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Paddle against the flow.

Deep dive into Huck with the British Journal of Photography

 Andrea Kurland, Editor-In-Chief, Huck

Andrea Kurland, Editor-In-Chief, Huck

When the first issue of Huck went to press in 2006, it was quite different to what it is today. Started by a team of friends passionate about the skate and surf scenes, and formed soon after the closure of Adrenalin magazine, where many of them had worked, it championed the personal stories of the sports’ icons and surrounding culture, rather than the action.

Though still passionate about radical culture, Huck is now decidedly less niche. “Over the years, the voice we’ve always had as an alternative to the mainstream became more relevant to more people,” says Andrea Kurland, who has been part of the team from the start, and became editor in chief in 2010. “As we’ve grown, the generation that grew up with us has become more socially and politically engaged. This is now very embedded in the magazine, so we’ve been bolder and braver with this particular world stance.”

Huck also has a regular documentary photography special edition – the next out in October with an all-female line-up, featuring work by Susan Meiselas and Abbie Trayler-Smith. As well as editing the bimonthly title, based in east London, Kurland is a writer, photographer, film producer and director.

How do you assign photographers? It’s very ad hoc and organic, depending on the subject, but if the commission is based on access to a scene or character or creative icon, we’ll try and nail that down first. We then negotiate with the subject and explain the Huck approach. We ask if we can see them at home or a special place, or tag along to capture an event or meaningful moment in their life. Then we find a photographer who can intuitively take the story to an exciting place. But we won’t put a skate photographer with a skate story. We want someone who can look at it with fresh eyes.

Whose work has surprised you? Some of the best commissions start out looking like they are going wrong. We sent Mustafah Abdulaziz to spend time with Deftones in LA. He almost missed his flight because of admin drama, and we’d worked so hard to secure behind-the-scenes access to see them recording their album for a week. When he sent me the edit, there was nothing I asked for.

But then I saw sun-bleached portraits of the band in car parks and dark shots in the studio – everything was so atmospheric. There were a lot of ‘mistakes’ in the outtakes – out-of-focus frames – but we used them as a collage on the cover, which we’d never done before. Some of my favourite music photography is from that shoot. Mustafah has a really tentative touch for creating moments.  

Why do you commit to an annual issue on documentary photography? Documentary has always been a massive part of our DNA and shapes not only the aesthetic of the magazine, but also the storytelling approach. The issue has become vital because we work with documentary photographers the most, as we are interested in them as storytellers who bring a fresh insight to a scene they are not part of – such as sending a war photographer to spend a week with a surfer pro, or pairing a humanitarian photojournalist with a musician. We realised that the photographers we work with have incredible stories of their own, which might not come across in commissions. We felt their archive and the personal stories they work on over months were so rich that we wanted to share that with our readers.

Where do you look for new talent? Online portfolios and websites are still the most important thing for me. As much as people use Instagram – and I do follow them – it’s not always representative of the work that people can create for you. I will always go to their websites and earmark the ones I like. Also, word of mouth – if I’m looking for people from a certain background, I just ask. The New York Times is an important reference too.

This article first appeared in the British Journal of Photography.

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Bindi Kaufmann