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'Kind is Cool' photobook designed to bring hope

Words by Abi Scaife

Kind is Cool is a photobook of lo-fi messages designed to bring you hope, created by friends Clem Macleod and Stephanie Francis-Shanahan.

They're each artists in their own right: Clem is the founder and editor of Worms magazine, a magazine and publisher that celebrates female and non-binary writer culture, while Stephanie is an artist, photographer and filmmaker. 

Kind is Cool came to life when Clem and Steph realised they both shared the same hobby - taking pictures of messages and quotes, oftentimes heartwarming or inspiring, spotted out in the wild.

Some of the photos are of graffiti, others of unintentionally empathetic signs and notices. The titular ‘Kind is Cool’ comes from a blurry photo of a blonde in a pink T-Shirt, on which the words are emblazoned. 

“We'd both been taking all these photos for ages,” says Steph, who has photos from all over the country, and even some from Australia. “Some of them are like three, four years old.”

After moving into a shared studio, the pair discovered their shared hobby quite by accident and, as they say, the rest is history.

“We'd been chatting about serendipity and about coincidence, and how we believe it's all kind of interwoven,” Steph explains. “And then we left the studio, we were walking to go like separate ways. And then literally, about 30 seconds later, I saw a canal boat that said ‘Serendipity’, which is the back cover [of the book].”

A spread from the book featuring two images with the words 'You're Beautiful' and 'Angel Station 11:11pm' respectively.

During the Covid-19 lockdowns, many of us turned to walking for a reprieve, and Clem and Steph are no different. Many of their photos were taken on their own, meditative walks, when they came across these messages of hope.

“Even before we met each other we would both use walking, and still do, as a real kind of meditative practice,” explains Steph. “And like a lot of them are from, like, all over the country because I travel a lot in my teaching work. So I'm quite often by myself, on trains and, like, walking around cities and stuff. So it's quite a nice way to feel rooted wherever you go is to build this collection of photos.”

The book, full of over 100 photos, has photos from all over the country, all captured in the same dreamy, low-fi style that makes them feel all the more personal. But kindness and joy remains at the forefront of every image - even the ones that might surprise you.

“My [favourite] is actually the one that says Discordia,” says Steph. “I think because I do so much work about joy, my whole artistic practice has centred so heavily on joy, I quite like having the flip side of something that's so like, clearly like the opposite of joy.

"I think I've really leaned in more this year of like, realising that if you don't access that side of it, the joy doesn't feel that real, or it's hard to access it in an authentic way.”

A spread from the book featuring images with the words 'Discordia' and 'Make the most of London's happy place' respectively.

But what makes projects like Kind is Cool so important? Clem and Steph both have their own theories.

“It's reassurance, I would say,” explains Clem, of why she thinks the messages displayed in their book are so important. “Steph and I were both … throughout lockdown, and during Covid we would go on these walks and see these signs and it was always kind of, like a bit of hope, despite everything else not feeling very hopeful.”

“It's that thing of opening up to a random page and getting a message. I've always been very into … spiritual self-help books and stuff … but I wouldn't consider [Kind is Cool] to be a self-help book or anything too scary or intense. You know, you don't need to be into self-development or anything to enjoy it. It's just kind of light-hearted and anyone can benefit from the messages that are in it.”

The small pockets of relief found in serendipitous photos have been collated into a book full of hope; celebrating the fact that yes, kindness really is cool.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs