The Inaugural Issue: Tabula Rasa Magazine

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I’m constantly awestruck by the incredible work of my peers at Parsons. It’s so inspiring to see such talent and effort shine through their art. Last time we checked in with Sabrina Banta, the then-sophomore was chatting with Lauren about her already impressive resume of internship experience. Now a senior in BFA Photography, Sabrina has since moved on from the Vogue offices and Annie Leibovitz’s studio to conquer some even bigger dreams. She’s assisted fashion photographer Kai Z Feng, and now freelances for one of the biggest artist’s agencies, Art+Commerce.  On top of balancing work and going to school full-time, this busy-bee is about to launch her very own magazine.

Tabula Rasa is an independent fashion publication featuring work from a roster of up-and-coming photographers. Unlike other fashion magazines, however, this one won’t be filled with glitzy Chanel or Prada advertisements. Instead, the publication will be focused solely on the photography itself. Sabrina’s always dreamed about starting her own magazine, and very soon, it may come to fruition. The all-female team comprised of Sabrina as Editor-in-Chief and some of her colleagues from projects-past, including BFA Communication Design senior Esther Kim, have worked tirelessly the past few months to produce the inaugural issue. Now it’s ready to be launched, but they need your help! Because Tabula Rasa is omitting advertisements (a revenue stream that most magazines depend on to stay afloat) the team behind the magazine began a campaign on Kickstarter to fund the first issue. Every donation helps to this dream into a reality! When I heard about the Kickstarter campaign, I was stoked to chat with my friend Sabrina about her inspirations behind what will surely become a phenomenal magazine.

The five ladies behind Tabula Rasa (L-R): Associate Editor Sabrina T, Style Director Louise, Founder & Editor-in-Chief Sabrina Banta, PR Director Fie, and Art Director Esther Kim

The five ladies behind Tabula Rasa (L-R): Associate Editor Sabrina Tamar, Style Director Louise Borchers, Founder & Editor-in-Chief Sabrina Banta, PR Director Fie , and Art Director Esther Kim

SYD CHAN: Congratulations on launching your magazine!! First thing I want to ask…what’s the meaning behind Tabula Rasa?
SABRINA BANTA: “Tabula rasa” is Latin for “blank slate.” I want to treat every issue as a blank slate, so each one will always have a completely new theme with new photographers. I want to get out of that regimen of producing on top of previous work—I like the idea of erasing what was previously done and starting over. That’s kind of my philosophy for moving forward with the magazine.

SC: Can you tell me a little about your vision for the magazine?
SB: The point of Tabula Rasa is to eradicate traditional limitations within fashion photography—there’s not going to be any advertisements, there’s going to be free choice of models and clothes, and there’s no push to feature what’s “in-season.” Because we’re taking out advertisements, we’re trying to give creative control back to the photographers, allowing them to shoot what they want to without worry about fulfilling the magazine’s needs to make money.

SC: Sounds like a brilliant idea, but how do you plan to sustain the magazine once the Kickstarter campaign is over?
SB: For the following issues, we’re hoping to generate revenue through sales and also some additional funding from different organizations. Our goal isn’t to make profit, it’s just about having a platform for creatives to be able to produce what they want to and show their work without having to worry about making money. To be able to that, we really have to rely on peoples’ interest and people wanting to help fund us.

The Tabula Rasa logo, which features a square fitting into a circle. The square represents the blank slate, while the circle represents freedom and autonomy.

The Tabula Rasa logo features a square fitting into a circle. The square represents the blank slate, while the circle symbolizes perpetual freedom and autonomy.

SC: There’s definitely a lot of logistical factors to consider, especially when starting such an ambitious project as a print publication. Where do you plan on getting Tabula Rasa printed?
SB: As of recently, we have a printing company that has agreed to print our magazine!! The Avery Group at Shapco Printing makes a lot of really beautiful photography books—they just did one for The Guggenheim, and some others for the SFMOMA and The Whitney.  We approached Joe Avery from The Avery Group about Tabula Rasa, and the company’s giving us $2,000 towards our magazine, so that’s really exciting! That’s kinda what we’re hoping to rely on…that people can see how much we want to create this, and how much we want to nurture and foster talented people and create a community.

SC: You already have a lot of experience working within the fashion industry.  How do you think that influenced your vision about what Tabula Rasa would become?
SB: Part of Tabula Rasa came out of my own frustrations with the fashion industry. I’ve been so engrossed with it for the past three years, and I’ve seen all sides of the industry—from a magazine’s point of view, from a photographer’s point of view, from a gallery’s point of view, from a studio’s point of view—I really wanted to understand the process of both fashion and commercial photography. But I just didn’t realize before I came here how many restrictions there are. I would try to submit a story to a magazine, but the magazine would tell me, “your images are beautiful, but you can’t submit it because it’s not the right season.” It would just amaze me how these restrictions have so much control over the quality of what goes into a magazine. They would rather settle for images that are not as great, but fit the requirements.  Tabula Rasa is about the quality of the work, rather than the images fitting a certain set of guidelines or being trendy or in-season.

SC: How else do you think your magazine will stand out from other fashion publications?
SB: Fashion photography is about creating a fantasy—you’re not documenting an event, you’re not trying to necessarily represent reality or truth.  In a sense, we’re showing a sort of made-up world. At the root, fashion photography is inherently commercial because you’re trying to sell clothes. But I want to go back to the fantasy of it like telling a story, rather than being so eccentric on the clothes. I think the clothes aid to the pictures because clothes can convey personal narratives and carry a lot of history with them.  Clothes have a lot of significance in terms of individuality. It’s the first thing we see on everyone, it’s something that everybody has to wear. We can all relate to it.

SC: Can you talk about how you came up with the name for your first issue?
SB: We’re calling the first issue “Identity.” The fashion industry tries to create this aura of exclusivity. It feels very unattainable…if you look at a big ad campaign, you don’t feel like you can connect to it. So that was another thing that was important to me, I wanted to bring the reader closer to the magazine and the content. We’re asking the photographers to shoot something that they would consider as their identity.  With their editorials, we’re including any of their own notes or poetry so that people can better understand their thought processes.

SC: How did you select this first round of photographers for your inaugural issue?
SB: We also approached art photographers, not just people who shoot exclusively fashion, because we wanted to show a range of photography. We’re showing everything from very natural, atmospheric, beautiful imagery to the crazy, avante garde kinda stuff. Actually, about half of the photographers are from the Parsons community! One was one of my professors, George Pitts. I’ve taken all of this classes and I’ve always loved his work, so I approached him with my idea and he was very excited to be a part of it.  I also asked a bunch of Parsons Photography alumni, including Therese + Joel, Daniel Scott, Elena Montemurro, Trevor Little, Su Mustecaplioglu, and Monet Lucki, as well as current seniors Sergio Mejia and Zach Ranson. I sought out the other half through recommendations and just photographers I’ve been looking at, and they were all into it and came aboard.

SC: I know you’ve always been able to juggle work, school, and your own endeavors pretty well the past couple years, but what’s it like tackling such an ambitious project while also working on your Senior Thesis?
SB: This is actually my thesis! When I came up with the idea, I was originally going to do Tabula Rasa on top of thesis. Luckily when I talked to my thesis professor Arthur Ou about my idea, he told me I could actually integrate this into my thesis. Arthur’s been really helpful and supportive, and he’s really encouraged this project so I’m really thankful for him.  It’s great because I can involve different people rather than just myself into my thesis. For the first issue, I’m also including myself as one of the 18 photographers.

SC: Since you graduate this coming May, how do you plan to continue Tabula Rasa post-Parsons?
SB: Well I think because the point of Tabula Rasa is not for financial gain, I still plan to work within the photography field to help support myself and the magazine. I’ll probably keep freelancing for a bit, unless I can get a full-time job that permits me to work on this since it does take a lot of time. But I definitely want to continue Tabula Rasa as long as it can sustain itself.

I’m super stoked to see the first issue in-print, and I can’t wait to see what else Sabrina has in store for her promising career. You can check out more of Sabrina’s personal work by clicking here. Don’t forget to support Tabula Rasa‘s first issue by pledging to their Kickstarter campaign. Congratulations again to Sabrina and everybody involved!

Cheers!
-Syd

About Syd

Sup! I'm Syd. I just recently graduated from the Strategic Design & Management program this past fall, but I'm still kickin' it on iheartparsons.com to offer some words of wisdom! I love Sriracha sauce, quoting Spongebob Squarepants, solving Rubik's Cubes, and electronic dance music. Go Parsons!

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