Masoud Golsorkhi: shaping the landscape of Pop Culture.
Nominated by Antonella Viero
Interview by Kate Lawson
“I am always more interested in tomorrow than in yesterday,” says Masoud Golsorkhi, founder and creative director of Tank magazine, which since its launch in 1998, has become essential reading spanning the worlds of art, fashion, design, music and current affairs.
True to its strong DIY spirit - with each issue dedicated to an abstract concept - its radical philosophy and non-conformative vision to explore the offbeat outsiders and change the way society absorbs pop culture, brought a whole different edge. A covetable “object” with an anti-mainstream aesthetic, it exemplifies its raison d’être - uncompromisingly high standards for original imagery and timelessly influential editorial content.
Emerging in a year where The Spice Girls and All Saints dominated the charts, Tank revved up to set a new agenda to reflect the times, but also shaped the times. We caught up with Golsorkhi, an Iranian-born fashion photographer, to talk print vs digital, keeping Rumi by his bedside and why creative revolution is necessary.
Tank really pioneered the ‘bookzine’ trend in the UK when it launched in 1998 - what were the aesthetics and ideas you were dictated by at the time?
The context was disappointment with independent mags, which we loved, aping or following mainstream mags. In those days there was a thing called the alternative scene and seeing the Face have the same tawdry pop star on its cover pushing the same god awful album as mainstream rags. We also thought that images and words are more powerful together but people tend to be good at one or the other, and finally I thought that the form itself was worthy of attention and love, hence the new format papers and finishes.
Melanie Ward (stylist), once said ‘You have to be within the system in order to change it’ - how did you set about changing things with Tank, and how people engaged with magazines?
Go tell that to Ché. I have all the time in the world for Melanie who is a friend and I adore her but in this regards I have to agree to disagree. Without external pressure no system changes neither from inside nor outside. Reform is good but sometimes revolution is necessary. By being on the outside and not aiming to cosy up to the system as is, I can’t say we always succeed but I can say we had a go and I reckon the readers can tell.
What were the risks involved at the time, did you ever worry you wouldn’t achieve what you wanted?
Many and none. There are no risks when you have nothing… risks appear with achievements, with assets.
So what’s the editorial feature or interview you’re most proud of in the magazine to date?
Too many to pick out but from the top of my head, a project with Rem Koolhaas; Miuccia Prada interviews; and pieces by John Berger and Pankaj Mishra are stand outs.
What were you doing before launching Tank?
I was making commercials and shooting fashion.
So you were, and obviously still are a magazine junky?
Yes, of course!
What about writers and content - are your eyes wide open to everything all the time in order to discover new talent?
When we started (before Wordpress and Instagram) spotting talent and giving a platform for the unknown was THE point of Tank. Now it’s different media landscape as there is ample opportunity for self-publishing and self-editing or peer-editing images and stories.
And digital magazines and cyber-publishing has really evolved to challenge print, but do you think the quality of the output has been compromised?
Hell yes. We see that every time we work with the super stars of the digital space… photographers who command six-figure salaries and ask you what CMYK is, or bloggers with a billion followers who say gratefully “you Edited my copy and corrected my grammar and pointed out that Africa isn’t a country???"
“There are no risks when you have nothing. Risks appear with achievements, with assets.”
So where do you think digital content should be setting its sights?
It should be understanding that not everything on Wikipedia is accurate and that there are visual universes that are impossible to discover or indeed display on the net.
And you’ve previously worked on advertising and branding for Jean-Paul Gaultier Perfumes, Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, Liberty’s and Christian Lacroix among others - As the influence of print diminishes as an advertising medium, how can fashion brands communicate with their customers in a way that doesn’t compromise their core values?
I think branding as a discipline of communication is valid and useful. The problem is that branding is also a bullshitters charter … I avoid talking in these terms because Brand Talk has become a corrupt and corrupting religion. I have a little grasp of semiotics and understand the plumbing of the communication system, but if communication alone was enough Tony Blair would be president for life by now. It's the quality and substance (in a handbag or a political party) that withstands and outlasts its description. Values don’t come from brand bibles they come from ethics and behaviour. I could go on but … lets not.
Ok, so who are some of the most inspiring creatives you’ve met and worked with along the way?
Far too many to mention - I have come across many brilliant people but Christian Lacroix, Miuccia Prada and the late Manuela Pavesi are stand outs for being great humans.
And who would be your ultimate / dream feature in Tank - your icon of the times?
Zadie Smith wearing Prada shot by Guy Bourdin.
What about the Next Gen of photographers, do you embrace emerging talent?
We are in the business of nurturing originality and enquiry.
Let’s talk about creativity, particularly in London where you’re based - is there a time in the city you particularly loved that was so different than today, and what do you think has been the most significant cultural shift?
I don’t do nostalgia, I am always more interested in tomorrow than in yesterday and that is exactly the reason why I live in London. It generates more “Next” for better or for worse.
So outside of the working day, where would we find you - where do you like to hang out and with who?
My work IS my leisure, why would I waste time outside that? Last week I met Colin McCabe and Hal Foster here at the office - why would I go hang out anywhere specially since every hang out is wall to wall Euro Trash?
Ok, but what about films, anything that’s particularly caught your eye this year?
Too many to mention but last week I saw and loved the Pixar film ‘Inside Out.’
“Values don’t come from brand bibles they come from ethics and behaviour.”
And your favourite ever book?
Ever is a long time and there are too many books, thank God. But I just re-read ‘The Songlines' by Bruce Chatwin and I have the new English translation of Rumi by my bed.
What about the art or photography exhibition that really made you think?
I really loved the Serial Classics show at the Prada Foundation and actually the way the whole of the foundation is organised and its layout out was wonderfully rejuvenating. The last one I really really “Loved” was Jeremy Deller’s British Pavilion in Venice... it really reaffirmed my bonds with the idea of England that I have come to love.
And in the age of social media, you must have a favourite Instagram account?
I love Derek Blasberg’s Instagram not so much for the pictures but for his use of puns… love puns. I also follow an Iranian farmer and Instagram star @Salarpolad for its pictures of the landscapes I used to spend summer holidays in as a child.
In your career to date, is there a piece of advice you’ve been given that you’ll always remember?
Hold your tongue.
You came, you saw and you conquered in introducing a new wave in terms of how we consume fashion content - is there anything you would still quite like to change about the world we work in?
Fashion is what it is … it is a bubble for invisible to those on the inside… it helps if you don’t try to be too much of an insider because every now and then bubbles burst and people are surprised. Can’t say I have an idea of how fashion or the world would be better, instead I try to change for the better. It’s a big project.