerging and becoming valuable?
I think lifestyle is maybe coming into its own as a genre. Lifestyle is not a great word and the connotations aren’t amazing- you think, backlit happy people, but that is not why lifestyle is popular. It’s popular because lifestyle images are taken from the perspective of individual experience.

For a time documentary was predominant for so much of photography. Then it split back into categories, portrait, nature, etcetera. This is a little off track for Tiny Atlas but I guess my point is that lifestyle seems like the new documentary. Its a ubiquitous form that seems current and real and relatable. Lifestyle images can be profound or disposable but they are all fitting into the same bucket right now.

The source/credit information about the shoot is shared, are there direct links out to contributors sites? Do you think that can substitute as payment (essentially it’s free advertizing )
I think people want information to be free online and I think it actually should be. The internet is for sharing information and I hate paying for any content online personally. I don’t want people to pay to be a stylist or photographer for Tiny Atlas. I do want to find partners- be they readers who will pay for a beautiful inspiring quarterly or annual magazine in print to keep at home (or tear apart and put on their walls like I did as a kid), or shoot and put on their pinterest, or an airline that wants to promote their new direct service from SFO to Copenhagen, a gem of a national park, an amazing campground,  a gorgeous boutique hotel, a delicious local food or restaurant, an old resort that is not trendy but it’s still awesome, or a clothing brand that wants to share a new type of jeans that are actually super flattering. I want to know about all of these things and I think the Tiny Atlas reader does too.

Certainly there is an amount of luxury in any travel magazine but while we want to go everywhere in the world I think the best journey is really just about experience ultimately and not price. I talk about this below but one of my best trips ever was taking buses and hitch hiking around South America in college with money saved from waitressing between college semesters. The biggest luxury for any trip is the time to do it.

Is the entire team friend and family?
The team is friends and family first but has been really growing. I think 45  people had a hand in the last issue or more. Lots of people have reached out to collaborate and if their work is the right fit we are happy to get new people in the mix. I am meeting lots of new people both near and far, virtually and in person. I recently met one of our contributors, Ashley Camper when I was in Hawaii shooting. I also just met Erin Kunkel in person- who is another great bay area photographer we are working with in the next issue and on the Kickstarter campaign. We just tried (and kind of failed) at having a global TAQ Google+ hangout the other day but the experience was fun and we hope to do more things like that as well as connect in person with each other both on our travels and in the gallery/popup in Oakland.

Will you ever do a print version?
Yes! We are going to do a limited run annual for the Kickstarter with an edited version of all the work from Tiny Atlas so far, including our new issue that will come out in November/December. If it goes well we might go to a printed quarterly, or just keep doing the annuals and keep the quarterly online if it feels like the right timeline.

What is missing?
We are missing WRITING! I want writing that is excellent writing with a strong sense of place. The writing format is open to poetry, fiction, memoir or straight journalism, but it should ideally be great storytelling. Sentences should sing and make you happy to read them- is there a happiness-in-reading-something well-written word, like farfegnugen? I want that.

Even though I went to school for writing I don’t know many writers anymore and we are hoping to have budget to seek out excellent writers or ideally expand enough so that writers with a similar vision come to find us.

You can follow Emily and the project:
also on instagram
on twitter
and on facebook

Heidi Volpe

There Are 8 Comments On This Article.

  1. Kathleen Strodtbeck

    Glad to hear your personal story & how Tiny Atlas evolved. I can sense from the photography yours & others enthusiasm & passion for life & enjoyment of places.
    Enjoyment of beauty does not require money. The subject matter does not need to be arranged, posed or stylized. It is ‘there’; all around us. A photograph immortalizes a vase of garden flowers. It may not be an exotic location in relation outside of the USA, but it may be to someone else living at the other end of the world Many of us may not have the chance to travel, but your contributing photographers share with the rest of us the simple enjoyment of moments, wherever their feet have landed.
    Thanks for sharing. May you & the team continue to stay focused & true to yourselves & what you believe in. Wishing you continued success!

  2. With all due respect, after reading this, I can’t help feeling that all you’ve really done here is to reinvent the wheel, except the tread is bare and the inner tube barely inflated, so the vehicle it’s attached to requires the generous help (read: free) of others to push it along to gain any momentum. That’s wonderful and liberating, but no less exhausting a task for those doing the pushing than if one were being paid for their labour. Commendable as all this enthusiasm & passion sounds, doesn’t all this ‘sharing’ really equate to giving away work, yet again, for free? Two questions: why should editorial content married to the internet – the same content that could equally be reproduced in print and that requires the same attention to detail and effort to produce – take on a lesser value (read again: free) when it is published online? And why does the photography take on a lesser status to excellent writing, which you hope to develop a budget for? Do you feel the effort is more exhausting for the writer, who deserves to be remunerated? There’s nothing particularly new in this as publishers have always wanted to have their cake baked for them for free, and this offering doesn’t sound vastly different, no matter how you word it. Industry groups have lectured long and hard for many years reminding photographers that we cannot pay our bills by accepting just a credit for our work. What really appears to be missing, aside from the good writing you lament, is sound financial backing which suggests this has the propensity to fail in the long term while establishing, or rather, entrenching, the attitude that free is the permanent state of online publishing at a time when others with deeper pockets have finally learned that pay walls are a necessary evil if one hopes to remain solvent.

    • Many, many great magazines got started by getting everyone to work for free. Add to that the current environment where every magazine on earth is available online for free and the advertising rates are pennies per person and you have an impossible task of starting a magazine. Unless of course you are rich and can afford to flush many years of startup costs down the toilet.

      I believe magazines today would treat photographers differently if they were not all owned by rich old dudes. That barrier to entry you think is important is actually detrimental to the industry in my opinion.

      • Quite so Rob. I recall a number of them doing exactly that during my 20 odd years in this business (if we can still call it that), until they either went bust, or became viable propositions financially or by garnering a decent enough share of subscriptions (remember those?) or large enough aggregate of readers. In which case they were regularly bought out by some rich old dude looking for another acquisition to add to his publishing stable.

        The contributors asked to work for free during start up, unless they held shares, or were family, rarely saw any recompense when those deals were struck.

        By the way, I still shoot for one of the few magazines on earth that isn’t available online, simply because the publisher (not an old rich dude either) cannot see how to monetize their product through that medium. In the short term: that means they still pay their contributors, from the returns they make on rack sales.

        In the longer term: who knows, they may wind up consigned to extinction now the barrier to entry is so low (I understood that was once the cost of ink on paper and postal delivery). Time will tell if that is such a good thing.

  3. Great article and fantastic find.

    Tiny Atlas is really different. It has beautiful lifestyle images, full, fresh and bright. The list of contributors at the end of a series is a new twist. It gives credit to those involved not only the main photographer but also stylist, accommodation, model…

    Thank you,
    Roman Francisco

  4. To Peter James and all- We fully intend to pay photographers as well as writers. Many photographers are always shooting personal work for their books and we are promoting their work to a wider audience in the meantime. The kickstarter will hopefully reach and surpass its goal and the printed edition will hopefully start payments to photographers in some capacity. I have made my entire living as a professional photographer and getting everyone paid for their work is why we are talking today.