Interview with Patrick Waterhouse of COLORS Magazine

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COLORS Magazine was created by photographer Oliviero Toscani and art director Tibor Kalman in 1991 to show the world to the world. The message has remained the same: diversity is good.

COLORS was different from “normal” magazines in many ways, but its heart was the idea that photographs and images could convey as much information as pages of text. Graphic pictures, crisp design and clear language led some to call it the representative magazine for the “MTV generation” (whoever they were). Kalman described it as, ” as mix of ‘National Geographic’ and ‘Life”, on acid”.

COLORS was originally conceived as a nomadic magazine that would wander the world. After being founded in New York, it moved to Rome, then Paris, before moving to Fabrica, Benetton’s Communication Research Center in Treviso, northern Italy in 1997.
It is still there and the Center’s young photographers, designers, writers and researchers from all over the world now put together the magazine. (Fabrica also puts together COLORS’ award-winning website.)

COLORS has been a point of reference for many in the editorial and advertising world. Its 82 issues have received good press, bad press, fan letters, hate mail and censorship. Some have caused international controversy, but it’s never been gratuitous. The magazine has always remained true to its founding idea; that there is much to discover and see, we just need to keep our eyes and minds wide open.

COLORS was a pioneer in explaining how globalization is changing our lives and one of the first media outlets that encouraged people to think globally and act locally. It has faithfully documented our changing world by highlighting the lives of the people who live in it, underlining the fact that cultural diversity is ever more important on an increasingly homogenized planet.

A couple of weeks ago we had a chance to interview the editor in chief of COLORS Magazine, Patrick Waterhouse. Please read the interview below. For more info about COLORS Magazine, head on to their website http://www.colorsmagazine.com/.

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Please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us the beginning of COLORS magazine.

My name is Patrick Waterhouse and I am the editor in chief of COLORS magazine. COLORS began 23 years ago when Benatton’s photographer Oliviero Toscani asked the designer Tibor Kalman to create a new kind of magazine that would be a celebration of global culture
COLORS was founded in 1991. What was the art and culture scene like before COLORS burst in? How much has it changed in the years since?

In 1991 when COLORS first came out the Internet was not part of everyday life and the magazine’s approach to topics had an Internet like quality to it. The question for making COLORS today in a post Internet world is how to bring a different prospective to important social issues and cut through the over load of information.
in the 90s, COLORS was like the MTV of magazines, because of its unique style. in terms of graphic design, what did most magazines look like at that time, and what did you guys do to make it different from others? and most importantly, why would you want to be unique?

Looking back at the early COLORS now, you can see the time in which it was made, During that period it was very playful and full of ideas.
That was way before my time. Since I have been making COLORS they have taken the form of survival guides. COLORS today is quite a different thing but it still has some consistent elements.
what do you think of David Carson and his Raygun Magazine, in term of graphic design?

It was iconoclastic. You have to look at Raygun in relation to the time it was made.

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i don’t see any celebrities in COLORS. at least not in its cover. instead, i see an old lady, a baby crying while peeing, black and white men kissing, a condom, and many other provocative photos. why? i mean, why no celebrities, and why provocative photos instead?

COLORS is not about celebrities, it’s about real people often doing extraordinary things
COLORS is well-known for its provocative covers. can you please share us a bit about the creative process behind those cover designs?

Colours has gone through different approaches over the years. The early periods were designed to be shocking and provocative, a period after that was more reserved and treated the cover like another page of the magazine. My approach to the cover has been to use illustration to create an image which is more symbolic of the wider issue that is being engaged with. Instead of picking a single photo

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I’m always amused just by seeing your covers from the very first edition until the last one. ever planned to compile them into a book? a collection of COLORS covers..

The covers of COLORS are shown as an exhibition but we have not done a book yet.
Have you ever got into trouble because of your provocative covers? which cover?

Since I’ve been doing COLORS all the covers have been illustrative I think maybe it’s more difficult to get in trouble for an illustration but its not impossible!
there must be a complex process behind every issue. who decides the theme of an issue, and how?

Picking the theme is about finding issues which are relevant to the time that we are living, its about finding larger patterns and concerns that may exist behind the headlines and trying to look at these from as many angles as possible.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you learnt throughout the years of COLORS?

To make great work, everything matters.
please tell us about the connection between COLORS and Fabrica.

COLORS is based in Fabrica which is near Venice in the north of Italy. Fabrica is a research centre where young people come from across the world to work in many different fields from interactive installations to documentaries

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please tell us a bit about the magazine’s message, that diversity is good. is it something to do with the United Colors of Benetton?
The magazine is funded by Benetton and although it is independent it does share its humanistic values.
Benetton has always engaged with the social issues and it is part of the story and history of Benetton

Is COLORS into fashion or streetwear?

No
any big plans for 2014? what can we expect from COLORS in the future?

A mix of things from exhibitions to workshops and of course… magazines!
what is the average day like at the COLORS office?

It changes depending on whether it’s near the beginning of an issue or near the end but it’s usually busy


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