How we made: The Shetlanders

The Shetlanders project was released from late 2018 to early 2019. The profiles can be seen here, with the Facebook entries on the project here. Photography by River Thompson

The Shetlanders project — 19 interesting Shetlanders, on why they love life on the islands — was my first major client project as an independent agent, ie as me. Done for Promote Shetland, it is also the first client project I’ve done that’s been led by video rather than print.

My father and stepmother live in Shetland, and I’ve always wanted to do work about a place I’ve come to be genuinely fond of, and which I’ve never felt has quite been represented as I see it. A few years back, local digital marketing company NB Communications won the Promote Shetland contract, with a brief to encourage people to come to Shetland to live, work and study.

Over a series of meetings in 2017 and early 2018, I pitched the idea of The Shetlanders – series of videos, with stills and written profiles, of interesting people and families who call Shetland home, both original locals and incomers. The main part of the brief from NB’s David Nicol, who is now in charge of the Promote Shetland contract, was to present the islands and Shetlanders in a fresh way. Less about Shetland ponies, crofters and Fair Isle knitwear; more about the quality of the schools and infrastructure, the sports clubs, the culture, the thriving economy, the fact that life in Shetland can be so rich and varied. The primary target was young professionals, particularly with families, who lived in the UK but might have never thought of Shetland as a viable place to move.   

But we didn’t want The Shetlanders to feel like a hard sell — in fact, David was keen that people explain the cons as well as the pros of life in Shetland. I was also keen that the stories should be human stories, first and foremost, rather than feeling like marketing. Part of the deal was also that Promote Shetland would get a nice bank of usable videos and stills.

Visually, we wanted it to have a nice honest feeling: simple, natural light, low-key but intimate. For the stills, I decided to use River Thompson, a photographer I’ve worked with a lot, whose work has that naturalistic style; for the video, he recommended his friend Connor Macleod, another outdoorsy type who has done a lot of fashion film and adverts, and whose aesthetic seemed right for the project. It was also about having a team that would (hopefully) get on over an intense two-week project, staying with my dad and stepmum and working every day. Crucially, I thought they’d like Shetland. I was essentially the producer/writer; the one asking the questions, and with Promote Shetland’s objectives in my head. I wanted River and Connor to feel free to be creative, and to simply shoot the best work they could. 

Visually, we wanted it to have a nice honest feeling: simple, natural light, low-key but intimate.

We filmed and photographed 16 sets of Shetlanders over two weeks in May 2018, which in hindsight was absurdly ambitious. But we were lucky in a few ways. First of all, the weather was fantastic, and Shetland looked gorgeous. But more important was the people, who were uniformly welcoming and gracious – and who did our jobs for us by selling Shetland life in a way that felt real, honest and genuinely compelling.

Choosing people for that first batch was a tricky process, and of course there were people that couldn’t do it. But a remarkable number were happy to stand in front of a camera, even if it was outside their comfort zone. We wanted to hit certain themes, from education to family life and industry, but we also wanted people whose stories might resonate on a simpler level. In the end, I think we got a nice mix: people like Mull-born music producer Tim and his Shetland-born wife Floortje, a very cool couple who are a long way from any insular stereotypes; Sophie Whitehead, a marathon-running jeweller with a piercing laugh and eagerness to help; and the Perring-Thomson family, who live an almost entirely self-sustainable existence on a beautiful bay in southern Shetland, where Ewen Thomson hand-makes violins. We had a mussel farmer, a family of naturalists, an Indian locavore chef, a rugby-playing female welder, an oilman/bassist/football coach… a really rich and interesting variety of people, but giving a remarkably consistent message about life in Shetland.

Those two weeks of shooting were great fun: driving across the islands in a van we christened The Beast, meeting interesting people, getting great footage and often putting on wetsuits and jumping in the sea. Everywhere we went, people welcomed us with tea and ‘fancies’, whether biscuits or cake. We refined the process as we went, but shot most people over two slots of just a few hours, broadly divided into ‘work’ and ‘play’. It was logistically quite intense, with lots of mad dashes for ferries, and we had to quickly put people at ease (I was very aware that I despise being in front of a camera). We’d usually have a can of Innis & Gunn on the ferry each evening back to the North Isle of Yell, usually late but still lit by low sun.   

The trickier bit was getting back to London and realising just how much footage we had, and how painstaking the process of editing the videos would be. Initially, we’d said it would take six weeks, which we soon realised was a fantasy, especially as we all had other projects going on. I learned a lot about how tricksy even a short video can be, from colour-grading to sound. Luckily, the Promote Shetland team were understanding and supportive, as it took us well into the autumn to get enough videos ready to launch.        

I went up again that November to do a second batch, with a focus on medical workers pegged to the new Island Medics series – this time with local photographer Liam Henderson and videographer Stephen Mercer, who does a lot of the filming for Promote Shetland. While we struggled far more with peoples’ availability (doctors in Shetland tend to be busy, it turns out), Stephen and Liam were brilliant – patient, good fun, and quickly getting the tone of the project that Connor and River had established. We did three fantastic profiles: of Vicky, a nurse who moved her whole family from Chester; of Emma and Kaylee, sharp, funny sisters-in-law who work for the ambulance service and coastguard respectively; and Bjorn and Tore, a gay couple from Norway who came over to breed award-winning Shetland ponies and work as a hairdresser and care worker.

It’s tricky to gauge the success of a project like this, and there’s always an element of intangibility to any content made for clients. But at the time of writing, the videos on Facebook had drawn 369,000 views, and real engagement. The video of Bjorn and Tore the pony breeders, for example, has 104 comments, and many of the comments across the videos have been the right sort: roughly along the lines of, ‘Shall we move?’/’I’d like to live there’/heart-eye emoji. The project has had more than 36,000 YouTube views, and the Instagram videos have been viewed more than 40,000 times. 

At the time of writing, the videos on Facebook had drawn 369,000 views.

The ultimate aim, of course, is that people are inspired to move to the islands for good, and more than a thousand people are now members of Promote Shetland’s Living and Working in Shetland group on Facebook – people who are actively considering moving to the isles. It won’t just be a video that inspires someone to uproot their life, but hopefully it can plant a seed. I hope, too, that Promote Shetland can prove that investing in quality content pays off. Compared to the way that other parts of the UK are marketing themselves, what they are doing is really impressive.  

From a personal view, I’m proud of the project. It was a huge amount of work, but it felt honest and true to what I’d imagined it might be. It helped that there was a strong and compelling message behind it. I hope we presented people as human beings rather than just talking heads; and that we captured some of the beauty and magic of Shetland, while not reducing the place or the people to cutesy stereotypes. For the chance, I’d like to thank David, Lauren Doughton and the Promote Shetland team for being brilliant and understanding managers; and River, Connor, Stephen and Liam for their patience and brilliant work, as well as Tim Matthew for supplying bespoke music. I just hope it does the place some justice. 

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How we made: American Way, January 2017

The American Way relaunch issue in January was a big challenge. Big client, big expectations, small team in London.

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Ink had moved its whole content operation for American Airlines from Dallas to Miami, which involved a new team and a new vision for the magazine. In the interim, we had to produce a few issues, culminating in the January relaunch, whilst simultaneously hiring and bedding in a new Miami team. At the same time, we were also producing a relaunch issue for Celebrated LivingAmerican Way’s sister title, available in premium cabins. It was an intense few months.

Along with design director Jamie Trendall and US editor Chris Wright, we wanted to give American Way an injection of energy and spark – to come up with a fresh vision that does justice to the world’s biggest airline, and the huge and gloriously diverse country it represents. We wanted something that was smart punchy and fun, but which still had a mass-market appeal, and wouldn’t alienate a very broad readership. It also needed to capture American Airlines’ entertainment tie-ins, from the Golden Globes to the Brits. The plan, broadly, was a magazine big on entertainment and travel, almost like Empire magazine in the air.

A star still made most sense on the cover, but we wanted those covers to shout: to be packed with cover lines, and stories that hopefully begged to be read. We wanted the stars to be shot in an inclusive, warm, unguarded way, ideally with a sense of humour – and inside to have interviews that really told you a story about a human being.

What we came up with was Need to Know, where every issue there would be 21, 25 or however many things you need to know, covering the classic touchpoints –  food, culture, travel, rising stars etc – but in a  clean, instant, very readable format. Headlines would be bold, declarative statements, and there’d be a sense of directness, urgency and confidence to it, a bit like the best Buzzfeed lists. You need to know that… this guy’s the next big thing, this is the dish everyone’s talking about, this is the place.

If Need to Know was kind of the magazine’s voice, we wanted more voices in there, so we came up with a mini-section, called – surprise surprise – Voices. They key thing here was engaging and compelling little stories, direct from interesting people. We wanted big, interesting names, with quote headlines drawing the reader in.

In terms of features, beyond the cover interview, we introduced a new regular feature, Neighbourhood Watch, where we’d take a tour of part of a city, meeting the locals. Part of the idea was to have a regular property that we could create video content around (the strategy was designed to work better in digital formats, too). Otherwise, we wanted the features to have the same sense as the rest of the magazine: bold, confident, but warm and fun. We generally wanted people in the magazine to be unguarded, happy, optimistic. We wanted it to feel like a celebration of people and places.

Any magazine launch is always an exercise in getting as close as you can to that ideal vision, which you never quite achieve. For this one, I don’t think we were a million miles away, despite limited time. The Need to Know section had some fun little pieces in it, from plastic dinosaurs that had become an Instagram sensation to a bizarre Elvis festival in Australia and a longer read about the first ever Superbowl, 50 years earlier. We also had a little interview with ethereal rising star Anya Taylor-Joy, who was about to appear in Split with James McAvoy, and covered food with a story about Noma founder Claus Meyer and the latest of his many New York ventures.

We were proud, too, of the Voices section. With Trainspotting 2 and The New Celebrity Apprenticeout in January, we had two big-hitting voices in Irvine Welsh and Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Irvine Welsh wrote us a little piece about being a Scot in America, I had a very surreal phone call with Arnie, whose lines about movie catchphrases and psychologically grinding down his opponents were well-worn but brilliant nonetheless.

The features just about worked, with a few little caveats. After a lot of back and forth, we didn’t manage to sort a shoot with cover interviewee Jimmy Fallon (who was due to host the Golden Globes). Part of the concept was always doing bespoke shoots, which we’ve managed since. Still, I think the set of images we bought was fun, and had the tone we were looking for. We’d also tried to get Cuba in there, as it was a destination the client wanted to push. We based the story on a beautiful photography set on crumbling Havana mansions, though in hindsight and with more time, I think we could have gone for something a bit more dynamic, fun and contemporary.

The next two features were dynamic, though – a list of 17 big trends for 2017, all using different sources, and a Soho Neighbourhood Watch that took in dandies, bar owners, neon artists and an old Italian maitre d’ dubbed the Queen of Soho. A few months later, we also produced a video linking to the story, with Bar Termini owner Tony Conigliaro showing us his Soho. See it here.

Finally, on the back page we had travel tales from Hannah Simone, the best friend in the sitcom New Girl. Tonally, it felt about right: a star talking travel in a frank, unguarded way.

As always, we’d have loved more time, but in the end we think we set a good tone, which the new team in Miami have taken on. According to independent figures, engagement with the magazine has gone up by 13%. You can read that relaunch issue here, and see what we simultaneously did with Celebrated Living here. You can also see the American Airlines content suite in digital form here.

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How we made: 1888 by Carl F. Bucherer

Being for a watch brand rather than a travel company, this magazine was an unusual commission for Ink. The magazine was designed to meet a very specific set of challenges for the Carl F. Bucherer brand, and to tie in with an advertising campaign…

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A big part of the challenge for us was to create a general lifestyle magazine, but a very brand-oriented one – that felt like Carl F. Bucherer, but wasn’t just a set of stories about their watches. Their reason for choosing Ink was largely down to our ability to tell great stories from around the world.

CFB has been making watches since 1888, but whilst their watch shops are famous, as a watch brand they don’t have the recognition of similar makers. They want to be seen as a heritage brand, with a strong spiritual link to their birthplace of Lucerne, but a dynamic, modern one. They also want to appeal to different markets, especially the Asian market.

The Carl F. Bucherer colours are black and gold, and with design director Jamie Trendall, we decided that a lot of the identity should come through the photography. We tried to shoot everything with gold elements, or use existing photography that had that palette.

We also decided that the best way to approach the content was through a theme that relates to the Bucherer brand. The first issue was Makers, with the idea being that we’d focus on people who crafted products, from origami pioneers to traditional Venetian mask-makers and the people who make the world’s greatest ballet shoes. We also interviewed Chen Man, the super-cool Beijing photographer who shot Bucherer’s advertising campaign with Chinese film actor Li Bingbing.

The idea was that the non-brand content would merge almost seamlessly into the brand section, which includes a photography-led feature on Lucerne and an interview with the aforementioned Li Bingbing, as well as more service-driven information about watches, stockists and the like.

In terms of the name, we eventually settled on 1888, the year that Carl F. Bucherer founded his watch brand. It has that nod to the heritage, but also somehow felt fresh to us, and benefits from the (lucky) coincidence that the number “eight” is considered lucky in Chinese culture.

Another challenge was that we needed to produce English, French, German and Chinese versions – so the template had to be fairly clean and flexible to allow for versions of stories at different lengths. The design is quite spare – but I think that worked thematically as well as practically.

Using our multimedia Ink Studio, we also produced little videos around the content, so that Bucherer could promote the magazine through their channels. I thought this one, on the Freed of London ballet shoe factory, worked well.

All-in-all, it was an interesting experience to work on something very purely client-driven, without too much commercial pressure. We were pleased with the result, and the client were too. Read the full issue here.

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How we made: N by Norwegian, November 2015

I like this issue, partly because it was the last time we went away as a team, with sales and editorial heading to Iceland for a story on the north of the country. But it was also a strong set of stories…

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The Iceland feature was really a classic N by Norwegian travel story – fishermen, hot springs, whales, food – and it was a lot of fun to put together, from a slightly comedy horse riding trip to bathing in volcanic water. It was a laugh of a trip, but came out clean and beautiful on the page, thanks to River Thompson’s lovely spare photography.

But beyond that, it was a good sturdy set of stories, and an issue in which we solved quite a few little problems. The first was with the cover, after the client had requested a focus on their new routes to the Caribbean. Given that the new Bond film was coming out, it made sense to do Ian Fleming’s Caribbean, even if there was a touch of fudging given that Fleming’s main love affair was with Jamaica, which isn’t a Norwegian destination.

We decided on the Martini glass with the holiday scene as a nice way to say “concept” and “travel inspiration” – but there was a problem. Alcohol advertising is illegal in Norway, and the airline were uncomfortable about the suggestion of booze on the cover. There was a lot of back and forth, and we toyed with a disclaimer, but eventually they said they were fine with it after we showed them covers of other Norwegian magazines with alcohol – and begged.

In terms of the features, there was a nice solution with the story about the town of Kiruna moving to make way for a mine. Given that there wasn’t going to be much to shoot, art director Rickard had Swedish illustrator Johan Thörnqvist do a really cute set of illustrations that worked well with bright, clean stock photography of the town. We’d done that with another story on Tito’s train from Belgrade to Montenegro, where we’d added illustrations of the Queen, Sophia Loren etc to some very dull press images. I still like it as a trick in inflight mags, when stock photography so often looks flat and lifeless.

The other story I was pleased with was the interview with Petter Stordalen, the thrill-seeking billionaire who could just about be described as Norway’s answer to Richard Branson. Both he and his PR team were incredibly open, and almost encouraged us to go to town with the way we presented him. It was quite refreshing to do something with a businessman that was such fun, and I like the slightly mad opening quote over a spread, where he’s basically mocking himself.

With a nice Boston by Norwegian that was full of colourful characters, and a pretty piece about airport control towers, I think it was a fairly classic N by Norwegian issue. Read it here.

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How we made: N by Norwegian, September 2015

For sheer variety of features, this one is up there with my very favourite issues of N by Norwegian

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There’s just a nice mix of places and themes – from a jumpstart film-maker from northern Sweden to brutalism in London’s Barbican, pintxos in San Sebastian and Chinese food in San Francisco. Then there are the cool portraits of the Micronation leaders, where deputy editor Mandi built stories around images from a book by photographer Léo Delafontaine.

But the treatments are also all very different, from the quiet Barbican story to the loud, 80s-inspired Kung Fury layouts on a green screen background. The one that rounds it out in a way is the China food story, which we’d initially intended as a straight up people and places photography story. But the photography of San Francisco’s Chinatown just wasn’t strong enough, and we felt like it needed something more.

So we had regular still-life photographer Liz McBurney make burgers, hot dogs and donuts from Chinese rice, symbolising the way the food centre planned to demystify Chinese ingredients. There were shades of Lucky Peach magazine in the result, and it turned a story that could have been quite dry visually into something with real pop, supplemented by the cute little lucky cats and chopsticks.

I was pleased, too, with the opener to the Kung Fury story, given that we didn’t have that much to work with visually, and didn’t have the budget to go up and shoot film-maker David Sandberg (we also weren’t sure it would be worth it). It just felt like it fit the 80s analogue feel of the film well, even if it was a long way from the prettiest feature we’ve ever done.

Ditto for the cover. I’m still not convinced by green covers, and I don’t think it’s one of the best we did on N. But it has that humour to it, which has always been a real part of the magazine. Read the full issue here.

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How we made: N by Norwegian, March 2015

The “Miami issue” was a good N by Norwegian issue, with subjects ranging from Lego hipsters to game-changing Hungarian piano-makers and the beery history of Pilsen, the Czech Republic. But the anchor to the issue was definitely the Miami cover story, which celebrated 100 years since Miami Beach was incorporated as a town (and tied in nicely with Norwegian’s new routes to Fort Lauderdale)…

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It was a funny trip, with art director Rickard Westin, photographer Tim White and me spending almost a week on Miami Beach. At first, it was a bit of a disaster. We were staying in a slightly grotty apartment within walking distance of nothing, and there’d been a misunderstanding at the venerable Joe’s Stone Crab, where we’d ended up footing a monstrous bill for six people, after which a series of resulting recommendations had left our souls and wallets a little broken (give the Fontainebleau a miss if you don’t have a Maserati). More to the point, we didn’t have much of an idea who was going to tell us the great story of Miami, and the taxi drivers (of which there were a lot) seemed more interested in telling us about their failed business ventures.

The next day wasn’t much better, with heat, hangovers and establishments charging us eye-watering sums for plastic-y sandwiches whilst assaulting our eardrums with Latin house music. But Rickard has an amazing ability, no matter how radiant or sunny the city, to find the darkest, dingiest bar – which is how we found ourselves, late in the afternoon, at Mac’s Club Deuce. Mac’s is a wonderful bar, and an outlier in the heart of Miami Beach. It’s cheap and smoky, lit up by lurid neon signs that were installed for the Miami Vice wrap party here back in the 80s. There’s usually old American rock coming from the jukebox, and basketball on the TV. The locals around the 360-degree bar aren’t much to look at, which oddly is a relief in Miami.

But the kicker, which the super-friendly bartender told us as she served us our fourth beer (the two-for-one happy hour here lasts eleven hours), was that Mac, the owner, had just turned a hundred. We were doing a story about Miami Beach being a hundred, and Mac was even older than the town he lived in. It seemed like pure editorial kismet.

Mac ended up being a wonderful interviewee, even if he couldn’t spare more than twenty minutes or so, and we decided he should be on the cover. The concept we settled on was to have him on the beach in a subtle homage to the book, The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared. There was just a slight problem: Mac hadn’t been to the beach, 150 metres down the road, for more than 30 years – and he wasn’t about to start now. In fact, he wasn’t prepared to go further than a block from the bar.

So Photoshop came to the rescue. We shot Mac against a wall outside his bar, and Tim shot Rickard on the beach (by an iconic lifeguard hut) with a suitcase, trying to look like a hunched old man so that the shadows would look accurate. Some Photoshopping later, we had a cover. It’s not the most perfect image you’ve ever seen, and there’s a touch of irony to the fact that we took a man with an almost pathological aversion to sand, and portrayed him on the beach. Still, it just about works.

And I think, in the end, we got a good story (read it here), supplemented primarily by Calvin Zook, a hilarious tour guide who seemed like he came straight from a Woody Allen film. It’s probably the longest story I’ve ever written, and I’m sure another editor would have hacked it to pieces. But I think the people, and the colourful history, warrant it.

As a post-script, Mac died in 2016, aged 101. In early 2017, I went back to Mac’s, and was happy to see that it hadn’t changed one bit, except that there wasn’t an old guy in the back office doing the accounts the analogue way. I was also happy to hear that Mac had liked our story, and that scores of people had come in with copies of the magazine to show him – which apparently he liked. It somehow meant a lot. I really hope that the bar survives, just as Mac has kept it since the 1960s. It would be a tragedy if it were turned into expensive condos – or a place that does overpriced sandwiches and Latin house music. Read the full issue here.

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How we made: N by Norwegian, August 2014

The August 2014 issue was a favourite of mine – mainly because I think we made a few quite bold choices that a) we got away with and b) which I think worked out well in the end…

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The first big decision was the cover. As a team, we liked the idea of doing the world’s smelliest fish (surströmming, or fermented Baltic herring) on the cover – and we felt like it might be time to bring a human into the concept.

Our regular cover dream team of art director Rickard and the wonderful photographer Liz Mcburney made the shoot happen, which involved a poor model putting a condom-covered herring in her mouth. We loved the shot, but there was some hesitation: it was just a tad suggestive for the very U-rated world of inflight magazines. There were a lot of discussions internally (what is she doing to that fish?!!) and externally, but we fought for it on both counts – and the airline relented. I’m still grateful, because I think it’s a really cool cover. No one complained and, to this day, it’s the most popular N by Norwegian cover on Coverjunkie.com, with 242 likes (only about ten or so of which was me liking it over and over).

More generally, I thought it was a strong issue, particularly in terms of photography. The story that I was most pleased with was the feature on the Palio horse race in Siena, when we sent Ink staffer Erin Florio and photographer Greg Funnell to document not just the race, but the pomp, ceremony and skulduggery leading up to the event. It’s by no means a new story – it’s more than 400 years old, if you’re being picky – but I think Erin really went deep into the story: she fought hard for access, and ended up learning all kinds of things about what goes on, from jockeys being drugged to horses being smeared with pheromones to distract rival horses. She also managed to capture the extreme rivalry between Siena’s contrade, or city wards.

And Greg’s photography was so stunning that we wanted to give it more and more pages (he eventually made a whole magazine about the project). There was a big debate the opening spread, when Rickard fought hard for a blurry image, despite most of the office thinking it looked like a mistake. I liked it, though, because I think the blur suggests a kind of frenzied passion at the closing stages of the race. There’s a pure emotion to that opener, and to the feature in general, that I don’t think you often get in travel magazines.

Elsewhere, it was a good solid issue. The surströmming worked, despite me being so knackered (we’d got up at 2am) that I’d had to have a little nap on the fishing boat as they hauled in tens of thousands of herring. And the photo story about how staff at the world’s top restaurants eat was really nice – based on Per-Anders Jörgensen’s book, Eating With the Chefs, and written up by deputy editor Mandi Keighran, the black-and-white images are somehow both stylised and really human. Read the full issue here.

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How we made: N by Norwegian, May 2014

The Made In Svalbard issue is still the issue of N by Norwegian that I get the most comments about, both at Ink and externally – which is good because, as vain as it sounds (and as much as people who know me are bored of hearing about Svalbard), I’m really proud of what we did with it…

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It was quite a punchy decision to devote almost 40 pages of the magazine to a relatively small destination – based, really, on the fact that it was the place on the network we were most excited to go to. The idea was that we’d take the whole team up at the end of March – eight of us, from editorial and sales – and make the whole magazine up there, producing the world’s northernmost mag. I think people liked the fact that it was a slightly bonkers idea – not only did the airline sign off on it, but commercially it was a success too.

Though the “office” we set up was really just a visual conceit (though quite a logistically challenging one, involving fat bikes, freezing Macbooks and a stuffed polar bear) – we did spend a whole week up there, and I think we did as much as we could to get under the skin of the place. We shot and interviewed more than 25 locals, from polar bear experts to miners, hostel queens, satellite nerds and the governor. And we went on some epic adventures, from husky rides to snowmobiling to the Russian town of Barentsburg.

In all, I think photographer Tim White took more than 7,000 photos, many of them involving a series of four wooden “n” letters we had made beforehand, which became kind of lucky charms for the trip.

The things I loved about the trip, and the story, weren’t what I’d expected. Naively, I’d half-expected the world’s northernmost town of Longyearbyen to be the kind of place where you’d walk into a bar and a bunch of beardy men with tats would stop and stare at you. In fact, it was full of intelligent, fascinating people – artists, photographers, climate change researchers at the uni, people who knew lots about Cognac – all with big ideas (going to live on Svalbard is a big idea in itself). We tried to put these people, and their stories, front and centre.

That felt like the story that I hadn’t read before – because, really, everyone has a pretty good idea about the epic scenery, the Northern Lights, and all the things that come with going to a place where you can’t leave the main town unless someone in the party has a shotgun (polar bears aren’t that cuddly and friendly, it turns out).

It was also just great fun, and good bonding – even including one particular morning after, when we were all so much worse for wear that the guy organising our snowmobile tour had to call the deputy governor to come down with a breathalyser. Most of the team failed spectacularly, so we had to go out with a limited party. (Still, it was probably for the best, since if you’re found drunk on a snowmobile in Svalbard, they take you to the mainland police in a helicopter, and then make you foot the helicopter bill).

It was a pretty mad effort to pull it all together in one month, with about ten days after the trip to get everything on the page. But there was a certain amount of adrenaline, helped by the fact that so many people had bought into the story. In the end we put Jason Roberts – the Australian who finds polar bears for the BBC and other nature shows – on the cover. Typically of the people we met, he was a total champ, putting on a traditional trapper’s costume and setting up a tent for Tim and Mandi, the deputy editor, who did the interview.

In the end I think it worked as a pretty comprehensive look at a place, and we had an unprecedented number of emails from readers about the story. We also had some nice things written about us, both internally, externally and a sort of hybrid of the two from Andy Cowles, an industry consultant who spent some time working at Ink. Just as importantly, perhaps, it was about the most fun I’ve had making a magazine. Read the full issue here.  

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