Elein Fleiss was born in Paris, lives in Lisbon and dreams of Tokyo. Since 2004 the cerebral writer, curator and photographer has helmed Purple Journal a publication that shares her global world view and appreciation of the little things. We recently spoke to Fleiss about her newly launched publication Les Cahiers Purple as well as travel, the future of print publishing and her relationship with Purple Fashion’s Olivier Zahm.
Purple is known for its constant reinvention – why are you constantly changing? Are you afraid of stasis or is change necessary to survive? Yes I am afraid of stasis and I get bored easily. I’m also afraid of success. When Purple became successful, around 1998, I thought it was a bad sign. Through the years I changed a lot and the context (social, political, artistic…) changed a lot too, the magazine followed this evolution. But I don’t think it’s such a good way to survive financially speaking because you survive more easily if you build an institution, become more powerful, year after year. I’m really not interested in doing that.
How did you meet Olivier Zahm? What were your first impressions of each other and why did you start Purple together? I was looking for an art critic to write text for a petition I was organising against a journalist from a daily paper. A friend suggested Olivier. First impressions were good as we fell in love…That was in 89, Purple Prose started in 92. Publishing a magazine had became a necessity for us. Olivier was writing about art, I was organizing exhibitions and more and more we were feeling our sensibility, ideas, were not represented in any magazines. Doing it together was just natural and obvious.
Purple Fashion is hedonistic whereas Purple Journal is pastoral and low-key. They’re almost polar opposites – how did you and Olivier share the same vision at the start? And when did you start to feel like your visions were diverging? I think what happened is a natural evolution. This evolution took time, twelve years (1992 – 2004) before we each went our own way. We started in the field of contemporary art and were completely in sync, in agreement, for years. That is why we worked so long together, not only doing the magazine but also organizing many exhibitions. We both changed a lot through this period of time but not in the same direction, at some point we were keeping each other from doing what we wanted because we didn’t want to go the same way, it’s obvious when you see what we each do now. I find it exceptional to have worked so long with the same person, there are partners that work together a lifetime but they are often tied by financial interest, when the ties are only based on art and sensibility, it cannot last that long. But that’s certainly a personal vision. Our visions started to diverge in the late 90’s, at first those differences were interesting, then, as I said, it only kept us from going our way and from putting all our energy in the magazine because at a certain point neither of us was satisfied. That was in the early 2000’s.
Purple Journal certainly had a global world view – where is your favourite place in the world to visit and why? I would say Asia and Japan in particular. I share a lot with Japanese, their relationship to beauty, nature, food. What I lack the most in Lisbon, where I live at the moment, is a large asiatic presence. I’ve been travelling since I was a child and always was around foreigners. I don’t really feel French…
What do you see as the key difference between Les Cahiers Purple and Purple Journal? There is no break or rupture between PJ and CP, it’s a continuation. The difference lies in the format and periodicity which leads to slightly different content. I could not have published an entire play in Purple Journal. Now there is more space and more time.
Do contributors have free creative control on their photographs/words or do you lead them down a certain path. Is your role as Editor more curatorial? There are different cases. I can publish existing, but always unpublished, material be it photo or text. I also ask authors for specific articles which you could describe as reportage and sometimes an author will propose an idea that fits the issue.
What has been your biggest Publishing triumph? I like when someone I admire is inspired by the magazine or when it allows me to meet people who then become friends or co-workers. I never had the feeling of triumph. The most surreal moment was maybe when the police came to Purple because of a complaint from the Swiss custom about a photo we had published that they considered pornographic. Both me and Olivier were then asked to go to the vice squad to be interrogated separately by an inspector. Nothing happened though and later on we could laugh about it all.
And the lowlight or hardest part? The hardest part is definitely to find money to publish the magazine, that is when you refuse to compromise. My situation today is very similar with what we went through in the early days, at least till 98.
How would you describe your contributors – do they share a certain spirit or ethos? They are so diverse and singular that it’s hard to describe them. I could say that often they are not part of any group and that they are strong individuals, on the edge. But they are of different generations, nationalities, backgrounds. Sometimes they’re introduced by someone, or they contact me, or I contact them. I use my intuition.
What do Magazines need to do to survive? I don’t know how we survived and as far as I’m concerned (meaning Les Cahiers Purple), I have no idea if I will survive. It is no easier now than it was at the very beginning. But my magazine is not a business, I never made a living out if it.
What I loved about reading Les Cahiers Purple is that sense of movement – from Tokyo to Paris to NYC to Lisbon and on to Hong Kong. Will you continue to focus on localism in future issues of Les Cahiers Purple? I think that will stay a constant thematic tie as the contributors are scattered all over the world. I think in the media in general we don’t get any information on how life is in the world, we get economic facts, general views that are often cliches. I like to show details.
How does your art background inform the way you edit magazines? I don’t think it helped. We started as total amateurs, with no experience, no knowledge, but that also means total freedom. None of us had worked in a magazine, so nobody told us we had to do things a certain way. We kind of invented our own way.
I still feel like an amateur, even though I also feel I can make a magazine all alone, meaning I know how to deal with every aspect including graphic design, copy editing, the printers, distributors, everything. As long as I have a computer, wherever I am in the world I can make a magazine. It doesn’t mean I don’t need help. I also work with an english language editor for the english version as english is not my mother tongue, I work with the artist Laetitia Benat for photo editing and part of the design, I also need many translators.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now what career might you have considered? Even though the magazine has been the center, the spine, I always do other things, I’m activate as a photographer, journalist (for some Japanese magazines mostly) and exhibition curator. But writing has become more and more important to me.
What processes did you go through to produce the first issue of Les Cahiers Purple? I first decided to interrupt Purple Journal, due to the fact I moved out of France. The change of life had to lead to another change. Then I decided for the new periodicity, annual and for keeping the same size which I love, for a grey paper, for more pages, for this new title and to cut out and edit the magazine in different sections (cahiers)… I informed the distributors and Purple Journal’s regular contributors. Some new people appeared in the process too, people I met during my 3 months stay in Rio and here in Lisbon. I set a deadline, contacted the different translators. Mark Fishman, the editor for the english version agreed to come from Paris to Lisbon to work with me for 10 days. Laetitia and I had to find a new way to work, at a distance, we used email and Skype. It worked ok but I missed being with her in front of the computer. I also had to find money and contacted Purple Journal advertisers, who are only people I feel close to and with whom I’ve built up a personal relationship. Some new advertisers came along. I started lay-out of the French version as material arrived. I always do the French version first. When lay-outs were near final I sent them to a French proof-reader, a friend of mine who used to work with me at the very beginning of Purple. In the meantime texts were being translated, from Japanese, English, Italian, Portuguese, to French. I was having exchange with my printer in Belgium about paper, price. When the French version was nearly done, we started the English version, translating the French to English, inserting English text in the lay-out, editing, proofreading. Both versions are printed at the same time. While the magazine was being printed I organized transport to the different distributors. I usually don’t go anymore to check the printing, I trust my printer, we’ve been working together for 5 years. I really like him, it’s such a relief after many years of trouble and disappointments with printers.
With so many different languages used, do you ever feel like some meaning gets lost in translation? I work with very good translators, they’re often writers themselves and translated many literature books. I myself read mostly foreign literature, therefore I have to trust translation.
Explain your perfect day. An unexpected day, with surprises or discoveries.