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A look inside the photography magazine started by a Shifter

Shift alumni Joel Seawright on producing a photography magazine and taking a risk to move to London

Rotten Magazine by Joel Seawright

24-year-old Joel Seawright started a punk photography magazine called Rotten Magazine. In this new interview in our D&AD Meets series, the 2018 Shift graduate from Northern Ireland tells us about making risky moves and convincing established photographers to work with him at age 19.

What are you up to currently?

I'm currently working on my passion project, a punk-inspired, print-only, photography magazine called Rotten Magazine. I’ve always had creative roles; I used to work for a modelling agency, and then I worked for AllSaints doing their campaigns. Those roles became too difficult to juggle between making the magazine full-time, so I had to find something part-time. I wouldn't call the magazine a business yet. Obviously, the intention is to turn it into one, and the end goal is to turn it into a public publisher or a publishing house, but at the minute it's very design focused. It's more a passion project at the minute.

Tell us a bit about how and why you started Rotten Magazine

I decided to make Rotten Magazine at a time in my life when I felt really stuck. I was unemployed, depressed and living at home in Belfast and I just needed something to put my thoughts into. I had no clue what I was even making or what I would do with it.

When I moved to London for D&AD Shift, I met Lucy Jackson, who was also on the Shift programme, and she basically told me what I had made so far looked shit! Together we started to rework everything and it led us to what Rotten is now. We crowdfunded the first issue on Kickstarter successfully and we managed to build this small creative community from that.

Rotten Magazine by Joel Seawright

What was the biggest challenge co-starting your own photography magazine?

The biggest challenge with starting the magazine was the steep learning curve of the admin side of it. We had no idea how to run a business or even make it sustainable. There were a lot of hard learning experiences like how to approach stockists, how many copies we should print and the cost of printing.

Also, trying to get artists on board when you’ve got no previous work to show them is tough. Lucy was a 17-year-old painter and I was a 19-year-old freelance graphic designer at the time, so neither of us had any kind of portfolio or anything, and the artists we were approaching were big photographers. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would say yes. We basically drafted up a mood board, which showed them what the final product was going to look like. We also added in a bit about who we were and were able to convince people to come on board.

What was your break into the creative industry?

My break into the industry was definitely getting accepted for the Shift Program in 2017. There was an advert on Dazed, I think. I read it, and I think I applied for it the night before the deadline. I did an application in 20 minutes, the night before at like midnight. I didn't even really think I'd get on the programme, because I didn't even live in London, and you had to put a London address on the application. I ended up moving for the course, and I was only meant to be here for like three months and I've been here for five years. This opportunity forced me to get out of my comfort zone and move away from home  — something I had never before even thought about doing. This completely changed my direction in life and my mindset.

You were part of D&AD’s Shift Program, can you tell us a bit about your experience?

My experience with D&AD Shift was life-changing and something I will always be thankful for. Whilst it was nerve racking to be in a completely new environment, it was also exciting and I met so many great people. If I hadn’t been accepted, I would have never met Lucy and the magazine wouldn’t be what it is today.

D&AD gave me access to learning about the experiences of  the best people in the creative industry and to adopt their hardships, successes and ideologies to build my own practice.

Belfast Exposed Exhibition

Has anyone helped you on your career journey so far, if so who?

Steve Watson from Stack Magazines really helped us get Rotten off the ground when we launched the first volume. We took a chance and just sent Stack a copy. Surprisingly, they got back to us and interviewed us, invited me on their podcast and shortlisted Volume one for Launch of the Year at the Stack Awards.

Dan Clatworthy from PYLOT Magazine too. I met Dan at our Shift showcase and got chatting. He liked my work and invited me to be the design assistant on their 8th issue. This opportunity really gave me insight into the production of a magazine and how things worked from start to finish.

What are your career highlights so far?

My career highlights so far would be the exhibition we put on at Belfast Exposed gallery for Volume Two. We printed a special edition copy for it and created some amazing large-scale prints of spreads from the issue.

Another highlight is getting to work with photographers that I’ve admired ever since my interest in photography began. I feel really honoured to be able to work with them and to display their images in a unique way.


Can you tell us three creatives who are doing interesting work? This is your chance to shout out creatives on the rise.

I’d like to give a shout-out to the guys at Screw Gallery in Leeds, Waste Store in London, and Arcade Studios in Belfast. They are all doing really cool stuff right now and creating spaces for young creatives like me. You love to see it.


What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the creative industry?

Reach out to people! Creatives have big egos and love hearing that you admire their work. Make sure to be open-minded, be a bit of a sponge, and just get shit done! 

Get in touch with Joel Seawright @rotmag on instagram and get the magazine here

Meet more rising creative talent including photographers, motion designers, illustrators and visual artists.

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