Named after a middle-aged, rather mysterious man, Benji Knewman is a bi-annual magazine published in Latvia, and a charmingly eccentric publishing concept dedicated to telling extraordinary stories about ordinary people.
Agnese Kleina / Madara Krievina
Founding fathers and editor in chief / art director, respectively.
What is Benji Knewman?
Let us ask instead, ‘Who is Benji Knewman?’ Benji Knewman is a man, around 38 years old (if you’re reading this after October 23 2015, then he has turned 39). His grandfather used to say: ‘Ben, how you spend your day is how you spend your life!’ That’s the way Benji is leading his life. Currently Benji Knewman is more everywhere than anywhere. Mostly on the road. And still in search of his own perfect day. While looking for it, he curates a biannual bookazine telling stories about people who don’t pretend and who can simply be.
What makes it different to the rest?
For starters, it is the first English-Latvian bookazine in the world’s history. It has two goals. First, to tell the Latvian story in international language – not only language-wise, but also regarding the subjects featured in each volume and the approach to editorial design. Second, to let everyone be who they are as long as they have something to tell. There are wrinkles, scars, inside jokes, interlocal stories, old buildings and non-styled interview pictures.
It is life as it is, unembellished, because could someone tell us who decided Photoshop is the king? Because it only creates more stress as people strive for that impossible perfection they see in the glossies. Instead, Benji Knewman is the place where everyone can calm down, because, as it turns out, they’ll find people in its pages just like them – reading on the toilet, spending all day in bed and planning new creative projects while taking a bath.
Who makes Benji Knewman?
Benji Knewman, the editor-at-large, and his little helpers Agnese and Madara who are stuck with everyday editorial chores while he travels around and meets new people to be featured in upcoming volumes. There’s a whole bunch of people behind each volume – Latvians and non-Latvians – coming up with new ideas for features full with life. Everyone is given freedom of expression – they write, draw or photograph the way they like it and understand it. They too can simply be who they are.
Who reads it?
A like-minded lot around the globe. The most beautiful thing about Benji Knewman is that one can spread the message of one’s home country, be it Latvia, Ukraine, UK or Mexico, if one finds the right words and pictures. The 86-year-old retired teacher who talks about his current girlfriends and sex in his age WILL make everyone giggle – no matter what their mother tongue. It’s the same way that we cry at a Chinese movie if it touches our hearts.
Why do you work in magazines?
Agnese: I started to write for a local newspaper aged 16 and haven’t left the field ever since. It’s been 17 years with lots and lots of experience, and it gets more exciting day by day. But what I love the most about magazines is the reading-experiencing part. You smell the paper, you read, you imagine the voice of the narrator, you learn and then you finish it with a feeling of a job done well.
Madara: Although there are so many fields one can do in graphic design (and I also do other stuff), magazines are my love, my passion. It’s not just a job. That feeling when you create something real, something meaningful and beautiful and easy to read and to look at. I have the power of giving visual character, and tactile feel and smell to the stories.
Aside from the print magazine, what else are you involved in?
As full-time freelancers, we work on other jobs that include branding/copywriting and/or editorial design. Sometimes separately, but if possible together. We just click. It’s a great feeling to know that this other person shares your vision and yet can contribute to it from an angle you didn’t expect and yet feel as your own.
What would you change about Benji Knewman if you could?
We are facing constant pain putting all the envisioned articles and editorial design features together within 208 pages. Our team simply refuses to write shorter essays and interviews and it’s only natural as their stories are just too great to cut them shorter. This is why we have some ideas to add digital content to the printed version of Benji Knewman, but we won’t do it in the common way. To be continued!
Where do you see Benji Knewman in five years?
A nice stack of volumes of Benji Knewman on our personal bookshelves, a whole lot of adventures under our belts and more people simply living their lives, not caring what others think about their way of living.