Interview: Hamam Magazine

Posted by Craig Pearce on

Recently we had the opportunity to interview founders Ekin & Steve from Hamam Magazine.  Founded in 2020, Hamam Magazine is a bathing-obsessed print publication for curious minds. Featuring essays, artist projects, photography, and interviews with unconventional spirits all over the world, Hamam explores the art and culture of bathing and many other practices of letting go.   


Please introduce yourself, tell us who you are, where you are from and what you guys do.

E: My name is Ekin Balcıoğlu and I am the Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of Hamam. I am a visual artist and curator living in the high desert of Taos, New Mexico with my cat (Korsan), dog (Kaptan), and husband (Steve), who is also my co-founder :) I was born and raised in Izmir, Turkey and earned graduate degrees in fine arts and visual critical studies in the United States. In addition to my formal art studies, I received an entirely different American education in sociology, spatial design, chauvinism, spirituality and sin in an uncommon place - the public bathhouse. 

S: Hi, I’m Steve Weiner. I am an entrepreneur, investor, and now a magazine publisher! I spent several years working with technology startups and advising small businesses, but before that I was a nuclear submarine officer in the US Navy.


How did the two of you meet?

S: I started making Russian steam bathing my ritual about 5 years ago as my own personal practice of letting go. I was a regular at a traditional Russian banya in San Francisco and that’s where I met Ekin. 

E: When I moved to San Francisco, I went to check out Archimedes Banya and I met Steve there - in the sauna :) 

Was there, or can you recall the bathing experience that sparked your passion of bathing? Did you grow up with it a big part of life or learn it somewhere along the way?

E: I grew up in Turkey, where hamam culture is really common, but I didn’t start getting into communal bathing until I moved to New York. The winters killed me and I needed a way to warm up. A friend suggested I check out the Tenth street Russian and Turkish baths, where I soon became a regular. I met the most interesting people in my life in the sauna - writers, healers, orthodox rabbis, fellow artists. These people became my tribe.

S: For me it was the first time I got a proper platza. It’s a whole body treatment in the russian steam sauna in which a venik (the russian word for broom) made from oak, birch, eucalyptus, or other plant matter is used to push steam onto the body and clean the skin. The sauna was unbearably hot and I had vivid hallucinations as the platza master started to hit me with oak branches. I thought I was gonna lose it, but the perfect counterbalance to bring me back to earth was the cold plunge. After the platza experience, I let go of my reservations about being nude in front of strangers in a communal bath. 


What was your inspiration for starting a magazine, specifically Hamam Mag?

E: My initial idea was to do a creative project to shed light on the subcultures that permeate the bathing community - something similar to “Humans of New York” for bathhouse people. As the content ideas flowed, Steve introduced me to WET Magazine - an avant garde publication founded by Leonard Koren in the late 70s. I thought a magazine would be the perfect medium to spread bathing art and culture, especially because the best bathing spots don’t allow electronics. They’re a great place to read. In essence, the mission of Hamam is to turn the universe on to communal bathing.


Your themes for your magazine issues so far are Dedication, Heat, Water & Nude. I can’t wait to see what’s next. How do you choose the themes for your issues?

E: I first approach each issue with the freedom to improvise without a predetermined theme. This is similar to my process for preparing food: when I’m at the bazaar or farmer’s market I look for whatever is most fresh rather than taking a list of ingredients from recipes I’ve researched. It isn’t until I get everything home that I decide what I will cook. The same is true for an issue of Hamam :) 


The branding and design of the publication is amazing, fresh and perfectly suited to the brand. Who’s behind that?

E: Thank you so much. When we came up with the idea for the magazine the next thing that popped into our minds was the name Hamam. It fit so perfectly, so Steve purchased the domain name and got the social media handles right away. We then spent time coming up with brand attributes and characteristics as if Hamam were a person and developing a verbal identity around the brand’s values and unique offering. In order to bring Hamam’s visual identity to life, we worked closely with our design partners (ONAGÖRE in Istanbul) to create the wordmark to reflect the architecture of the Turkish hamam. The wordmark uses a custom and dynamic typeface designed by ONAGÖRE’s Okay Karadiyilar in the shape of a hamam’s domed ceilings which let natural light through geometric prisms similar to the ones in the A’s of the wordmark. We have loose brand guidelines that give us a lot of freedom to change state and adapt to the contours of the content, much like water in a vessel.


I understand you guys have traveled and experienced all kinds of types and styles of bathing, is there a bathing experience or location that resonates as your best?

E: I don’t enjoy wearing anything while soaking. Being naked feels very free, so my favorite spots are usually clothing optional or fully nudist. I prefer bathing spots that don’t allow electronics - seeing people with their phones in pools is a big turn off for me. I also love experiencing extreme temperatures. A very hot banya followed by a very cold plunge is my style. My best soaking experiences have been in Northern California hot springs, because they have the hottest water that cooks me into a “red octopus”. 

S: We recently started traveling in a van, and we’ve already stayed at many great RV campsites with hot springs. I enjoy the down to earth vibe and I love being able to soak late at night under the stars.  


Have you ever bathed in water heated with wood? If so, can you tell us about that experience?

S: I can't say that I have - as a former submarine officer, an underwater fire was one of my worst nightmares! I kid, I would love to jump into a wood-fired hot tub. I can imagine that the smell and sounds would add so much to the experience.


For people looking for suggestions of ways to embrace Hamams tagline ‘ Letting Go’, do you have any personal recommendations or tips for them?

E: Water helps me let go. When I’m immersed in a body of water I feel very weightless. In the moment I lose all attachment to the past and future. 


What’s on the horizon for Hamam?

E: I will continue to publish the magazine for as long as I think there is more to say on the subject. Sometimes I think about how we can extend the idea of Hamam - an object of letting go that you can hold in your hand - to immersive experiences. As you can imagine, it’s been difficult to participate in communal bathing during the pandemic and my hope is that in some small way Hamam has brought this community a little closer together. We never did get to have a launch party due to the pandemic, so we’d really like to have a proper celebration at a hamam in Turkey when the time is right :)


More inspiration for the bathing obsessed.... visit @Hamammagazine or Header Image by Mark Edward Harris

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