Victory Journal is unapologetically big. It towers over the other magazines on the newsstand. Yet with its focus on the “intersection between sports and culture”, it is about much more than sporting prowess, size or strength. Through large-format photography and text, Victory examines sport’s peripheries as much as its participants – and it does so with an impressive, immersive ease.
While the culture of sport anchors the magazine’s contents, it is hugely varied in scope. Issue 13, for example, includes photo stories on subjects as diverse as Bhutanese archery, US championship checkers and French Ring, a late 19th-century dog sport that came to the US in the 1980s. There are features on men’s gymnastics and women’s ice hockey, a look at Serie B’s Venezia FC, before the issue concludes with some of Ray Wright’s 1970s portraits of English football players in their homes. Sport has long been fertile territory for photographers, as competition and drama naturally make for compelling imagery, but Victory and its contributors avoid cliché.
An early influence on the direction of the magazine came from Founder and Editor Chris Isenberg’s first encounter with Taschen’s supersized Greatest of All Time book on boxing legend Muhammad Ali. “As someone who is obsessed with Ali, it was just exciting that they were making an object that was for people who loved [him], but was elevated and rarefied,” says Isenberg. “It was a very different endeavour than a Time magazine special issue or USA Today supplement. It was comprehensive in terms of his life, it was impeccably curated in terms of the photography and the writing they used, and it treated objects and ephemera with equal importance which felt novel. [I’m] not saying I love every design choice they made in hindsight, or fully endorse the idea of a $3,000 book – but it was a project that wasn’t out to match a standard, it was out to achieve a standard set by its own internal compass. That was and is extremely inspiring.”
Turning the pages of Victory’s latest issue and the influence of this total approach to covering the world of sport is clear. Creative Director Aaron Amaro also cites a wealth of classic magazines from the 1970s – Interview, Rolling Stone, Avant Garde and Eros – as having helped shaped Victory’s visual direction. There’s something about the boldness of the imagery and the sheer size of the thing as an object that also chimes with this period of time when print was king.
“We always knew we wanted something larger, something that had the gravitas to live on not just as a piece of printed ephemera, but as a historical object,” says Amaro. “When we started Victory it began as a humble 16-page saddle-stitched broadsheet. Later we decided to go perfect bound as the page count increased [and] with that change we lost a bit of image in the gutter…. I think the artistry and design is at the forefront – our contributors really appreciate the large size and the dedication to the most powerful viewing experience,” he continues.
A part of Victory’s appeal as a magazine is the way its contributors document different aspects of sports, an approach that has been followed since the early issues. For Isenberg, this course has been about “really looking around and observing what may not be central to the action, but frames it or ties back into it,” he says. “Great sports writing does that. And great sports photography does it too. We wouldn’t have said at the beginning that we were trying to pursue that necessarily, but the taste for it is an important guide.”
Sport has long been fertile territory for photographers, as competition naturally makes for compelling imagery, but Victory and its contributors avoid cliché
The design of each edition relies on a distinction between the text (longer essays are usually set over one or more pages) and the images, which tend to run as uninterrupted series, each picture at full-bleed, with brief captions. “This is my preferred way to digest information,” says Amaro of this rationale. “Separate the reading from the viewing. They use different parts of the brain. You read a piece then you take your time with the art. I find it a better way to mentally digest an idea. I kind of hate pull quotes, I think it forces a different hierarchy to the narrative.”
Online, Victory neatly transfers its approach to narrative and aesthetics to the digital sphere – its underlying values apply across the board, says Isenberg, “whether that’s print, online, film, Instagram, podcast, or event”. Take the film Kite Fight that Victory made in Brazil. “It was something where still photography really just didn’t capture the interest of kite-fighting – and we tried,” Isenberg recalls. “And with the film you can see and hear the place and meet the people, in a very different way to a written story, but the DNA is still Victory. It’s also awesome to collaborate with contributors who work exclusively in moving image, or who cross over between stills and video. And when you have something strong here, it can be seen by hundreds of thousands or millions of people.”
Isenberg adds that since Victory has been working with contributing editor Nathaniel Friedman, he has been pushing the title to be more prolific online. While some online stories will be covered in the magazine as well, he explains, “others are topical in a way that wouldn’t make sense for the book, but still feel animated by the same fundamental guidelines. And it’s very interesting to see Victory engage with the present in that way, it wasn’t something we were all that comfortable doing when we set out, but it’s exciting to see it happen in way that feels true to us.”
While the approaches to Victory’s photo stories are in one sense determined by the individual photographers, for Isenberg it’s what Amaro, Photo Editor Shane Lyons and the team then do with the material that brings the range of sports and disciplines into a single, unified volume. “They spend a lot of time getting the individual stories and the overall book right, with everyone chiming in a bit,” he says. “There’s a flow we’re trying to get to which has to do both with the variety and not repeating beats and that kind of looking directly at the action and then looking away from it. It’s become a much gnarlier challenge both to get the right material and to order it as the book’s gotten thicker, but rising to that and getting an issue to where it feels strong in that way is a huge driver for all of us.”
Banner image: Trainer Michael Lorraine and his Malinois dog practice targeting during the North American Ring Association’s Western Regional Trial. The image forms part of Noah Davis’s essay on the sport of French Ring, which features photographs by Jared Ryder. French Ring is a so-called ‘protection’ sport which tests a dog’s ability to protect itself and its handler
Victory Journal is published biannually ($16). Issue 13, Tooth & Nail, is out now