Off the Page, with Maisonneuve Publisher Jennifer Varkonyi

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Jennifer Varkonyi, publisher of Maisonneuve, which was named Canada’s Magazine of the Year in 2016, among 5 NMAs it took home last year. A quarterly magazine of arts, literature, ideas and culture, published in English in Montreal, Maisonneuve publishes new and established writers, artists and photojournalists packaged around award-winning design.

NMAF: Congratulations again on winning Magazine of the Year in 2016, the third such honour for Maisonneuve since 2004. In presenting the award, the NMA jury said:

Maisonneuve fulfills its bold mandate of ‘banishing boring,’ clearly striving to engage, inform and inspire. From its refreshing and imaginative art direction to its passionate editorial voice, the magazine feels like it’s constantly evolving, yet at the same time seems to connect with a sense of familiarity with its readers.”

As a publisher, how do you achieve this winning formula of evolution and continuity? And what was the significance to you and your team of winning the big award?

Jennifer: The answer is simple: the people. Maisonneuve has been blessed with great editors, art directors, writers, artists and interns who give their all to the magazine. We take the editorial process seriously, which means we do everything we can to help writers shape their stories to be the best they can be.

This striving for excellence has been a part of the magazine’s ethos from the very beginning, with founder Derek Webster’s drive to create a magazine that reflected intelligence, humour, and genuine curiosity, and the tradition has been carried forward by Carmine Starnino, Drew Nelles, Haley Cullingham, Daniel Viola and now Andrea Bennett.

Winning Magazine of the Year is significant for Maisonneuve. It reminds us that the hours upon hours of toil the editors dedicate to a fifth draft, or to tweaking display copy or scouring for typos, are noticed by readers and recognized within the magazine community. Being in Montreal can feel a little isolating at times, so coming to Toronto and winning the top honour is gratifying. The win also helps raise the magazine’s profile, especially among contributors, and it draws more people to the magazine.

NMAF: What three words or phrases describe the typical Maisonneuve reader? To what extent do you think about your current (and future) readers when you’re putting together and promoting a magazine issue?

Jennifer: I think here I have to go with the three qualities I used earlier: our readers are intelligent, have a sense of humour, and are curious about Canada and the world around them.

As publisher I consult with the editor-in-chief about upcoming issues, stories and themes, but the work of putting the content together really rests on the shoulders of the editors. Our editors ask themselves how they can best draw the reader into the story – how to begin a feature about, say, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the North? How do you grab someone’s attention when discussing the politics of creating a national park? What messages do our graphics send, and are words and images working in unison? These are the kind of questions considered around the editorial table.

NMAF: What are the biggest challenges for a (small) magazine publisher in 2017? How do you address them?

Jennifer: The biggest challenges are resources (money) and maintaining circulation. Many people have a lot of love for the magazine, but connecting with that love and growing circulation even to 5,000 is a huge challenge. That’s partly a reflection of a competitive environment: there is so much amazing content out there competing for eyeballs and subscribers.

The Internet has put small Canadian magazines into direct competition with every other magazine in the world. Without our grants from all levels of government, we would not survive. I wish we were not so dependent on these funds, but it is a reality for most small Canadian magazines. Former editor Daniel Viola recently remarked to me that Maisonneuve runs on enthusiasm, and that is exactly right. I wish we could provide more remuneration to everyone who contributes to the magazine. I think every small magazine editor and publisher in Canada feels that way!

NMAF: Maisonneuve has a national perspective, but also very clearly reflects its Quebec and Montreal heritage. In many ways, Maisonneuve could be said to be the voice of Quebec for the rest of English Canada, in literature, art and current events. How has the magazine embraced this role, and why is it important to project Quebec (and Montreal) onto the national stage?

Jennifer: Maisonneuve has always wanted to blur borders – be they real or ideological. The magazine’s identity is rooted in Montreal, but it’s a cosmopolitan identity (which is very Montreal) so the result on the page is wide-ranging and eclectic. There are regular moments, such as in the Writing from Quebec section, where we shine a light on some new writing from the francophone community, but I think the voice of Quebec is more consistently found in the excellent reporting of L’actualité and the refined cultural commentary of Nouveau Projet, for example.

Maisonneuve really is a national magazine in its scope and story selection. There was a Beaverton headline that made me laugh recently – “Montreal declared the ‘I don’t know I’m just trying to figure my shit out’ capital of Canada” – and I certainly fit this bill when I was 19 and moved to Montreal from Saskatoon. The point being: Montreal presents an alternative to the norm, be it “Toronto” or “English” or whatever – you can do things a little differently in Montreal. Maisonneuve embraces this difference, and people appreciate that.

Jennifer Varkonyi (second from left, with envelope) accepts the National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year with (from right) former Maisonneuve editors Daniel Viola and Haley Cullingham, former art director Anna Minzhulina, and Gala host Chris Turner.
Jennifer Varkonyi (second from left, with envelope) accepts the National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year with (from right) former Maisonneuve editors Daniel Viola and Haley Cullingham, former art director Anna Minzhulina, and Gala host Chris Turner at the 2016 National Magazine Awards.

 

NMAF: Based on Maisonneuve’s success, what advice would you give to small magazine publishers who are concerned they can’t compete against larger magazines on newsstands (real and virtual) or at the National Magazine Awards?

Jennifer: I think the key is to take chances. Take chances on people, on ideas, on an opening, on a story’s length. If an editor’s interest is piqued, chances are readers will be interested too. One thing that small magazines have going for them is that enthusiasm I mentioned earlier, without the punishing production cycle of larger magazines, so editors can take a little more time with a story, push for something slightly better, and the results can be astonishingly rewarding. That doesn’t pay the rent, but this is where a gold medal from the National Magazine Awards makes the sacrifices worthwhile.


Jennifer Varkonyi is the publisher of Maisonneuve, Canada’s reigning Magazine of the Year. Find out more at Maisonneuve.org, or subscribe and get 2 years (8 issues) for just $30

Download the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards guide to submissions.

National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year
Submissions to the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are now open for submissions. The award for Magazine of the Year honours the magazine that most consistently engages, surprises and serves the needs of its readers. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in magazine publishing over the past year.

The jury shall evaluate each candidate for Magazine of the Year according to four general criteria—quality, innovation, impact, and brand awareness—and its success relative to the magazine’s editorial mandate. Each submitter will need to complete an application form providing details supporting each criterion. There will be 5 finalists for this award and one overall winner.

The deadline for submissions for Magazine of the Year is January 27.
(For all other categories, the deadline is January 20).

magazine-awards.com

Freelancers: Last chance to enter the National Magazine Awards

Freelancers save over 50% on entry fees on National Magazine Awards submissions by Friday’s deadline. Are you a freelance journalist, illustrator, photographer, or other creator?

With the new Freelancer Support Fund from the National Magazine Awards Foundation, your first two entries are just $50 each (regular price $120). Awards include a cash prize of $1000.

Not sure if your magazine is entering your work on your behalf? If they do, we’ll refund your entry fees.

As a not-for-profit charitable organization, National Magazine Awards’ entry fees may be tax-deductible for self-employed freelancers.

The deadline for entries is Friday January 20.

Awards include:

Awards include a cash prize of $1000.

For a complete list of awards, visit magazine-awards.com/categories.

Ready to submit? Click here

PLUS: The Freelancer Support Fund is also applicable to creators entering the Digital Publishing Awards. Deadline for DPA entries is January 31.

Early Bird Rate for Digital Publishing Awards ends Friday

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The Early Bird deadline for the 2nd Annual Digital Publishing Awards is fast-approaching!

You have until midnight this Friday January 20 to enter your best work online.

After a successful inaugural year, we’ve both expanded the category roster and made improvements to pre-existing awards. You’ll see that we’ve created new divisions, such as the Best Online Video, Best News Coverage and General Excellence in Digital Publishing awards to better reflect the diversity of Canada’s digital publishers. There are also brand new awards, such as Best Social Storytelling, Personal Essays and Best Arts & Culture.

Early-Bird Deadline Today for National Magazine Awards

Friday January 13 is the “Early-Bird” deadline for submissions to the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards. Enter online by 11:59pm EST to save 20% on entry fees.

Today is also the final deadline for applications for the Small Magazine Rebate.

The Freelancer Support Fund, offering 50% discount on the first two entries to freelancer submitters, remains in place until January 20.

The final deadline for all submissions is Friday January 20.

The 2017 Digital Publishing Awards are accepting submissions until January 31.

Off The Page, with Adrian Forrow

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we spoke with Adrian Forrow, who won his very first National Magazine Award in 2016, winning the Gold Medal in Illustration for his series of illustrations featured alongside the article “My Prescribed Life” (The Walrus). The story is a memoir about the longstanding link between mental health and prescription dependency, and it also received an Honourable Mention for Best Health & Medicine article.

NMAF: As splashes of colour that break up pages otherwise saturated by text, magazine illustrations give the reader a welcomed break, a moment’s pause before they jump back into reading. What do you think the role of an illustration is for people reading magazine articles?

Adrian: The role of editorial Illustration should be additive. It should help set the mood of the forthcoming text. The image can help evoke visual interest and transport the reader to a place where ideas and understanding intersect.

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NMAF: What details do you need before you can properly begin your creative, designing process? Are there certain elements or information that your client or partner needs to relay, in order for you to develop your concept?

Adrian: What I find that works best for me is to receive the brief and the text and really absorb the core idea before putting pen to paper. Once I feel I have a grasp of the idea, I might discuss the tone of the imagery that I feel is best for the article. This is where collaboration can happen with the art director and it’s a great way to help inform your imagery. I try not to think about the imagery at this stage–just the mood, atmosphere and tone of the picture.

The other detail that is critical for my process is the dimensions of the image. It’s really important for me to consider the whole compositional area. The dimension can ignite my conceptual approach and really make the art feel customized to the space available.

NMAF: You won Gold in Illustration at last year’s National Magazine Awards for your pieces featured in a memoir called “My Prescribed Life.” The story, published in The Walrus, discussed the link between the author’s mental illness and related dependence on medication. How did the subject matter of the memoir influence your creative conceptualization for the piece? How did you decide what tone would be most appropriate?

Adrian: This was a great article and so interesting. It was a delicate and somewhat saddening topic. I knew the colours were going to be really important. I didn’t want to do what was expected. I knew I had to take an approach that might have to be more ambiguous and surreal.

I didn’t want to use this illustration to summarize or define the problem. Instead my intent was to ask a question or pose a contemplative composition so the viewer would be left to decipher the visual symbols that I included.

The colours were mostly primary and that helped carry the idea of youth and aging. The colours also helped to create a surreal or even jarring feeling in relation to the content. The goal was for the colours and composition to carry ideas about an altered state of reality.

NMAF: Your Gold win last year was also your first time being recognized by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. How does winning awards for your illustration work help you, on both a personal and professional level?

Adrian: It feels great to know that my work is being received and appreciated within the industry. Personally, it helps to motivate me to keep developing my skills as a visual communicator. Professionally, it helps to open doors and possibilities for new and exciting opportunities.

NMAF: Your work has adorned coffee cups, been part of the creative for major music festivals and has been made larger-than-life by outdoor mural installations. Your work has also appeared in magazines, including The New Yorker, Corporate Knights and The Walrus. As an illustrator, what types of creative collaborations do you like to pursue? Do you try to not limit yourself to any one medium?

Adrian: I feel that in many ways I am just getting started. I have so many ideas and desires to push what I can do. The best thing about my profession is the variety it offers. One day I’m drawing a coffee cup, the next day I’m painting a huge outdoor mural. Variety is the spice of life, so I try to be diverse in the projects I take on.

I also love the collaborative process and making things that fulfill a need or desire. I have always experimented with different approaches and tools for making images.  I think it helps my clients see different possibilities and vary their experiences with illustration.

As of now, I have been collaborating with Warby Parker for a new store mural which I am really excited to share with people. I have also been collaborating with Keilhauer to make some artful promotional products.


Adrian Forrow is a National Magazine Award-winning illustrator whose work has been published in The Walrus, Corporate Knights, Canadian Running & Cycling Magazine and The New Yorker. His debut National Magazine Award was the Gold Medal in Best Illustration, for his series of illustrations featured in The Walrus memoir, “My Prescribed Life“. 

Check out his work at www.adrianforrow.com.

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning illustrators including Gracia Lam, Hudson ChristieByron Eggenscwhiler, Roxanna Bikadoroff, Jillian Tamaki and Selena Wong. 


Submissions to the 40th Anniversary National Magazine Awards
The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including awards for Illustration and for Best New Magazine Illustrator.
Enter at magazine-awards.com.

In alternate years, the NMAF presents distinct awards for Best New Magazine Illustrator and Best New Magazine Photographer. For this year’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards, the Best New Visual Creator award will go to an illustrator whose early work in magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise.

Read more about the Best New Creators Awards here.

The 2017 National Magazine Awards Jury

[This post has been updated] The NMAF is pleased to announce the roster of judges for the 2017 awards program, following the announcement last fall of the International Judges.

Each year the NMAF relies on the expertise of over 120 volunteer judges–editors, publishers, art directors, professors, writers, artists and other renowned journalists–to review the entries to the National Magazine Awards, deliberate and ultimately decide on the nominees and winners. The final list of this year’s NMA judges will be announced next month.

Read more about How Judging Works.

Click here to see the members of the Francophone Jury.
Click here to see the members of the International Jury


David Balzer is a writer, editor and teacher. He is the author of Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else, winner of ICA London’s 2015 Book of the Year, and the short-fiction collection Contrivances. He has written about art and culture for The GuardianModern PaintersArtforumThe Globe and Mail and others, and was the recipient of the 2015 International Award for Art Criticism. He is currently Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher at Canadian Art magazine, and lives in Toronto.


Arjun Basu is senior vice-president, content strategy, at Bookmark Content & Communications, and author of the novel Waiting for the Man.


Jared Bland is the publisher of McClelland & Stewart and vice-president of Penguin Random House Canada, and was formerly managing editor of The Walrus.


Penny Caldwell is the publisher and former editor-in-chief of Cottage Life magazine.


Dawn Chafe is an award-winning writer, accomplished interviewer, sharp editor and dedicated researcher. For the past 18 years, Dawn has been Executive Editor of Atlantic Canada’s most award-winning and largest circulation business magazine: Atlantic Business Magazine. Her tenure has been dedicated to the continuous improvement of the publication and the publishing industry, particularly with regards to an uncompromising editorial standard.


Ava Chisling is a media lawyer who counsels creative-types, from Oscar winners and publishers to graphic designers and bloggers. She is also an award-winning editor who writes mostly about pop culture/technology and the law — and sometimes creates ad campaigns and social media copy for a number of well-known brands.


Wayde Compton is the author of books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and the editor of two anthologies. Three of his books ¾ The Outer Harbour (Arsenal Pulp, 2014), After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region (Arsenal Pulp, 2010), and The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil-SFU Public Square, 2015) ¾ were finalists for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and the former won in 2015. His book 49th Parallel Psalm (Arsenal Pulp, 1999) was a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Prize. Compton is the associate director of Creative Writing in Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser University, where he administrates the Writer’s Studio.


Cherie Dimaline is the author of the novels Red Rooms, The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy, and, most recently the collection of short stories titled A Gentle Habit. In addition to writing, Cherie has edited numerous publications including Spirit, FNH and Muskrat magazines. Cherie was named the 2014 Emerging Artist of the Year – Ontario Premier’s Award, and was named the first Writer in Residence of Aboriginal Literature for the Toronto Public Library.


Tim Edwards is Senior Editor of Up Here magazine in Yellowknife.


Reanna Evoy is the brand creative director at Kit and Ace and was previously the art director of enRoute magazine.


Colin Faulkner is an award-winning studio photographer whose work has been published in Chatelaine, Toronto Life, Azure and other publications and clients.


Max Fawcett is a freelance journalist and has been the editor-in-chief at Alberta Oil magazine and Vancouver Magazine.


Zsuzsi Gartner is the author of the acclaimed story collection All the Anxious Girls on Earth, and editor of Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow. Her second book, Better Living through Plastic Explosives, was a Giller Prize finalist. She won her most recent National Magazine Award for Fiction in 2016.


Jim Gifford is Editorial Director, Non-Fiction, at HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (Canada). Over his twenty years as a non-fiction editor, he has published a number of bestselling and award-winning titles by Canadian and international authors, including Linden MacIntyre, Peter C. Newman, Jacquie McNish, Tim Flannery, and Lloyd Robertson, among many others. He lives and works in Toronto.


Curtis Gillespie is a 7-time National Magazine Award winner and the Editor-in-Chief of Eighteen Bridges magazine. He is the author of four books, including the memoir Playing Through: A Year of Life and Links Along the Scottish Coast, and the novel Crown Shyness.


Alex Gillis is a veteran author and journalist and teaches at the Ryerson University School of Journalism.


Lisa Gregoire is a National Magazine award-winning journalist, the managing editor of Nunatsiaq News and a contributing editor at Eighteen Bridges. She lives in Ottawa with her husband and their twin daughters.


Danielle Groen is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The Grid, The Walrus, Flare, and Report on Business. She was formerly the Features Editor at Chatelaine.


Marni Jackson is the former Rogers Chair of the Literary Journalism program at the Banff Centre, where she is on the faculty of the Mountain and Wilderness Writing program. She has won numerous National Magazine Awards, and her debut novel, Don’t I Know You? (Flatiron Books), made both Globe and CBC Best Books of 2016 lists.


Jacqueline Kovacs is editor-in-chief of Metroland Media’s lifestyle magazines for York Region and Simcoe County, and previously was editor-in-chief of Professionally Speaking and deputy editor of Today’s Parent.


Anita Kunz is a National Magazine Award-winning illustrator whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, TIME, The Walrus, Saturday Night, Toronto Life and other magazines.


Sonja Larsen is the author of Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary, which was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.


Käthe Lemon is the editor of Avenue, Calgary’s city lifestyle magazine, and the editorial director for RedPoint Media. She taught communications history at Athabasca University for five years and is also the president of the Amber Webb-Bowerman Memorial Foundation, which provides scholarships and awards to young writers and journalism students.


Roger LeMoyne is a National Magazine Award-winning photojournalist whose work has appeared in The Walrus, Maisonneuve, Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic and other magazines.


Jean-François Légaré is the editor-in-chief of Air Canada enRoute magazine.


Gilbert Li is Principal of the creative studio The Office of Gilbert Li, a graphic design studio who works with discerning cultural organizations, publishers, educational institutions, non-profits and creative entrepreneurs. His work has won top North American design awards and has been featured in leading industry publications. He is a professional member of RGD Ontario and on The Advertising and Design Club of Canada’s Board of Directors.


Jeromy Lloyd has been a trade journalist for more than 10 years, primarily covering Canada’s media and marketing industries. As Marketing Magazine‘s managing editor, he helped lead the editorial team honoured by the Kenneth R Wilson Awards as the 2016 Magazine of the Year. His current role is Digital Editor at Brunico Communications, overseeing daily news operations for Strategy Online, Media In Canada and their affiliated brands.


Gil Martinez is a graphic designer and creative director at TC Media.


David McGimpsey was the winner of the 2016 National Magazine Award for Poetry and is the author of four books of short fiction and poetry, including L’il Bastard, which was nominated for the Governor General’s Award.


Marci McDonald is a 9-time National Magazine Award winner whose work has appeared in Toronto Life, The Walrus, Canadian Geographic and other publications, and was formerly the Washington Bureau Chief for Maclean’s. She is the author of The Armageddon Factor: the Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, and Yankee Doodle Dandy: Brian Mulroney and the American Agenda.


Stacey McLachlan is Executive Editor of Western Living and Vancouver magazines, and an award-winning feature writer.


Peter McNeill is the national director of KPMG Enterprise and a marketing executive with over twenty years of experience providing leadership and strategy to both start-ups and major Fortune 500 brands.


Anna Minzhulina is a National Magazine Award winner who was Creative Director of Maisonneuve for 10 years.


Stéphane Monnet is creative director and principal of the award-winning design firm Monnet Design.


John Montgomery is a freelance art director and graphic designer whose work has graced Taddle Creek, Canadian Business, MoneySense and other publications.


Alison Motluk is a Toronto-based freelance journalist who works in print and radio. She has won 4 National Magazine Awards for her work in Maisonneuve and The Walrus.


Chris Nicholls has won a record 20 National Magazine Awards for his photography in Toronto Life, Flare, Fashion, WeddingBells and other magazines.


Katrina Onstad’s best-selling second novel, Everybody Has Everything, has been published in several countries and was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Toronto Book Award. Her non-fiction writing on culture high and low has appeared in publications including The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Toronto Life and Elle. Katrina is a multiple National Magazine Award winner and received a Best Columnist nomination for her work in Chatelaine.


Evan Osenton is the editor of Alberta Views. Founded in 1997, Alberta Views provides information and fresh perspectives on the politics, social issues and culture of Alberta, and was Canada’s Magazine of the Year at the 2009 NMAs.


Janice Paskey is a professor of journalism at Mt. Royal University in Calgary, and past editor of Avenue magazine and the McGill University alumni magazine in Montreal. Over the course of her career, she has served as Canadian Correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education, web producer for CTV Calgary, Executive Director of Communications for the University of Calgary Development Office, and Manager of Communications for Development and Alumni at McGill.


Fidel Peña is a graphic designer, creative director and the co-founder of Underline Studio. His work has received numerous accolades from across Canada, the US and Europe, including from D&AD (UK), the ADCC and the Type Directors Club (NY). He has taught editorial design at OCAD University and lectured on design topics in Europe, North America and Latin America.


Philip Preville is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose work as appeared in Cottage Life, Toronto Life, Canadian Business and many other publications.


Jean-Francois Proulx is the creative director of Nouveau Projet and of the design studio Balistique. He has won 3 National Magazine Awards.


Mark Pupo is the VP of content marketing for the software company Top Hat and the restaurant critic for Toronto Life. He’s served as features editor at Toronto Life and Saturday Night.


Sina Queyras is the author most recently of the poetry collection MxT (Coach House 2014) which received the QWF Award for poetry, the Pat Lowther Award, and the ReLit award for poetry. Expressway (Coach House 2009) was nominated for a Governor General’s Award and a selection from that book won Gold in the National Magazine Awards. Lemon Hound (Coach House 2006) won a Lambda Award and the Pat Lowther Award. She is also the author of the novel Autobiography of Childhood (2011) a finalist for the Amazon First Novel award. Her latest collection of poetry, My Ariel, is forthcoming. She lives in Montreal.


Christina Reynolds is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly the executive editor of ELLE Canada and the editor-in-chief of city magazine CalgaryInc. She’s also worked as a news/current events producer for CTV, an associate producer at the Business News Network, the editor-in-chief of city business magazine CalgaryInc and as a business writer and copy editor at The Calgary Herald.


D.B. Scott is the President of Impresa Communications Limited, publisher of Canadian Magazines blog, and a magazine and media consultant, writer, teacher, market researcher, publisher and editor.


Susan Scott is the nonfiction editor at The New Quarterly (TNQ) and associate creative director of the Wild Writers Literary Festival. She has taught at Wilfrid Laurier University and St Jerome’s University, and continues annually at Write on the French River Creative Writing Retreat.


Barbara Solowan is an instructor at the Ontario College of Art & Design, the owner Berlin Studio, and the creative director of Canadian Art. She has won 6 National Magazine Awards for art direction.


Kelly Toughill is associate professor and director of the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College. Prior to climbing the ivory tower, she toiled at The Toronto Star and other North American newspapers as a writer and editor. She is a recipient of a National Newspaper Award and a Canadian Association of Journalists Award.


Stephen Trumper is an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism and serves on the board of the Canadian Abilities Foundation, publisher of Abilities Magazine, for which he writes the back-page column. He is the recipient of the 2013 Outstanding Achievement award from the NMAF.


Emily Urquhart is a folklorist and National Magazine Award-winning writer, and is the author of Beyond the Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes.


Jennifer Varkonyi is the publisher of Maisonneuve, Canada’s reigning Magazine of the Year.


Derek Webster is a freelance writer and editor, and founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Maisonneuve.


Bruce Weir is the editor-in-chief of Swerve magazine.


Shelley Youngblut is the General Director of Wordfest, Calgary’s festival of readers, writers and artists. Previously she was the Western Editor of the Globe and Mail, features editor at ESPN the Magazine, and founding editor of Swerve, the Calgary Herald’s award-winning weekly magazine.


The nominations for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards will be announced on April 20.

See also:

Off the Page, with Marta Iwanek

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with photojournalist Marta Iwanek, who in 2016 was named Canada’s Best New Magazine Photographer from the National Magazine Awards Foundation, in addition to winning the Gold Medal for Photojournalism & Photo Essay for her incredible reporting of the 2013-2014 Ukrainian crisis, titled “The Maidan” (Maisonneuve).

NMAF: In your award-winning photo essay, “The Maidan,” you take the reader on a journey to a winter in Kyiv, where thousands of Ukrainians gathered to take a courageous stand against their government. You capture the Maidan as a place of fear and uncertainty, but also of community and solidarity. How did you get a sense of the place when you arrived, and what were the human emotions that spoke to you as a photographer?

Marta: I first arrived in Kyiv in early November (2013) before any of the protests had started. I remember driving through the centre of the city and thinking what a bustling metropolis it was. Then I went out east to work on a film and returned in late November a little after the pro-European protests had begun. Everything was still calm at that point and there was a sense of hopefulness among the crowd.

The protest was to last nine days, but on the last night everything changed. The remaining protestors were chased out of Independence Square (Maidan) and beaten by police, angering many people. On December 1 a large demonstration occurred in Kyiv where the people re-took the square and the movement that became known as “the Maidan” began. I was supposed to fly back to Toronto shortly after, but realized I couldn’t leave.

The feeling was so powerful and strong among the people. It felt like people had been pushed to an edge and they had nothing more to lose. There were feelings of frustration, abandonment and urgency. At the same time, you could still find the glimpses of hope and community as people unified under one cause–to oust then President Yanukovych. I was always trying to show those emotions in my photos and trying to understand the situation deeper, trying to figure out what made it this way? I changed my flight and ended up staying three months, living among the protestors and spending my days and nights wandering the square, talking to people and trying to make sense of it.

I like to immerse myself in stories as much as possible and I hope this translates in my photos. It was also a story I felt personally connected to because my roots are Ukrainian and I grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora in Toronto. I grew up listening to the stories of Ukraine’s constant struggle for independence and to be free of corruption, so the feelings of the people in the square were not foreign to me. However, this time, it wasn’t just my parents talking about it in Canada, detached from the situation and it’s consequences. It was happening in front of me. When it was finally time to leave, I will always remember that contrast I felt when I first arrived in the capital and when I left–the place, the people and the country had been changed forever.

During my years as the art director of Maisonneuve magazine, I had the opportunity to work with many talented women photographers—each one a unique visual voice. Marta Iwanek stands out for the way she brings her compassion to a body of work that sits on the edge of war and peace, among fire and smoke, between life and death situations, especially with her Ukrainian “Maidan” project.
Anna Minzhulina, former art director, Maisonneuve

NMAF: Over one hundred people were killed in the government reprisals, and you spent time not only on the front lines but also with those who were wounded and grieving. How did you balance your own safety with your passion for capturing every aspect of the story? And did you learn anything about yourself as a journalist that will assist you in the future?

Marta: There were certain days that felt very unsafe on the square, but the majority of my time spent there, things were peaceful. There would be flare-ups between police and protestors and then things would resume back to “normal.” I looked to other, more experienced photojournalists in the square for guidance and advice. I had only been freelancing for three months at that point, fresh out of college and had found myself in the middle of the news cauldron that was Kyiv.

There were many times that I was scared. Even today I think I still would be. The most important thing I learned in those kinds of situations is to trust your gut. There were certain situations I decided to be close-up and others I held back from. Sometimes, I beat myself up for not being in the right place or holding back too much, but you have to be honest with yourself and with what you’re willing to do. It took quite a while to reconcile these feelings, but the experience taught me that I’m not a conflict photographer.

Many photojournalists starting out often have a dream of covering foreign stories and conflicts. I didn’t go to Ukraine searching out a conflict to photograph, I just happened to be there when it all started. And a part of me left feeling like I had failed as a journalist because I hadn’t gotten the most heated moments, and I was actually back in Canada on the day that over a hundred protestors were shot. For me, it was more emotionally heavy to be away from the square during that time than when I was in it. Not knowing about the fate of many friends who were there, as well as feeling the guilt of not being there, took a toll.

We’re taught to want to be this travelling, conflict photographer, but that’s not who all of us are. The whole time on the square, I found myself being much more drawn and interested in the quieter moments and it took me a while to realize those moments are just as important too.

We are all unique and we will all notice different things in similar situations and we will be better at photographing in certain situations over others. Journalism is a communal effort and we need to be honest with ourselves, find out the type of stories you’re best at and are drawn to. Then don’t be afraid to do it.

NMAF: That was over three years ago, and since then Ukraine has experienced war and occupation perhaps beyond the worst fears of those who gathered on the Maidan. How has this story stayed with you since then? 

Marta: My time on the Maidan has been one of the factors that keeps driving me to keep coming back to this region and exploring the underlying issues more deeply, looking at why things are the way they are now, what’s caused them and what keeps causing them?

It’s also something I’ve always wanted to do because my background is Ukrainian. I’ve always been drawn to Ukraine and Eastern Europe because I’ve grown up with my cultural heritage being so central in my life, from participating in folk activities, being involved in the diaspora community to regular dinner table conversations about Eastern European politics. I actually started primary school barely speaking English because at home we just spoke Ukrainian. It has a huge place in my heart. I’ve started looking at my own family’s history in the area, connecting with relatives and following the story of Ukrainians in Poland who were deported from the South-Eastern territories in 1947 under military Operation Vistula. Deportations are a huge part of Eastern Europe’s history and play a huge factor in why things are the way they are today.

There has definitely been media fatigue with Ukraine as the conflict reaches yet another year. It’s why I think it’s more important than ever to stay with the story and understand what is happening there, to put the past and the future in greater context for the average viewer.

NMAF: For the camera nerds, what bodies and lenses do you shoot with? And what was your technical approach to the photography on the Maidan? 

Marta: Back then, during those three months on the Maidan, I was using a D600 and a 35mm f/2 and a 24-70mm. This is still my favourite set-up although now I have a D810 with a 35mm f/1.4. My technical approach is to go as light on gear as possible, zoom with your feet and build intimacy with the people you are photographing. This will create a much better photo than any lens or camera body can.

NMAF: You worked with Anna Minzhulina, then the art director of Maisonneuve, who said she was stunned by the evocative scenes and characters that jumped out from your images. Can you describe the creative process of how the two of you edited your body of work into a story that connected with the magazine reader? 

Marta: Anna is an extremely talented and passionate editor and I am so grateful for her eye. Editing is an art of its own and a skill many photographers often lack, myself included. It was also a story I had immersed myself in, so it can be very hard to be objective about the photos when editing, which is where Anna came in.

So often, I would attach a personal memory or story to a photo and Anna was able to single out the photos that could still speak to a viewer who was encountering them without all the backstory. She chose the photos that could speak on their own and spoke together cohesively to tell the story of the square.

It was also exciting to be able to tell a story in a magazine over so much space. The majority of my time I’ve spent working in newspapers where it’s usually one image to tell a story, but here it was a different process of how the photos work together to form a narrative.

Women photographers are still an anomaly in the male-dominated documentary photo world, with its emphasis on traditionally masculine values like the courage and bravery to ‘shoot’ with a camera. We need to encourage more female visual voices like Iwanek’s here in Canada and around the world. Death does not distinguish between genders. It takes all. But I’m interested in how the female eye looking through a photographic lens might see it differently. It’s important that we have different perspectives, that we pay attention to what they might show us that we haven’t considered before. That’s why we need exposure to more work of female war photographers, such as Iwanek.
Anna Minzhulina, former art director, Maisonneuve

NMAF: The night of the 2016 National Magazine Awards, you didn’t have a ticket to get in, but as the show started you were hanging out in the foyer in case your name was called. And it was—twice! What was that experience like? And when you were on stage accepting your awards, what was your message to the audience?

Marta: I was generously given a seat at the sponsor table and so in the end I was able to attend the awards. I had a small cheer crew at the table and we had a lot of fun. I hadn’t prepared a speech, but I just went up there and spoke from my heart. I thanked everyone who helped me and it was great to see Anna in the audience as I spoke. I was also thankful that the recognition of the award would bring more attention to the story, which had greatly fallen off the news cycle. It’s a story close to me and so I’m grateful for any opportunity to talk about it.

Marta Iwanek accepts the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Photographer at the 2016 Gala.
Marta Iwanek accepts the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Photographer at the 2016 Gala.

 

NMAF: Can you tell us about some of your latest projects, and what you’re up to next as a journalist? 

Marta: A project titled “Darling” was actually one of my first projects and still one close to my heart. It is a story about an elderly couple in Trenton, Ontario, where Lex Duncan is the at-home-caregiver for his wife Mary Duncan, who has dementia. I started it as a way to reconnect with a generation I felt I didn’t get a good chance to know after my last grandparent died.

It was a project to deal with the loss and also understanding what my parents, as well as countless others in our country are facing as they care for an ailing loved one. I am so grateful to the Duncan family who opened up their home to me and gave me a chance to get to know them and tell this story.

Lex Duncan wakes his wife Mary up in the morning in Trenton, Ontario. Mary was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and Lex cared for her in their home until she died in 2015. (Photo courtesy Marta Iwanek.)
Lex Duncan wakes his wife Mary up in the morning in Trenton, Ontario. Mary was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and Lex cared for her in their home until she died in 2015. (Photo courtesy Marta Iwanek.)

 

This year I started photographing in the villages my grandparents came from. They were once Ukrainian villages but after WWII became part of Poland and the majority of the Ukrainians who lived there were deported and dispersed either to Soviet Ukraine or throughout Poland, my grandparents included.

I’ve always been curious about my roots and grew up with a father who has worked as a historian, making films and writing books on eastern European history. So after the Maidan I became interested in exploring Eastern Europe on a deeper level and understanding events in the past that have an effect on the present. Through this project I want to explore how identity changes when a culture is displaced from its ancestral land. It’s been a very personal project, but I’ve also found it to be incredibly universal through the many forced migrations happening throughout the world today.


Marta Iwanek is a National Magazine Award-winning photojournalist whose work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Maclean’s, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and other publications. In 2016 she was named Canada’s Best New Magazine Photographer by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Discover more of her work at martaiwanek.com

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including three different categories for photography. Enter at magazine-awards.com.

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning photographers including Roger LeMoyne and Ian Willms.

NMA gala photos by Steven Goetz for the National Magazine Awards Foundation.