This month, Marta Roca, creative director of Four&Sons, talks through commissioning photography for the canine and culture-loving magazine
“The words ‘dog’ and ‘culture’ came together,” says Marta Roca, creative director of Four&Sons, describing the lightbulb moment during a brainstorming session with co-founder Christina Teresinski, which led to them starting the magazine.
“As I dug – pun totally intended – into the weird and wonderful bond between humans and dogs, I got more hooked.” Based in Australia, the graphic designer-by-trade believes they “hit a sweet spot: right idea, right timing, right sensibility. Dogs are such an endearing subject, full of joy, playfulness and wonder. Four&Sons explores this kookiness and offbeat energy through a contemporary lens – away from tiaras and fluff.” She adds: “Our content is as much about dogs as it is about culture and about being inspired. We are thrilled it resonates with people, even if they don’t have a dog.”
The biannual journal is now in its 10th issue, and includes anecdotes, illustrations, interviews and quirky fiction, as well as dogs shot by the likes of Hellen van Meene, Paul Croes, Bruce Weber and Julia Christe.
How much of the magazine is assigned to new commissions?
About half. We plan to steadily add more original work. When we showcase existing photography, we aim for unpublished images or to present them differently. From a curatorial point of view, the goal is to expose a new thread, in tandem with the writing. With this approach, we have been honoured to pay tribute to William Wegman, Elliott Erwitt, Peter Hujar and Mary Ellen Mark. At the end, it is about the quality of the images.
What does original photography bring to the magazine?
A stronger, more personal point of view, a sense of ownership, the opportunity to learn from another creative, the element of surprise, and the reward to take an idea all the way to execution. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at once.
Where do you source photographers?
Over time, we have built a network to tap into. For a commission, recommendations work best. We are fortunate to attract photographers who pitch ideas to us as well. Magazines, exhibitions, websites, social media, photo agencies: they are all great resources. I keep plenty of bookmarks on people I would love to work with.
Is it crucial for photographers to have a social media presence?
Exposure definitely works. It is important to be front of mind as we are fickle and forgetful! Choosing the right platform is also important. At the moment, Instagram feels overwhelming. I still rely on a photographer’s website to give me an understanding of their work and character. I really appreciate photographers who can carefully curate their own work, regardless of the platform.
Name a photographer whom you particularly enjoyed working with.
James Geer, who shot 12 different breeds in a single studio session, which required a lot of coordination to avoid dogs getting anxious or bored. James indulged my love for very, very dark backdrops, even with dog hair flying everywhere. His passion, patience and willingness to try anything is as solid as his creative skill. That day, the myth about working with animals got debunked – although the jury is still out about children!
Do you give strict briefs?
It depends on the relationship and experience. As I get to know a photographer, I can relax and allow things to flow naturally. Given our budgets are pretty much non-existent, we tend to compensate with free rein. It is rare for me to be on a shoot, which has taught me to let go. Our briefs can be looser, because we don’t need to please a ‘client’ as such – and much of the storytelling unfolds naturally on the pages. When a photographer can nail the brief and also surprise us with their own personal tangent, that’s magic.
Is it difficult to innovate?
As creative director, the exciting part is to pull together the right balance of ideas to tell the story. We don’t theme the issues, but each one ends up finding its own ‘soul’. In a way, the magazine itself forces your hand and keeps you honest.