Based in Verona, Athleta is a magazine that seamlessly marries documentary photography with sport in a way that is intimate and personal. Rarely featuring more that six stories per biannual issue, it explores the values that underpin sport, such as commitment, perseverance, failure, competition and victory. The inaugural issue’s main story was about the Paralympic champion fencer, Bebe Vio, who lost her arms and legs to meningitis as a child; the cover was an image of her prosthetic legs.
“In Italy, the sports media is all standardised to the same format, and they are interested almost exclusively in men’s soccer and little else,” says art director and photographer, Sara Capovilla. “Myself and the editor, Giovanni Gallio, are passionate about sports, and interested in cultural and artistic forms that struggle to express themselves in our country, such as indie publishing. Sports culture offers a lot of insights to be explored, and its competitive nature lends itself perfectly to photography, so we started by creating some portraits. But we lacked an adequate platform through which to convey them, so we decided to try to do it ourselves.”
Why do you think Athleta has been successful?
I think people like the magazine because it’s simple and sincere. It conveys the same genuineness of the people who work there, of the protagonists of the stories, and of the photography you find inside. It has no pretence of greatness, it simply aims to create interesting content for the readers, with a particular focus on aesthetics and creative writing. It does not aspire to fame, but to create stimulating collaborations with people who share our point of view. People usually like the result of those who work with passion.
How far in advance do you plan?
It took a long time for the first issue to come out – a year at least, partly because we have so much work as a photographic studio we cannot dedicate ourselves to the magazine every day. Now we start working at least three or four months in advance.
How much of the magazine is given to new commissions?
It depends. In the last issue, more than half of the pieces were new commissions. Original photography brings freshness, variety, curiosity. Photography, however beautiful and high-level, like all things, becomes repetitive if styles and different visions are not mixed. Whoever looks at photography needs innovation to enrich themselves. So I think that original photography brings wealth to the magazine and to the readers. However, if someone proposes a particularly interesting unpublished work, it is not necessary to assign new commissions. We do what we want from time to time.
Is there a photographer with whom you particularly enjoyed working?
Knowing and working with Boogie was a very imporant experience for me. We love his photography, so it’s an honour to have him in our magazine. He is also absolutely extraordinary, and an incredible international professional. Working with him has enriched us a lot.
How do you approach a new commission?
Usually we start from a project, a creative idea, or a theme that we want to explore, and we commission it to someone we want to work with. The subject of the work can be proposed by ourselves or by the photographer, and is chosen based on timing, budget and location – something that works well for the photographer. For example, with Alessandro Simonetti for issue three, we started with the idea of covering a street sport in New York, where Simonetti lives. Handball seemed perfect, it lends itself a lot to Alessandro’s photographic style. Once the theme is outlined, if the photographer is enthusiastic about the project, we start.
How much freedom do you give photographers?
Photographers are free to express themselves, it is very important for us to see their hand in the projects we assign them. We only try to explain what we have in mind, which is the reason why we chose a particular subject for a particular photographer.