Interview with a Stranger

It is not very often someone will ask the question, ‘Tell me about yourself’, without the intimidating scenario of a job interview or meeting your new partner’s parents for the first time. The humble interview asks this repeatedly for your own perusal, until a flock of voices have descended and you can have your pick of who to listen to. It’s a powerful and influential thing, and that’s why it’s a staple to the magazine.

An interview is there to inform, encourage or inspire, if not all three. It gives the magazine a personable and exclusive angle, a certain element of privacy that can make you feel you yourself are asking the questions. On the face of it, it is an odd thing, almost voyeuristic, to learn about someone you’ll never meet. It’s rude to eavesdrop and talking about oneself is not encouraged, but we accept it gladly as a way of being social. It’s quite a futuristic and yet simultaneously archaic way of communicating. Futuristic, in the sense the amount of people to know is plentiful, via the page, website or social stream, and archaic in the simple printing of word of paper. On either side of this, we come through as inherently social, if not a little nosey, taking advantage of the previously inaccessible space of powerful and creative strangers.

There’s a hierarchy of interviewees, with the most important being closer to the back. It’s like the climax of the film comes ten to twenty minutes before the credits. It’s lasting impact, which stays in your head the longest, and it’s done on purpose.

Perhaps because of the slower pace of independent print, the interviews have a greater variety, with more breathability, focus and, it would seem, integrity. There’s a freedom to choose their featured people, above trends and fads. This freedom creates a divide on who to focus on; the well-known or the lesser known. It depends on the type of print.  

With culture magazines, fame is more prolific. An interview with a celebrity or successful person is quite formulaic. It is set out as a fraudulent friendship, catching up for a coffee or brunch in a busy restaurant. Start at the beginning; perhaps at childhood, where seeds of passion were sewn, adolescence, young adulthood and then the moment when success overwhelmed them. Then, elaborate on their reactions and their navigation of newfound fame, a few anecdotal stories of crucial people who affected them, with subsequent name dropping. The interview becomes not so much a life, but a story with a beginning, middle, a climax and ending with them seated before the interviewer. A celebrity can become a brand, to be devoured for mass consumption; they edit themselves and hide under layers of performance. A good interviewer knows how to scrape away the fictionalised persona and find the true person underneath.

Interviews with people of calibre are the lifeblood to magazines such as Article, Luncheon, Fantastic Man, The Gentlewoman, Riposte, Lula and So It Goes. Individually, they’re all excellent at getting the story from the interviewee and enthusiasm from their readers. Whilst the magazine is in hand, you are part of an elite gang, for a time, but nobody ever bothers to talk to you, even when you hang off every word. You’re the audience; you’re happily apart. You can only get so close before you need a VIP pass to get any closer.  

A far more intimate approach is an interview with an ordinary person, and these can be found in a variety of genres, from food, to health and nature. Other People, Anxy, Woven, Record Culture, Offscreen, Lunch Lady, Benji Knewman and Four & Sons cover these folk with honest interest and expert knowledge. These conversations often consist of makers and doers, personal stories and passion projects. Offscreen talks to the little-known 'people behind pixels', giving them a voice in which they can show their innovation and invention that affects our daily lives. These interviews can also appear in less direct ways. For instance, Lunch Lady presents us with opinions from parents, struggling with anything from temper tantrums and losing their sense of self, to grieving the loss of a child. A lot of the interviews seem to be about reaching out, voicing anxiety and making each other feel less alone. Anxy, already reviewed here, does this eloquently, with authentic voices talking about their emotions to break down the taboo. It is no surprise these people find themselves in the more eclectic of magazines, which often have a greater sense of adventure and variety of articles to muse over. You can meet ceramicists, feminists and activists, sculptors, models and photographers. The conversations come across as purer, albeit briefer, as if the word count is reflective of their reputation. 

In comparing interview styles, it is interesting to observe what makes someone a somebody and another a nobody. There’s a hierarchy of interest. The more notable the person, the more adventurous or eventful their life, the more we would like to know. A celebrity interview will be presented as a continuing journey, whereas a normal person is given just one moment or project to talk about. I appreciate the rise of the ordinary. Ambition and success need to be balanced with a contented mundanity. There a plenty of little lives, with little dramas, emotions and upsets; it seems wrong the people who shout the loudest are the only ones to be heard. It’s as if certain publications have selective hearing. Then again, we are all like that. We can’t know everybody, we don’t have to like the most famous of actors or humblest craftsman. It’s entirely subjective, and that is why interviews are so plentiful. There is always someone else to learn from, to adore, to listen to. 

By

Libby Borton

July 26, 2017

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