Those of us in the magazine industry have an unfortunate truth to face: print media is on the decline. As more people get their content online, circulation rates drop and advertising dollars with them. So naturally, my first question to Jason Tranchida and Matthew Lawrence, co-editors of the biannual art-sex tome Headmaster, is why, exactly, anyone would start a magazine right now.
“It might be an exercise in futility since many publications are dying off,” Tranchida says. “But there’s also a section of the industry that’s evolving away from the traditional disposability towards a culture of collectability.”
“If you’re putting something in print and expecting people to pay for it, they’ll want to have it around for a while,” Lawrence adds. “That’s why we made a conscious effort from our first issue not to be a current events magazine, but something that people would actually want to have on their bookshelf for years to come. Often when people first discover it, they’ll want to order back issues to have the complete set.”
The pair met eight years ago while sharing a DJ gig in Providence, Rhode Island. Both had worked in creative fields (Tranchida in graphics and marketing, Lawrence as an arts writer and curator). Though they’d tossed around ideas for formal collaboration, Headmaster wasn’t conceived until 2010.
Now in its fourth issue, the project’s title begat its working process. Artists and writers are given “homework” assignments (as if from a strict headmaster), each one customized to the individual creator. Ranging from a vague sentence (“Draw six men’s ties”) to a hyper-specific investigative project (“Document a sub-culture unique to your hometown”), the results are then published in a high-quality glossy format.
“We make a point of doing studio visits with artists and spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of projects we want to assign,” Tranchida says. “Even when we lay out something very precise, we never know exactly what we’re going to get back. Obviously, we have an agenda. But we’re just as delighted to get something back completely unlike what we expected.”
Though not every assignment is sexual in nature (things like “Document your level of security” crop up occasionally), the mag has a steadfast focus on the male body. Cock and ass appear liberally (both photographed and illustrated), intermingled with BDSM-themed stories and touches of softer, portrait-based work. There’s no denying the sexual bent as adult film stars toy with disposable cameras or someone is sent to document a fisting party. But is it porn?
“We definitely love porn and work with it as a concept and a reference point,” Lawrence says. “But porn exists solely to get people off, and we’re not approaching things that way. People have mentioned they’ve gotten off to a specific photo series, but percentage-wise, I don’t think that’s the majority.”
“If you want dirty pics, there’s plenty of that online,” Tranchida adds. “We wanted to make something that would make people stop and think, rather than just clicking from image to image. Putting it in ink adds a greater level of legitimacy. We didn’t want to create a quick way to get off. We wanted to make an art magazine with a queer bent, exploring issues of masculinity and sexuality we didn’t see getting covered elsewhere.”
Available for purchase at headmastermagazine.com.