Hot Potato is a publication like no other. It looks like a newspaper but inside boasts brilliant pairings of photo stories and articles, tackling global affairs in a fresh, visually engaging way.
In this four-part interview, Hot Potato founder and editor Naoise O’Keeffe, photo editor Sophie Gladstone, and art director Shauna Buckley reveal:
- How they make Hot Potato
- The story behind Hot Potato’s special new collaboration with Picter
- What to expect from their third issue, made during the Covid crisis
- How Picter transformed their publishing process across the board
Making Hot Potato
Simon Lovermann (Co-founder Picter)
Tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you, what are you interested in and what are you working on?
I’m the photo editor at Hot Potato, and assistant photo editor at Wallpaper* Magazine. I also have my own practice as a photographer in which I work around themes of aspiration and consumption. But all of those three things connect quite a lot.
I’m an art director and designer from Ireland, but I live in London at the moment. I work full time at a studio called KesselsKramer, which is quite an established, well-known studio from the Netherlands, and before that I lived in Munich, working at Bureau Borsche. On the side, I run a design practice called Other Office with my partner, Simon. He works on digital – he actually does the website at Hot Potato – and I’m more editorial and typographic.
I’m the founder and editor of Hot Potato, which I started in 2018. I’m Irish and I currently live in Bristol, where I’m just about to start studying the theory of photography. I’m also working part time in a health food shop, and I’ve just started working as a teaching assistant in a primary school too as part of my research.
How did you come about founding Hot Potato, what was the initial starting point and what’s your mission?
I launched Hot Potato in 2018, but I started thinking about it a few years before that when I was studying fashion design at university. I really liked the idea of academic people and artists working together and it not being so separate, so Hot Potato is basically a merging of disciplines and brains. It’s a kind of newspaper, whereby lots of creative people will interpret various political subjects and journalists will interpret those same subjects in a written way. So a creative and a writer will work separately on the same topic – like “Donald Trump”, say – but they won’t work together like in most publications. The first time that they meet each other is in print!
The idea of Hot Potato is to engage a wider audience – a different kind of audience – in political and cultural affairs. We’ve only done two issues, and we’re about to launch the third. It’s been a long year but we’ve all grown.
Hot Potato x Picter: Love, Your Work
Can you talk a bit about how you three collaborated before you started using Picter, and how discovering Picter led to the Picter and Hot Potato collaboration?
Sophie emailed me one day with a link to Picter saying, “We need this programme!” I’m technically impatient so I didn’t even click on the link. She probed me a little bit and then sent me a WhatsApp voice note about it, which is how we used to communicate. The only thing we didn’t use Whatsapp for before Picter, in fact, was sending high res files! Anyway, Sophie explained a bit about Picter and I said, “It sounds amazing but for us it’s a bit unattainable to run out of business.” But, as the story goes, we ended up connecting and proposing a collaboration with you.
And can you explain the initial thought process behind it?
The first thing I realised about Picter was that it was this kind of saviour, this lifesaver. So thinking in terms of advertising and tag lines, my thoughts were, “Thank fuck it exists!” I said to Sophie, who was photo editing the project, “Why don’t we do an advertising campaign in the same way that we do Hot Potato campaigns? We can print Picter on a newspaper, send it to lots of different photographers around the world and ask them to respond to a design brief which reflects that sentiment. I approached Nadia Doherty who looks after our Hot Potato campaigns and she designed a brief in detail, and came up with “Love, Your Work” as the tagline, which is obviously way more appropriate and beautiful, and can be interpreted in lots of different ways.
After I’d got the brief, we started thinking about photographers who could offer up interesting ideas surrounding essential things – things you can’t live without – because that’s what Picter was for us. This included Ellen Stewart, Sara Fiorino, Josh Adam Jones, Tommy Kha, Tais Sirote, David Barreiro, Angela Blažanović and Vincent Levrat. We collaborated with a designer called Ben Rimmer, who made the newspaper where Picter is the only word, repeated. It’s like when you’re in love with a person or a project, it’s all you think about like day and night. That was a great thing to send to the photographers for them to play with. They did all sorts of things with it – like make origami, turn into a suit, a napkin. It was so exciting seeing how many different avenues they took.
How do you structure your time between working on your full-time jobs and working on Hot Potato?
Monday to Friday, I’m working 40 hours plus in my full-time job. My priority is to give it my all because it pays the bills and the work there is equally as important to me, because I’m learning so many new things. But then all my side jobs are very cultural because I feel like when you do the commercial work, in order to keep a little piece of yourself, you also need to do the cultural work. I obviously can’t do 80 hours a week on both, but I try to spend at least three evenings a week on side projects. That variety of work is really important in my life so that I can bring that cultural side into my more commercial work.
We’re working in this really lucky way where our jobs are part of our personal interests, whether they’re our nine to five jobs or whether it’s Hot Potato. I used to work four days at Wallpaper, and then I would do one day of my own work and one day with Hot Potato, and that would leave me one day avoid thinking about anything creative which was a refreshing pause for my brain. Then COVID happened and everything got a lot less well organised! Now I’m more full time at Wallpaper*, so I squeeze in research for my own work in the early mornings, then shoot at weekends.
There was an interesting time over lockdown whereby Sophie and I both had lots of spare time so we decided to wake up at the same time and worked on Hot Potato full time instead, as if it was our job for a few weeks. It was amazing! In terms of my life, I’ve always had my finger in many, many pies – I need to keep myself very busy and stimulated. Hot Potato is so much my responsibility that I can’t really switch off from it ever. In the future, the dream would be to work on it full time – I’m so interested in everything that we do that I can’t imagine myself ever becoming tired or bored of it.
Hot Potato Issue 3
You’ve just announced your newest issue for Hot Potato, can you tell us a bit more about it?
This issue, because of the situation, we decided to let people’s concepts develop in a more independent way. We didn’t try to dictate what direction people should go in, because everyone was going through something so different. And that’s very evident in the issue when you look at the work – you can almost see the situations or the times that creatives were making work in. This issue is very sophisticated. It’s edited really well. There’s a broad range of ages, cultures, backgrounds, and experience among the photographers and journalists, and there’s just some really beautiful work. I can’t wait till it comes out. It’s like we’re all in labour at the moment. But we’re not pushing anybody – we’re just letting it happen, because this is a very unique year.
It’s a very special one for me because this is the first issue that I’ve been involved in as photo editor right from the start. I think we’ve got some really interesting takes on current affairs, whether that’s the protests in Hong Kong or Brexit, again – that’s always something that’s going to be in there until it’s settled! Since there’s no financial backing behind Hot Potato, when I reach out to a photographer it’s essential that whatever we create together is an enjoyable exploration of their practise as it meets Hot Potato. I feel very lucky to have learnt so much from all of them. Their curiosity and creativity has made this issue so thoughtful.
Ultimately my job is to take all the different voices – this issue we collaborated with around 50 people – and bring them together and make them look like they come from our voice, which is Hot Potato. The last issue was the first one I’d worked on and Naoise very kindly said that since I’ve joined there’s now three strands of Hot Potato: the people coming for the writing, the ones coming for the photography, and the ones coming for the design. And each element in this issue is definitely more confident because now we’re an established team.
How Picter transformed the publishing process
Tell us a bit about how you’ve been using Picter and why you like it.
This might sound like a bit of a strange use of Picter but you know how you check your social media in a nervous moment to see that you still exist, that you’ve done all these things? Well, during periods of doubt this year, I would check Picter and be like, “It’s fine. Look at what we’re doing… Things are okay, there is good in the world!”
It’s also really nice being able to send a link to a photographer saying, “Pop your pictures here!” I can now see every photo that a photographer has taken and see how the images look when they’re reacting to other images. Plus all our comments are in one place; photographers can flag up their favourite images and we can pick our favourites, and then make a final decision based on everyone’s opinions. Naoise always says that Hot Potato is for everybody and Picter allows us to be more inclusive and organised, even in that very early stage when selecting.
Picter has made my life so much easier in terms of being able to oversee everything. I’m technically impatient, as I said, and I must admit that in past issues I may have just chosen an image that was conveniently to hand, because there were ones I had downloaded weeks before and couldn’t find.
I love that everything is laid out and the fact that there’s so much space. You hardly notice that Picter’s there – you just see the work in this really clear gallery and you can project whatever ideas you want onto it. Plus you can edit through imagery and share your comments so quickly. You can communicate as tightly and quickly as you would in person. It’s almost like this is our proof printing but on the web.
Picter is a designer’s dream. You can put people’s photographs under their names! I used to get sent WeTransfer files that were just numbered and when we went to print there wouldn’t be a credit. And then having the level of overview that Picter allows for has been literally transformational, in terms of edits and options.
Do you see the application of it for other visual enterprises?
I’ve only used it for photography so far but I can also imagine if you were doing a graphic post for Instagram or something, you could say, “Hey, I made 20 versions of this. Look at them here.” Because when you see them all together, you can make a much more informed decision.
Why do you think other editorial and creative teams and photographers would benefit from using Picter?
I think it’s good for any situation where images are involved. It’s like writing a to-do list. Picter offers that continual reassurance of like, “I know what I’m doing. I’ve not lost the files. I know where everything’s tracked.” It streamlines the process of knowing what you have to do and it’s a really nice way of viewing what you’re working on.
What I’ve really noticed is that, as you’ve heard, myself, Sophie and Shauna are all from very different backgrounds; we’re very different people. And yet we can all use Picter and make it work for ourselves. It’s a very inclusive space and a very accessible tool.