Greco Made ‘Em Look!

whitney-museumLeonard Greco did the unthinkable in a crowd of snowboarders: He made them do a double take.

During the opening night of last month’s U.S. Open at Stratton Mountain, Vt., he was as much of a show-stopper as the riders on the quarterpipe. The 21-year-old art student marched around in an army helmet with cameras strapped around a “Listen to Johnny Cash” T-shirt, holding a Giorgio Armani eyewear ad spray-painted with “JRNL.” What he was getting at — and many wanted to know just that — was some guerrilla marketing for the Journal, a nonprofit photography magazine with its eye on snowboarders and skateboarders between the ages of 15 and 35.

Grecko’s kamikaze approach made Open fans find out what he was doing and see how they could pick up a copy of the magazine. That kind of word-of-mouth advertising is what Journal is about and captures what big brands are trying to do with teens. The free, biannual magazine is available at coffee shops, skateboard stores, art stores and, for the first time, at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan. The next edition publishes in September.

Unconventional is the game plan for marketing and distribution. In the Armani ad, for instance, Grecko and his fellow “street-team members” spotted it among the trash on a downtown Boston street one night on their way home from a student show at the Copley Society, the oldest artists’ foundation in the U.S., and stenciled “JRNL” across the model’s face.

Motioning toward the ad, Grecko said, “This is basically propaganda. We don’t want to exploit ourselves. We don’t want to Mountain Dew ourselves,” referring to Mountain Dew’s commercial connection to the mostly uncommercial alternative sports field.

The current, 106-page issue features shots such as a dog yawning, an empty snowy road, barbed wire outside a prison, the exit ramp of a freeway and a marquee with the wording “An American Rhapsody” and “God Bless America.” More sports-oriented shots also made the cut, like the man with a skateboard in an empty swimming pool, pro snowboarder Abe Teter riding high in Austria and a skateboarder flying over the pavement in downtown Boston.

Seth Butler and Michael Nevin started the magazine in 1999, with help from Grecko, but now there are up to 32 contributors. Many are full-time students at Montserrat College of Art in Berkeley, Mass., pitching in after class or before their salaried part-time jobs. Butler juggles three part-time jobs, along with his studies and magazine responsibilities.

More than anything, Butler aims to encourage teens to skateboard and snowboard.

“When I was growing up, snowboarding and skateboarding nearly saved my life,” he said. “It gave me a positive outlet when a lot of kids in my area were doing things they shouldn’t have been doing.”

Like most of the magazine’s contributors, Butler is an avid snowboarder. Photographer and filmmaker Ari Marcopolous, who has spent the past six years documenting snowboarders from Iran to Switzerland, is featured in the current issue. Marcopolous’ works are also featured as part of this year’s Biennial mega art and photography show at the Whitney.

Journal contributor Gary Land, who is also Reebok’s lensman, said the East Coast has long needed a publication that covers the underground culture of snowboarding and skateboarding.

“It’s different from all the other flashy colored snowboarding magazines. I like that it’s all black and white and has fly-on-the-wall angles you wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise,” he said. “I also like the artsy abstract covers that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the content.”

Case in point: the image of a clown riding the subway on the current cover. Grenade Gloves, Jeenyus, 93 94, Anon and Bside are among the companies that comprise the 11 pages of advertising in the current 106-page issue.

“The advertising gets us published, and that’s about it,” Grecko said.

Blue Collar Distribution publishes Journal and gets it out to about 10,000 people per issue. Before teaming up with Blue Collar two years ago, a handful of people printed 300 copies of the first issue at a Staples copy shop.

Land, a former fixture on the snowboarding and skateboarding scene, recalled how a teenage Butler approached him eight years ago while shooting a snowboard event at Killington and announced his plans to start a magazine one day. Butler lapped up Land’s advice and now is on the verge of doing some noteworthy work beyond photography, Land said. Butler is working on “Tattered,” an exhibition and photography book about some of the disrespect shown toward the American flag in this time of feverish patriotism. But journal remains his focus.

“We don’t make any money on it,” he added. “But that’s alright for now.”


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