March'11 New York Times
It's all about
by Stephanie Levi
When Claudia Wu graduated from the Rhode Island Institue of Design with a degree in graphic design, she resolved not to work at a magazine. This would seem unremarkable, save for the fact that she is the Editor in Chief and creative mastermind behind Me, a quarterly publication that revises the common format of the interview magazine. Each issue is thematized around one individual, who is revealed through interviews with and photographs of his or her friends.
“Doing a magazine was a natural choice,” the former design director of Index confesses. “Even though I started out not wanting to work at a magazine, I think it’s something that I miss when I’m working at an ad agency or at an in-house art department. Magazines have their own distinct viewpoint and form a community around themselves. It’s like being part of a family.”
Wu developed the concept of Me as a way to connect with others. She says, “The idea for Me came about because I’ve always been interested in people’s lives, their motivations, [and] their backgrounds. But I think once you leave school it’s very difficult to form close friendships with new people.” Wu met someone who seemed to be connected to everyone she knew in some way, and this helped her think beyond her sense of isolation. “The fact that a lot of my friends were connected to him made me want to know more about him. He was the original inspiration for Me,” Wu continues.
The premiere issue, released in Autumn 2004, featured artist Joshua Abelow. Wu typically selects individuals based on recommendations from friends or her own interest in the person’s work. Subsequent issues have featured V Editor in Chief Chris Bollen and United Bamboo designer Miho Aoki. The subject of each issue serves as guest editor. He or she selects several friends to respond to a series of the same questions. The table of contents is a relationship road map, delineating how each person interviewed knows the guest editor. The guests’ friends are usually as interesting as the guests themselves. Some have included Rufus Wainwright (Chris Bollen’s friend), Dave Portner (Avey Tare of Animal Collective, Miho Aoki’s friend), and Abby Portner (Dave’s sister, Hisham Bharoocha’s friend). The result of this format is that the reader gets a kaleidescopic perspective of the guest editor that fills out the story of the individual while creating an overlapping view of their social circle. The Me website links to guests’ friends’ sites, giving readers yet another opportunity to further learn beyond the print issue.
The reader actually meets the guest editor only at the end, through the interview and a gallery of photographs. The guest editor is interviewed at length, and the interviews are actually quite revealing (the fourth issue featuring photographer, artist, and Black Dice alum Hisham Bharoocha includes personal memories of his late father, among other things).
In addition to having final approval on the questionaires and selection of friends, the guest editor also chooses the photographer, logo, and color for each issue. The end result is that each issue has its own unique personality reflective of the guest editor. “I really want each guest editor to treat the magazine as a personal project,” Wu says, “It’s a snapshot of where they are and where their friends are in their lives, so I hope in five years, they can look back and revisit who they were.” While many welcome the opportunity to act as the guest editor for Me, others do decline occasionally. “There are a lot of very private people who would rather have their work speak for them. I completely respect that,” Wu states.
Of course, the information presented of the guest editor is not all-encompassing. “In any kind of written material about an individual, I think it’s very difficult to portray someone accurately, but we try,” Wu says. “The experience of reading an interview that’s been edited or short question and answer is never the same as spending time with someone in real life, but we don’t put any sort of spin or editorial viewpoint on things and just try to document things as they are and as people want to be portrayed.”
The publication may strike some readers as reminiscent of Friendster. “I think it’s a fair comparison,” Wu responds. “At a very basic level, the six-degrees-of-separation concept is similar, but I think it’s interpreted in different ways. Hopefully you get to know people a bit more in-depth through Me.” Many readers would not know the featured guest editor in Me the way they would a bona fide celebrity, but by putting everyday people on the cover and exploring their lives, Wu toys with the concept of celebrity. “The magazine is really about everyone’s personal struggles as members of a creative community. I think I just want people to realize that we’re all the same — we breathe the same air, listen to the same music, struggle with the same questions about what we do and who we are,” Wu muses. “Just because someone is on the cover of Me or any magazine, it doesn’t mean they are any different from the rest of us.”