“Three and a half years ago I started thinking about how there were no decent family magazines out there,” says Luisa Brimble, who decided to remedy this by founding Alphabet Family Journal. It’s a publication that rejects the fabricated homes, perfectly groomed dogs and white, toothy smiles of glossy magazines in favour of down-to-earth depictions that place value on simple rituals.
AFJ covers new ground with photographs and personal stories that focus on how we build homes around music, gathering, sharing meals, moving, making and travelling. These are stitched together in precisely designed pages to create a simple, snug whole.
From her Sydney home, with magazine editor Sarah Suksiri on the other line from Indianapolis, Brimble (a photographer herself) tells us about the magazine’s beginnings. These women were brought together by a shared vision of home, which Brimble explains, “Is not defined by a mother and a daughter or the number of kids you have, but by making a home together.” This concept opened up the idea of a family magazine for people who didn’t have kids yet, adds Suksiri.
After spending years trying to get AFJ off the ground, Brimble says making contact with Suksiri felt almost predestined. “Straight away she jumped into it and then everything happened so quickly. I think the magazine was waiting for Sarah to be its editor.” Suksiri laughs at this, explaining that she was captivated by Brimble’s concept from the first. The pair build each issue around a letter of the alphabet as its theme. “I really loved it because the alphabet is the foundation for all of our stories. The letters are the building blocks of conversation around the dinner table, bedtime stories and regular, everyday communication between friends. There are so many threads that run through these stories from all of our writers from different countries.” The theme links stories about aesthetics and art with those about alligator games and anniversaries – personal retellings of relationships and loss.
Photographs and stories from a global network of more than 70 contributors are presented on the page by art director Evi O, who is responsible for creating AFJ’s singular aesthetic. The magazine’s grainy photographs have a warm, nostalgic quality. An image of crumpled bed sheets, one pair of knees perched on the bed edge and another’s arm splayed across the pillow sits beside a story about someone’s sister getting married. Next to another story, about moving after a divorce, a woman is spied from down the hallway working on tiptoes at her kitchen bench. These intimate, simple images are like the candid shots of a family album, and are also unedited at the request of Brimble. “We want contributors to take photos in the way they see the subject – more like documentary,” she explains. “Evi gives it the organic look we want,” says Suksiri. This helped Brimble and Suksiri to eschew the polished sheen of other family magazines by bringing to life humble and uninhibited moments.
AFJ was launched with the help of a Kickstarter campaign which amassed enough funds to cover the publishing costs in a matter of days. “It was an economy of enthusiasm that fuelled the Kickstarter campaign and got everyone not just excited, but grateful, to be able to show support,” says Suksiri. The key part of the campaign was a film Brimble created with the help of Melbourne filmmaker Johnny Abegg and composer Zach Laliberte.
Brimble’s original vision of a magazine that realistically represents family shines through in the honesty on the pages of AFJ. “There’s a lot to be said about being able to make a home and make a family wherever you are in whatever stage of life that you’re in,” says Suksiri in awe of how AFJ’s, “Writers and photographers capture this sense of home being nothing really fancy, just whatever you want to call it and claim as yours.”