Interview: Anika Sabin and Sophie Mörner of Capricious

Interview by Lisa Gonzalez / Photos & GIFs by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS

Ca·pri·cious  /kəˈpriSHəs,-ˈprē-/ (adj.) : changing often and quickly; especially : often changing suddenly in mood or behavior. Synonyms: fickle, inconstant, changeable, variable, mercurial, volatile, unpredictable, temperamental. 10 years ago, Swedish photographer, Sophie Mörner, placed the photographic works of her close, recently graduated, friends into a self-created magazine. Mörner created Capricious, a fitting title for a publication that would become a voice for young, and emerging photographers. She has since published 15 issues of Capricious Magazine, divided into two volumes. Expending her publishing empire, Mörner’s endeavor’s have “led to several other art and culture-related publications. Capricious Publishing has since produced GLU (Girls Like Us), LTTR V, Famous, RANDY, and most recently collaborated with Bianca Casady to publish GAG (Girls Against God).” She didn’t stop there: Capricious 88 is the new gallery space of the Capricious empire, after holding real estate in Williamsburg for some time. Alex and I had the pleasure of speaking with Mörner, and assistant publisher, Anika Sabin (who started as an intern!) about the development of Capricious and the methods of supporting new photographic talent.

Capricious Magazine

LISA GONZALEZ: Where are you both from and what are your backgrounds?

SOPHIE MÖRNER: I’m from Stockholm, Sweden and I went to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and received a BA in photography.

LG: What about you, Anika?

ANIKA SABIN : I’m from a few corners of the country, but mostly Portland, OR via Worcester, MA, and Warner, NH. I went to Lewis & Clark where I spent much of my time at the college radio station and studying Art History.

LG: And when did photography come into the picture?

SM: I was more of a writer growing up, moving to the United States, I couldn’t express myself as well in text so I started to take photographs.

AS: I had a similar experience to Sophie, except polar opposite! I started with an interest in photography and moved towards writing/publishing as I got older. My dad handed down his Pentax when I was about 11. The local grocery store gave away their generic 400 35mm film every time you had something developed, so our fridge was always full of canisters. I mostly just took photos of the woods and my dad’s pottery but I had a lot of fun.

Later, I became more interested in writing because I felt more in control of the narrative. I was pretty isolated as the only out queer kid growing up —  my outer life didn’t in any way mirror what was happening on the interior, I didn’t have the community, so photography couldn’t really access what I needed it to then. Writing allowed me to draw that out.  It’s really wonderful to return to photography now.

LG: Sophie, what was your first job out of school?

SM: When I graduated from college, I started Capricious and was photographing for magazines.

LG: What publications were you shooting for?

SM: I shot for local newspapers in Amsterdam, Bon, People, GLU, and some commercial projects. Right now, I still take commercial portraiture jobs.

LG: Were there any specific difficulties you can recall when you started Capricious?

SM: Of course, it took a lot of time to run a magazine on my own. I did everything by myself — accounting, editing, distribution, you know all those things that comes with making a magazine, so it definitely made it harder for me to create time for my own work. It’s really hard to be your own boss until you find your ways and discipline. Finding the balance between Capricious and my own photography career has always been hard. But I am very stubborn about it, so I make it work!

Photo / GIF by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS
Photo / GIF by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS

LG: Can you tell us a bit about Capricious and how did the name come about?

SM: I started Capricious because I wanted to publish my own photography and the works of my friends. There was a need for a magazine that focused on fine art photography at the time. Capricious is a perfect word for how my friends and I were feeling when I first started Capricious. Restless, bratty, and always on the go.

LG: Anika, what led you to Capricious?

AS: I always knew I wanted to be engaged with the art world in some capacity. I tested the waters interning at a gallery in Chelsea and was not impressed. This particular gallery was very boxed in. It has a gallery-industrial complex (ala Holland Cotter) mentality. So I pulled back and focused on publishing. I became really involved with small press in Portland — through Reading Frenzy and the Independent Press Resource Center, putting together a modest hand-bound publication with my best buddy called Tree Sap. I left Portland though because I wanted to be more engaged with international artists and needed a more challenging pace. However, that was a super important process . Anyone interested in printed matter should hand make a book at some point, even if it’s just a stapled together zine. Your weakened tumblr-scrolling hands will thank you.

Coming to Capricious was a little like coming full circle in a way, with my first interests in photography and my broader interests in publishing. Being in a queer, feminist, and Swedish-y environment (all of which I am), was an added bonus. I was excited by the work Sophie was bringing in and presenting.

LG: Have you seen any changes in the role of an intern/an internship in publishing, fine art, and galleries?

AS: This is definitely a tricky issue, but I can really only speak to my own experience.  There is a huge financial strain on the pockets of many small art institutions, and interns are often relied upon to cut corners in their budget. In many of these cases, people lose sight of what an internship needs to be — mutually beneficial. The experience needs to be educational, hands-on- in the tradition of an apprenticeship.  Because Capricious has so many different branches, the gallery, the magazine and auxilary book projects, we try to tailor an intern’s work to their interests and strengths. I think in many cases “internship” is too loosely defined —  since i’ve also been through the internship process myself, I try to be very aware of their needs and the financial sacrifice they make to be here. When I first interned at Capricious I had an overnight job working 8pm-4am re-shelving books, it was really hard to balance. But without that learning curve of an internship, jumping straight into a specialized job like distribution would have been impossible.

LG: What were you doing as an intern when you first started at Capricious?

AS: I interned in the Fall of 2010, and at that point we still had the gallery at 103 Broadway in South Williamsburg. A lot of my work revolved around the small bookshop we had and aiding the gallery. Our closing exhibition, The Show Must Go On included 50 + artists and Capricious friends. It was a huge and wonderful undertaking to install and de-install.  I also spent a lot of time searching out new shops and alternative spaces to put our publications in, so that naturally evolved into a larger position as a Distribution/Office Coordinator.

Photo / GIF by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS
Photo / GIF by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS

LG: What was your role as distribution manager at Capricious? Who are the types of people and companies you collaborate and work with?

AS: As a distribution manager you work with a varieties of different entities, bookshops, retail, alternative spaces and other galleries, always seeking out new and interesting projects to collaborate with.

LG: What is your current role as the assistant publisher?

AS: As assistant publisher, I facilitate a lot of the production side of our publications — negotiating with printers, working closely with the artists and designers to tie up any loose ends on book projects, overseeing the final stages of printing and the like. I also tend to oversee our participation in art books fairs and events, like last month’s GAG event at PS1.

LG: What’s your perspective on self publishing? Is it a realistic approach to sharing one’s work, or is the publishing house still the driving force?

AS: If you go to any of the art book fairs that are cropping up on any given day, I think you can definitely see self-publishing or independent publishing in general as a viable option for sharing work.   I feel like as more of our reading experience is digitized, the idea of what a book needs to be is altered to some degree. When so much can be swiped through on a phone, we ask a bit more of a physical book. There is a revitalized interest in small-run, artist-made books because they are that much more personal, particular, one of a kind.

LG: Sophie, what’s been your favorite issue so far?

SM: That is hard to say, I love Capricious Vol. 1 Issue No. 1, since it was the very first one, it will always be special to me. Capricious No. 1 is basically all my friends or friend’s of friends, which you could say was the beginning of the Capricious network. I wouldn’t say its representative of all of Capricious, since the magazine and publishing has taken many different forms over the years. I also love the Water issue, since that was the first issue with the new mission and vision of Capricious.

LG: What about you, Anika? What’s been your favorite issue you’ve been involved with?

AS: I would say a favorite issue to work on was No. 13, the Water Issue. We just had such an outpouring of great diverse submissions, it was wonderful to be apart of. This issue also solidified a turning point in our mission to not only showcase emerging or underrepresented photographers, but also bring critical attention to social, political, and environmental topics.  We collaborated with the grant-making entity Kindle Projects, and with them presented photography grants to three selected artists.  The Water Issue is also dear to me because we included a section of text (very rare for the magazine) and worked closely with the authors and curator, Hanna Wilde to bring their water-centric pieces together. I return to this issue quite a bit.

Photo / GIF by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS
Photo / GIF by Alex Thebez of GIFRIENDS

LG: How did Vol 1 Issue 5, “The Future Issue” come up? Was it the future of Capricious, as you would have liked to have seen it develop at the time, or was it an exercise in imagining our future world and existence?

SM: Back then I worked with guest editors for every issue, and we always had an open call with no direction. The editors then compiled the issue and decided on the theme that the works represent. It was basically the opposite of our current process. Ultimately, “The Future Issue” was not about the future of Capricious, since it was really about what was happening currently at that moment.

LG: What was the reason you decided to open an exhibition space?

SM: When I opened Capricious Space, I had longed for a physical space to present the work we had in the magazines. It was the next step of how to let the Capricious world grow. When I opened Capricious 88, I had been massaging the thought of having a gallery again. It was very timely to close the space in Brooklyn, and it was equally timely to open the space on LES three years later.

LG: I imagine you receive a large number of submissions, review a lot of portfolios, and come across new photographic work on a regular basis. Has have you seen a change in the way photographers present and explain their work?

SM: Of course. When I started Capricious, there were hardly any digital cameras so everything was first, and foremost, a much slower process. But also the way people use photography today has changed since the beginning of Capricious. It’s accessible. Most people can take photos and that is both good and bad. A good photograph is a good photograph, over saturation of images will not take that away.

LG: What photographers are you currently looking at?

SM: I love Sara Cwynar’s work, Collin LeFleche‘s and Petra Collins’. And of course all the artists that are in the last issue of Capricious!

AS: Right now we are working with Eve Fowler on a book that focuses in on her series of hustler portraits from the 90s. There is so much there to engage with, the portraits walk a very tenuous line between bravado and vulnerability. Other work I’ve been looking at lately — Danielle Criqui, who just came on as our new distribution manager, has some great work I’m discovering. And I also just picked up a copy of Charlie Rubin‘s Strange Paradise down at the Baltimore Prints and Multiples Fair last weekend.

LG: What goals do you have for Capricious?

SM: Grow bigger and be able to support emerging artists for a long time.

LG: Anika, what are your long terms goals? Do you want to stay in fine art publishing?

AS: I don’t really have a concrete trajectory of where I’d like to land. As long as I feel like I’m useful and part of something meaningful , I’ll be present in that.    If anything, coming from a family of craftsmen, I have an impending need to continue their tradition – to get my hands dirtier. I read this motto recently, “We are local people with useful skills in tangible situations” and that really resonated with me. Printed matter will always be a huge part of me though, if anything, a future venture would probably include opening up a bookshop of my own in a more tropical climate. That may just be my S.A.D. talking.  I’m really enjoying my time working with Sophie, I glean so much from her personal strength and knowledge, and bold convictions of what the Capricious aesthetic and ethos is. Being a part of Capricious’ mission to support emerging and underrepresented artists is unimaginably rewarding work.

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