Collective 015: Then There Was Us

Collective 015: Then There Was Us

Welcome back to the fifthteenth feature from the Collective Series by The Idle Man. Where we meet up with interesting men who either work in the creative industry, or we just admire the work they do. Styled in our most recent collections, drops, and photographed by Cal McIntyre, read the full feature below as we believe it's more about what we do, rather than what we wear. 

For the first time in our collective series we are revisiting our very first feature on The There Was Us to see what they've been up to. Jonathan Tomlinson and James Wrigley set up their very own independent publication titled, Then There Was Us which showcases the work by up-and-coming people in the industries of art, photography and journalism. Since we met them last year, they have expanded their company into 2 sub-brands one of which is called Public Source and the other, _Bottom Line.

Then There Was Us was created to give those trying to break through the creative scene a platform to showcase their work on without being exploited by larger publications that only pay through ‘experience’. Their new venture Public Source goes a step further than just being a platform for young talented people, it covers the inside areas of print, web and interactive design. The idea behind this is that it has their very best published names who can create specific pieces for individuals, businesses or cultural institutions. Speaking on their website, they say, “we are devoted to creating independent projects and events that work for and within the communities, online, in print and across the UK”. Public Source is all about putting the names of independent projects and events out there in order to create a network of collaboration in the genres of documentation in its many forms. 

Not only have they created a space where talented people can start their career, they have also set up _Bottom Line, a not for profit educational project. This exciting sub-branch is a tool for online research and the distribution of information. Tomlinson and Wrigley have truly optimised what it means to be a community with their work, by developing a convenient and accessible platform which not only brings creatives together but also helps others feed off it.

The two companies work hand in hand with _Bottom Line gathering the information and research behind the work created by those at Public Source. One key part about their development of these two sites is that, it allows complete transparency to every piece of information and work put out by their writers and photographers as those viewing the pieces are able to see exactly where their data has come from. This ultimately gives credibility to not only the site itself but to those creating meaningful pieces. 

If you couldn’t tell previously that these two minds are extremely creative and innovative, you can certainly see it now. So we headed to Manchester once again to see Tomlinson and Wrigley find out how their minds have come up with something so useful and hear about what their next business venture might be. 

When your ideas first emerged onto paper, do you realise you’ve got something that’s going to work or does it take time to adapt to it?

Often there is a feeling that the idea is strong, maybe not complete, but there is a feeling that we are onto something. Then There Was Us, for example, has given us the opportunity to bring together new ways of showcasing and creating new documentary and journalism work. We found that together, we had a lot of ideas that simply would not fit under Then There Was Us, mainly publishing and design projects that we both wanted to develop. Towards the end of 2018 we began Public–Source which will be launching in May, this now acts as our umbrella company, where we can focus on publishing new projects, tools, applications and more. All these ideas take time to develop, when we last spoke they were in early development, more often than not we want to make sure that our projects serve a purpose, or at the very least are useful; this takes time and a lot of conversations, feedback from others and planning. 

Creating a community of creatives online seems to be very important to you both, why is this?

There is often a sense of exclusivity within the art industry, there is also a huge problem with individualism across the arts, and in the North-West there just aren’t the opportunities to form collectives or even showcase projects publicly. We wanted to create something that focuses on the middle-ground, the artists, photographers, writers, designers, who all create extremely strong, passionate and relevant work. All of our projects have a sense of public ownership to them, they are not for us, but for you. Then There Was Us followed this approach, as such so does Public–Source, next month we will be expanding these community spaces offline into a public space in Manchester city centre under our new project ‘Temporary Spaces’. These spaces will be free to use for exhibitions, workshops, talks and events. The aim is to not only bring communities together, but to create a space that work alongside those communities and support artists across the North-West. This will be launching next month with our first open to all exhibition through Then There Was Us, that will also showcase this new space. 

How do you manage to spread your time between all three of your sites/publications?

We have to be organised, we split jobs between us, it’s important to work closely and take responsibility for different areas, this can often mean focusing individually on different projects. We both work on all of this outside of our actual jobs, so managing time, projects and individual jobs simply means sharing the workload.

How do you find your partnership with each other?

Yeah! We have a good working relationship, living in different cities, we keep in touch throughout the week, this could be a phone call at 10pm or meeting up at the weekends. We are often on the same page about most things and find a middle ground if we ever disagree on anything. We both have a lot of different interests outside of work that usually feed into what we do together.  

Has anything changed since we last spoke?

Everything! - Towards the end of last year we became a community interest company. Officially launching Public–Source next month, this will be our umbrella company for all of our projects, including Then There Was Us, Bottom Line and our latest project Temporary Spaces which will host our open to all Then There Was Us exhibition to showcase the new space. Since we last spoke, we have been working on all of this and a lot more new projects to be released later this year, including a new issue for Then There Was Us, a brand new launch of Letters From Home, and some big things that we can’t talk about yet!

If you could begin another project different to the ones you’ve already set up, what would it be? 

With the launch of Public–Source we have the opportunity to produce any projects, publications or events that we like. We focus heavily on documentary and journalism and naturally we will be producing and focusing on new research and stories. One area that we are looking to move towards, and in some ways will be our final side-ways move, is within the small independent fashion industries, there are so many people out there creating extremely interesting work that focus on ethics, environment and activist projects that we want to help celebrate and support those. 

Before taking on Then There Was Us, you both were creatives in your own right, do you still find the time to go back to your own stuff?

Jonny: I work on a lot of freelance graphic design outside of my job and our joint projects. This stemmed from creating posters for a series of gigs that two friends set up in 2015. I studied photography at university so graphic design is fully self taught, i’m still experimenting and learning new things, which is exciting. I started a few photography projects last year which are focused around my hometown of Crewe. I aim to keep working on these when I travel back, it’s also a good excuse to see my family! I’ve been painting a lot recently which I do from my desk which is totally accessible at any time. It’s all as and when really.

James: I try to produce my own personal work, but I think it has been put on the back burner until I have more time away from these projects. Sometimes it’s nice to feed your own personal ideas into projects, the new issue for Then There Was Us will be themed Contested Territories and Bottom Line are both personal projects I started a few years back that have eventually made their way into Public–Source. As for my own photography, design and coding I moved towards longform projects, they don't require such intense workflows and have given me the chance to produce and develop my ideas. I have spent the last year really thinking about who I am as a photographer or designer, this time away to work on projects really helps to think through this, research and develop understanding. 

Do you have any big plans for 2019?

We have mentioned a lot of what we are doing now; through Public-Source we have Then There Was Us, Temporary Spaces, Bottom Line etc. But to give you a bit of insider knowledge (we can’t talk about a lot), we have new projects designed at giving creatives access to free tools, brand new research projects, new independent publications, and community driven applications on the way. Everything will be launched through Public–Source so keep an eye out. 

Photography by Cal McIntyre.

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