Creative Brief: Alex Hambis, Rolling Stone UK

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine: Ones to Watch, available to buy at thebjpshop.com.

Rolling Stone has printed some of the industry’s most iconic covers. Here, Rolling Stone UK’s art director sheds light on his creative process

Founded in San Francisco in 1967, Rolling Stone has informed readers around the world for over half a century. A tastemaker in music, entertainment and current affairs, the magazine has printed some of the industry’s most iconic covers, notably Annie Leibovitz’s 1981 shot of a naked John Lennon embracing Yoko Ono.

In September 2021, a dedicated bimonthly UK edition was launched, headed by the team behind Europe’s best-selling gay magazine, Attitude. As Rolling Stone UK’s art director, Alex Hambis commissions photographers for its print and digital platforms. Shaping a visual identity with a distinctly British twist has been central to his mission, working with image-makers such as Daniel Obasi, Jack Bridgland, Lindsey Byrnes and Ruth Ossai.

Portrait © Alex Hambis.

How is Rolling Stone UK different to other music magazines?
I see magazines as cultural barometers; they have the power to hold up a mirror to society. As soon as a magazine hits newsstands, it becomes a time capsule – a snapshot of thoughts, cultural moods and identities. Rolling Stone UK is a celebration of our rich, diverse and world-leading cultural arts, with a focus on distinctly British stories. At its core, it’s not just a music magazine, but a vessel to seek out the new, the brave and the brightest of what the UK has to offer.

How would you describe its look?
Bold, bright, but classic. It’s important for us to be faithful to the iconic Rolling Stone brand while injecting it with a UK flavour. We pay attention to the production by printing on heavy paper stock. Each issue becomes a coffee-table keepsake, savouring our photography and allowing it to pop and breathe.

Do you work with both emerging and established photographers?
We actively encourage emerging photographers into the fold. It’s important for us not to become gatekeepers. The deciding factor for us is a strong visual aesthetic that aligns with the subject. We recently commissioned Shenell Kennedy, who we discovered via Instagram, to photograph rapper Ashley Walters.

Issue 5, Charli XCX by Jack Bridgland.
Issue 1, Lashana Lynch cover by Danny Kasirye.
Issue 1, Sam Fender cover by Damon Baker.

Is there a standout editorial that you enjoyed working on?
Our first issue was a labour of love, featuring three different covers. It was imperative to represent a cross-section of the industry – in terms of the content and the creative teams behind them. Our rising star Sam Fender was shot by Damon Baker, with breakthrough band Bastille and the first female 007, Lashana Lynch, both shot by Danny Kasirye. Each of the three covers has a distinct mood, but they maintain a colour scheme of red, white and blue, binding them together as undeniably British.

Tell us about your Florence + the Machine cover by Ruth Ossai.
This shoot encapsulates the magazine’s ethos perfectly. We wanted Florence [Welch] to look like she’d stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite, Ophelia-esque painting, which was echoed by Ruth Ossai. For an artist with such a strong visual identity, Ruth was the perfect choice to bring this to life, and the synergy between her and Florence was evident both on the shoot and in the imagery.

How do you go about commissioning photographers?
Suggestions come from the entire team. We have a group chat dedicated to ‘inspiration’. We use a variety of platforms to find new photographers, whether it be online portfolios, word of mouth, or social media. I have countless Instagram collections and Pinterest boards, which often lead to new names through algorithm suggestions. We’ve been humbled by the number of photographers who want to work with us – hopefully we can feature them all one day.

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.