A Look at Positive Futures

Positive Futures is a magazine that examines people and communities around the world living off-radar or on the margins of society, for various reasons. It would seem perfect subject matter for these times so we asked its creator, Ed Gold, for more details.

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm a British social documentary photojournalist. I'm 51 and have been living off-grid for over 20 years. It hasn't been possible for me to earn enough money from my work as photojournalism has been so devalued due to the rise in social media. Since I won't compromise my work and earn money for the sake of paying for a place to live, I use a tent every day, all year round and this allows me to continue documenting and means I can travel anywhere, at any time. I've sacrificed the potential for a normal life, with a regular job, a family, a house and all of those trappings, for a life of adventure and freedom. 

When we first spoke, you were looking for advice on starting a magazine. I assumed you were a novice, but I was clearly wrong! Can you tell us about your previous publishing work?

It's been a long haul and publishing doesn't happen overnight unless you create vacuous content, which can be found in so many mass market magazines 'for the sake of it' nowadays. I've been making my own printed publications since 2005, with the very first Positive Futures art book. I'll self-initiate my own projects on a speculative basis, and whether they are published by news media or not, I will always produce a book to complete the work. I have made at least 56 books and magazines myself which hold individual projects and these are on my website. Some sell, others stay dormant, but I know all of this work is worthwhile and will be of interest in the future. In short, I like to work by researching, making contacts, travelling to the location and embedding myself with people or communities, sometimes for up to three years. Media stories have described me as a factotum in the past because of how adaptable I am to my given situation and I do whatever I have to do to make everything work. This link: The homeless photojournalist who lends his eyes to the world best explains what I do.

Positive Futures, as you describe it, ‘celebrates the ingenuity and diversity of people who have chosen to live their own independent and alternative life style’. What draws you to the idea of living off-grid? 

I don't believe that the capitalist culture most people follow is the right way to be living. Finding alternatives is what is most important to me, for the magazine, to educate and inspire others, but also to find solutions that work and can be successfully used. My work isn't just for print, it's anthropological and I want to challenge the western ideology that humans are an exception in their surroundings. Right now is a turning point in humanity when we must make better decisions individually for our futures and not rely on governing bodies. This starts at grassroots, with how to grow food, to generate energy, for travel, better housing, and find an alternative monetary system that is sustainable. 

The people in Positive Futures live their lives without the comforts most of us take for granted and would not perhaps willingly sacrifice, but do you still think that – aside from obvious clichés like ‘less is more’ etc – there are distinct lessons or things we can learn or take away from this lifestyle? 

All those questions are subjective. One person's hell can be another person's heaven. The focus of people's lives in Positive Futures doesn't objectify comfort as the most important topic. It's about being conscious, being mindful and making better decisions for not just yourself, but everyone and the world around you. The people I have so far focused on are privileged because they are westerners and able to choose their lifestyle freely. Your questions are stuck in the mainstream mindset that can only grasp one way of being. I disagree that people in Positive Futures live without comforts most take for granted. It's a case of changing thinking, what is better – to work to be able to afford your food, or to grow your own food and have the surety of knowing where it comes from and satisfaction of how much better it tastes. And to appreciate nature away from man-made systems like roads, transport and industry. The beauty of a wonderful landscape and its benefits cannot rival anything urban for example. The coronavirus has proved that capitalism and our current lifestyles is not self-sustaining so yes, Positive Futures strives to provide answers to how else we can thrive in the future. 

I know you’re fond of Alaska. What draws you there? Is it because Alaska would seem to many of us about as far away as you can get?

That's a superficial question. Do I go to Alaska because it is as far away as you can get, so are you asking if I go to Alaska to produce compelling stories just because it is distant? No, not at all. I'm drawn to Alaska because Alaska is one of the world's least-connected places in terms of road transportation. The road system covers a tiny percentage of the state, and for example, the state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road. That's how remote it is, so the attraction for me is that there is an abundance of nature, it is unspoilt, stunningly beautiful, peaceful and has one of the highest percentages of people walking as their method of commute to work. The land is also home to over 200 native villages where people have existed for thousands of years and the culture is still alive. I like how there are fewer people, and thus are friendlier, how the most important aspects of life are appreciated more, like hunting for food, shelter and keeping warm. It's not a materialistic place and life is an adventure there, whereas I find Britain in contrast, a dreadfully toxic, stifling, dull country to be in. Much of existing Alaska was built up from the 1940s and it still has an old-time feel of traditional values. If I could live there I'd make it my home more than anywhere else in the world. Winters are exhilaratingly cold but dry and the summers enjoyably hot. 

Your interview with the Atchleys, ‘Alaska’s most remote family’ is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable features I’ve come across in a magazine of any sort. It contains an extract from your own journal, which is the only editorial in the magazine. Otherwise all the characters in Positive Futures describe themselves in their own words. It feels very unmediated – is it important to you that these people speak openly or directly?

Of course, my work is about giving the everyday person a voice, to hear their story directly with no bias or angle. My journal is to give an account from my perspective as the viewer, but it's most important for interviewees to provide their own account to authenticate what their story is about. It's the most important aspect for the reader, to be able to visualise what the story is about and to be able to understand it first hand, direct from the subject's own ideas and experiences.

This magazine isn't for plastic people to read who are content to be part of the majority flock. If you care about yourself, those around you and the planet's future wellbeing then Positive Futures is for you. If you're discontent with the status quo and want to change for the better, and are inquisitive and pro-active this magazine can help to inspire and enable your dreams. 

I agree, it’s an extraordinary cast of characters you’ve assembled for this issue. I can’t wait to read the next one. How often will you publish Positive Futures?

I already have over four years worth of material that can be used if the magazine is made quarterly, and if I had the money I'd make it monthly, to keep the readership regularly informed. Bi-annually is not often enough for a magazine of only 96 pages. Unfortunately I cannot commit to frequency until I see how well the magazine sells, and can only print again when I have made enough money from sales to do so. It's up to the readership how often Positive Futures will be published. If there is a demand I will grow it and all profits will go back to printing more and more, for every future issue. 

More about Ed at https://www.edgold.co.uk