In a world of beautiful travel imagery and immensely talented photographers, Tiny Atlas Quarterly needs no introduction. The almost 5 year-old online publication and hugely popular Instagram feed (almost 2 million images have used the #mytinyatlas hashtag to get noticed!), and has become a force for inspiring us to see the world. I was honored to spend a morning with Emily Nathan, Tiny Atlas Quarterly’s founder and a sought after photographer whose client list includes Apple, Gourmet, the Ritz Carlton, Google, Glamour, The New Yorker and Travel and Leisure. In all the places in the universe, we met at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland on Broadway, a place beloved to us both, in the town she lives in, and in my hometown. We talked about working from home when you are a mother of young children, the Kickstarter campaign for their SOLAS bag, and what it takes to run Tiny Atlas Quarterly plus her own photography business. Read and be inspired by the work of this amazing woman.
Image via Tiny Atlas Quarterly by Kerry Murray
24 East: What is your background?
Emily Nathan: I have a honor’s degree in English Literature with a sub-concentration in creative writing/Poetry from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor—a degree I didn’t do much with until I started a magazine. My writing was always very visual and poetry is essentially editing, so it is all connected but it did not appear connected initially. I also have been a photographer since middle school. I grew up traveling regularly with my family and looking at photography in the NYT Magazine and covering literally my entire walls, floor to ceiling, with a collage of photographs. I spent all my summers at a camp (and then working at said camp) in Northern Michigan called Interlochen. Interlochen is an international arts camp that happened to be in my home state and the talent of the student body was pretty inspiring. I think camp was formative in nurturing my independence for 2 months (I begged my parents to go away for that long) every summer. So I grew up a traveler, a person interested in the arts, independent with a family deeply focused on arts and education.
24E: What inspired you to start Tiny Atlas Quarterly?
EN: My photo career started with magazine work, principally travel and portraits, shooting for both business magazines and travel clients like Fast Company, Inc, Travel and Leisure, Budget Travel, and Gourmet (oh Gourmet, miss you). Then I moved to global lifestyle productions for companies like Apple, Google, MasterCard, etc. In travel, often an article’s photographers’ favorite pictures are overlooked by magazines (except if you have an incredible photo editor which there certainly are). In lifestyle, all the people and production details from a shoot are wiped out as the pictures come from a brand that does not share that kind of information. And yet, since I traveled so much, everyone was always asking me for travel advice. Tiny Atlas was my way of sort of putting those two worlds together. In travel magazines, I wanted more people, more production and the more artful imagery. In commercial work, I wanted more sense of the photographer’s point of view as well as the resources that brands spend a lot of time putting together so they can achieve the incredible images you see from them.
Image via Tiny Atlas Quarterly by Caydie McCumber
EN: How has the publication changed from the time you started it to now?
24E: Since we started our hashtag #mytinyatlas on Instagram so much has changed. Our audience really exploded with the tag and recognition we got from it early on, and we began to include our community much more–daily really. Our audience loves to travel and is yearning to connect with one another in the real world, and experience the world in a certain, inquisitive way. So while the editorial side of the magazine has remained relatively consistent, we have whole other branches of the brand that keep evolving. We are connecting clients to both our magazine photographers and our social media photographer community, we are making products with like-minded brands such as our camera bag (we just finished a Kickstarter with Alite Designs), our notebook with Allswell, we are creating trips for our audience to join us (upcoming trips to Tahiti- join us! ), as well as putting together events and photo shows around the world (occasionally).
24E: What is a typical day like for you?
EN: Oh boy. There is not a totally typical day in that I am still a commercial photographer as well as a photographer for TAQ, so some weeks I am just away in different cities or countries for clients, for editorial TAQ projects of our own devising, or through brand/destination collaborations. So, if I am not shooting for a tech company, shooting for a travel brand, or shooting for TAQ, and have an office day (which is often), then that could be the normal day.
I usually wake before my son and husband and work on the Tiny Atlas Instagram account as I am the voice and editor of the brand in that space, as well as Facebook and Twitter (much less active there). We recently started our channel on VSCO and that is fun. We are just starting to know and reach their wonderful community. We also recently launched our Snapchat which is TinyAtlasQtrly (same as our Twitter), which is almost exclusively takeovers from our community. Snapchat has been super fun because our photographer community is based all over the world and is also often on the go. We have photographers sharing a day in their life from all over. Recently we have been in Tanzania, Greece, Amalfi, Mexico, and Japan. And then Instagram stories happened. We are just now ramping up takeovers on Stories, but we have a much larger audience already on Instagram so we are deferring more to Instagram at the moment, with engagement getting as high as 1 million impressions per week.
I often make breakfast and lunch for our son while my husband heads off to work. Then I take my son to school. I am usually on the phone and checking email already after schooldrop off. Then, if I have time I try to exercise but this has been not easy the last few months. I often work with other people on TAQ (editors, interns etc) in my home office which is a tiny building in my backyard. We either make lunch at my house or give ourselves a break and walk to nearby Piedmont Avenue for lunch- new favorite there is Ba-Bite and sometimes coffee after at Timeless (to go). If we don’t go out for lunch, we may stop a little later to grab a coffee at Blue Bottle. I work until 4pm, and then pick up my son from school. We might play with a friend or make dinner early.Sometimes we end up waiting to all eat dinner together with my husband who is in Mountain View for work. Our son goes to bed late so after dinner we usually read some Harry Potter before bath and bed. And then after my son goes to bed, I often work for a couple more hours on social or other email. I did just have an important birthday and am trying to re-focus more on my own life and wellness and delegate more, work less. My husband and I do have a date night once a week which is a great luxury and awesome. We sometimes use the night out night for individual hangs with friends, but usually just have dinner together or with another couple or see a music show or movie at the theater on Piedmont or Grand Lake Theater. With gelato after at Lush if it is warm out. We love to go to local favorites like Dopo, Ramen Shop, Penrose, and Camino.
Image via Tiny Atlas Quarterly by Ashley Camper
24E: Tiny Atlas Quarterly has an amazing following on social media plus a very popular tag, #mytinyatlas. What do you think people connect with the most?
EN: Our magazine is very photographer led. So when I asked people to start tagging, I asked a few incredible photographers to tag images and our magazine photographers. Those people had work that inspired others to tag. I was editing it from the start and consistently showing really great work that matched the aesthetic of our magazine, which had already had some good attention thanks to nice press and mentions in places like Vogue, the NYT, Design Sponge and Refinery 29. I think it was fresh and beautiful and spoke to a place in the big brand world of travel that was much more personal and therefore people related to it. I am also a woman and so many of our photographers for the magazine and in our social community are also women. I do think that visual voice that didn’t say loudly- here is a symmetrical perfect photo you have seen before a million times – spoke to many viewers (our audience is majority women).
24E: What do you always pack on an adventure?
EN: Bags! Ha. My husband always joked with me that I am a bag lady. Always so many bags (small or large, or interior organizing, whatever). Plus our SOLAS bag. Otherwise, I love to swim so if there is any chance I can get into a body of water, pool, or hot tub, I bring a swimsuit.
24E: You’re a working mom and you often travel. How do you manage this?
EN: My husband works in Silicon Valley but he can also work from home. So often, when I am away he works from home more and gets our son to school (and just does lots of extra work for a few days). My parents live close by as well and my mom is with my son on Fridays after school, and will often spend some extra time with him to give my husband a break if I am away. We also have a sitter for the date night and she can usually help with an extra day or two with pickup from school.
Image via Tiny Atlas Quarterly by Ashley Camper
24E: In all the world, you live in Oakland. What do you love about living here?
EN: We moved to Oakland about 10 years ago when we bought our house. We were in SF and priced out of the city but wanted to buy a house after we were married (Midwestern parents were pushing that). My sister and parents were in the East Bay, so while we love to surf and liked the idea of Marin, we didn’t have family there. We felt much more at home in the East Bay as well, it was a closer cultural fit. My family moved here when I was a senior in high school but I think I might have ended up here anyway. I was not planning to live near my parents because I knew I didn’t want to stay in suburban Detroit. I wanted to see the world. I love the close access to nature of the Bay and the sun of the East Bay. San Francisco was so cold. I initially didn’t want to leave the city but I think maybe three days after we moved to the East Bay, I remember driving home (to pull into our driveway instead of circling for parking in my hood in SF for 1/2 hour), and it was warm and I had my own little house and garden and I was like, I will never go back to the city.
24E: What are some of your favorite East Bay spots?
EN: Some of the restaurants, like Camino and Penrose, I mentioned before. Temescal Alley’s Book/Shop and Crimson Horticulture, nearby record shop, Stranded, and Pizzaiolo. Blue Bottle, the Piedmont Avenue movie theater, Dopo, local home store Neighbor, and magazine shop, Issues. We love the Oakland Museum of California. Recently we have been in Berkeley a bit more, at the renovated UC Theater for music shows, the Greek Theater for Pop-Up magazine, and dinner at Ippuku. I am looking forward to spending lots of time at my son’s new school, Chabot Elementary (yay Oakland lottery!), and getting to know the parent community there.
24E: What is your dream for Tiny Atlas Quarterly?
EN: I want Tiny Atlas to become a grown-up global lifestyle brand that produces our own content online, in print and directly for clients. In addition, we are looking at expanding into a travel and retail position where we make products, and partner with brands to produce trips for photographers and travelers looking for a brand that understands and represents their interests and aesthetics.
To see more amazing photos, visit Tiny Atlas Quarterly here.
For more info on Tiny Atlas Quarterly’s trips, go here.
For more info on SOLAS, go here.
Images are courtesy of Emily Nathan and copyrighted. Unless otherwise noted in captions above.