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Interview: John Peabody, photographer and founder of The Hand and Eye

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Journalist and photographer John Peabody is interested in "revealing the ways people approach their crafts." On his blog The Hand & Eye, Peabody visits the studios of makers and creative entrepreneurs, from the writer Gay Talese to mural painters Colossal Media to Chelsea Clock, the oldest clock company in the US. He's also a creative strategist at The Atlantic and a freelance writer, with bylines in The New York Times, Fast Company and Newsweek.

Peabody recently used our digital tabloids to publish Swim Call, a 20-page visual periodical of swimming spots and swim culture. "Looking at photos on phones is literally the worst way to enjoy photography," he says. "I love being able to hold something physical."

As the all-too-brief season of outdoor swimming comes to a close, we talked to Peabody about the project—which he launched at the Sunspel shop in NYC last month—and how he maintains creative momentum "just by doing a little [personal] work every week."

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

John Peabody with his family at the launch of Swim Call in SoHo, NYC. Photo by Laura Hetzel.

How did your photography career get started?

I started taking photographs when I was in high school. I learned by shooting on a 35mm manual film camera and then developing the film in a dark room. I went to boarding school and it was a good way to escape the authorities and just do my own thing.

swim_call_web-9550

John Peabody: Swim Call

What are some of the milestones that helped you get to where you are now?

Over the years, I’ve had a few small projects for brands and a few photos have ended up in books and newspapers. But I really got back into photography when I launched my site The Hand & Eye to document creatives and travel and stuff. Getting to shoot Gay Talese in his bunker was a highlight.

"If I don’t do personal work,
I end up losing my creative momentum."

I’m sort of a DIY type of person who would rather create my own venue for printing my images, so that blog exists as a personal milestone for me. Every time I look at it I’m reminded that you can create a pretty big body of work to be proud of just by doing a little work every week and maintaining that cadence for a few years.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody. Printed as a digital tabloid.

Do you work with an analogue or digital camera, or a mix of both?

I shoot both and really love them for different reasons. I’d probably shoot more film, but it gets expensive. I just got back from Italy and I brought a Nikonos camera and I’m really excited to see how those images turned out.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

John Peabody: Swim Call

You’re also a creative strategist at the Atlantic. What does a typical work week look like for you?

During the days at the Atlantic, I help come up with big creative branded content ideas and integrated marketing strategies. That’s a little jargony, but it means I help advertisers come up with creative ways to partner with us. It’s super fun and it takes up most of my creative energy each week.

But during the nights and on weekends, I like to recharge by working on personal projects like the Hand & Eye, Swim Call, and some freelance writing because I find the act of creating art or working on projects helps restore my creative energy. If I don’t do personal work, I end up losing my creative momentum.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody. Printed as a digital tabloid.

How collaborative is your work?

At The Atlantic, it’s incredibly collaborative. I work with dozens of super creative people. Every idea gets touched by a lot of smart people who all help make it better. It’s sort of amazing and a little humbling, too.

"Looking at photos on phones
is literally the worst way to enjoy photography, yet it's the most ubiquitous."

For my personal projects, my wife Elsa is really my biggest collaborator. She’s an incredibly talented art director and illustrator. She designed the Hand & Eye and is a constant sounding board for creative ideas that I have.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

John Peabody: Swim Call

What skills are most essential to your job?

This probably sounds a little odd but staying relaxed is pretty essential. I’m not sure if that’s a skill, but I’ve found the most creative ideas come when you’re relaxed so being able to stay cool while pressure is building up is essential. I’m not always really good at it.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody. Printed as a digital tabloid.

What work are you most proud of from the past year?

The launch of Swim Call! I had been taking these images for a long time and printing my own newspaper was a perfect way to share them. It was great to see the photos printed large and actually hold something in your hand. The response from everyone has been incredibly positive.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call launch at Sunspel in SoHo, NYC. Photo by Laura Hetzel.

What's the inspiration behind Swim Call?

It’s a personal project that I’d sort of unknowingly been working on for years. My wife and I travel a lot to places like Sicily and Barbados with these insanely beautiful swimming spots and I always photographed them. Eventually, I was like: I want to publish these in some way, so I created Swim Call.

"You can create a body of work
to be proud of just by doing
a little work every week."

I love being able to hold something physical. I also love that the images can be blown up large. Looking at photos on phones is literally the worst way to enjoy photography, yet it's the most ubiquitous for obvious reasons. It’s kind of a bummer, but it makes sense.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

How were the photos taken?

Most of the photos were taken with my Canon 6D. I shoot with f35mm and 50mm prime lenses. I also have a FujiFilm x100f that I used as well for a few images.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody. Printed as a digital tabloid.

Do you have a favourite image in the newspaper?

The one that’s on the cover is my favorite. I shot it in Corfu on my honeymoon. I love the colors and I love that your eye sort of naturally zigzags up from the woman standing at the bottom of the frame to the guy on the diving board, and up to the nervous couple waiting to dive in at the top of the frame. There are a lot of little stories happening in that photo.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call launch at Sunspel in SoHo, NYC. Photo by Laura Hetzel.

You recently launched the publication at Sunspel in New York. What sort of response have you had to the piece?

It was super positive. Sunspel was super generous and they have a great gallery in their store. The photos are blown up really large and look fantastic. It was really sort of dream stuff to have an opening and a launch party. Overall the night was a blur, but everyone had a great time.

Swim Call newspaper by John Peabody

Swim Call launch at Sunspel in SoHo, NYC. Photo by Laura Hetzel.

Can you tell us about any projects coming up that you're excited about?

I have a few articles I wrote coming out in the next few weeks that I’m pretty excited about. I’ve also retooled the Hand & Eye into a weekly newsletter that I’m driving a lot of energy towards right now, so I’m excited to embrace that platform more in the next year. Other than that, fingers crossed there will be Swim Call Vol. 2.


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