A zine (abbreviation of magazine or fanzine) is a small circulation publication, often self-published and reproduced via photocopier. They are becoming more and more popular in photography and are a very Crusader-ly way to share work (meaning they are accessible and affordable). The FOCAL POINT Q1.16 photographers (Rachael Banks, Nathan Pearce, Jordan Swartz) are all involved in the zine scene, and so we had a chat about it.
Can you give us a little background/history of zine culture - how and why zines became a popular way to share content and where you think the trend is heading?
Jordan: From personal experience/ knowledge/ research, zines first gained traction in punk culture. While existing previously in art and literary circles, punk culture brought it into a larger mass production and allowed for people to spread/ share ideas. Production was cheap (often being able to be stolen) and easy to give to others. Photography and related arts saw a resurgence in zines in the early 2000's again for the reasons of cheap production and ease of sharing. While book publishers often require large sums of money to print with, as well as larger bodies of work requiring more time and ultimately again more money, zines allow artists to get smaller amounts of information into the world and circumvent the antiquated methods of big name publishers.
Where the culture is heading is interesting because a sort of beautiful part of zines are that the makers/ publishers/ printers are often impermanent, and the ones that do stick around usually move on to larger production trends of hardcover books and larger projects. In turn, this leads to a continuing batch of new blood and ideas and content.
Do you create different work for zine projects than you put out into the world as your ongoing fine art projects? And/or do you use the zine as a way to “test” new images?
Nathan: Sometimes a zine can be a sort of sketchbook for me. Perhaps for a project I am unsure of or a project I really like but am unsure of the final direction that it will go in. I can then experiment with an edit and see how it goes.
For instance, the work I used for my split zine with Rachael (All Night Long volume 10) was from a project that wasn't complete. I had the general idea and had made a lot of work for it including rephotographing some family photos, but I couldn't make it feel like a complete project. I had no desire to show it online or exhibit it, but I experimented with an edit and made a split zine. I'm not sure it would have been interesting anywhere else, but I think it was in an appropriate place as half of a split zine. It also helped that the project was about family and place, and that went well with Rachael's work.
In projects that are more fully formed and well defined, I may use work that didn't quite make the final edit but I still like alongside pictures that are more central to the project. In this way a zine can still be unique even if I am going to use the work and re-edit it for a book later. For me, zines are the perfect place to experiment.
Rachael: I've never considered making work strictly just for zines. Usually what ends up happening is that I have a smaller selection of images or stand alone images that I am excited about but they don't necessarily fit in with the rest of my work. For my ongoing series Between Home and Here, I always end up having a lot of images that I consider outtakes. It's not that they are bad images but they might not fit in with my larger series of work in terms of theme or they look too repetitive next to an image that fits the series better.
I definitely also utilize zines as a way to put my work out in the world and see how people react to images, without going completely broke. In the past, it hasn't been uncommon for me to use images from a series in both a fine art and DIY zine context. It's really important to me that my art is accessible and affordable for everyone. I don't think my work only has to or needs to function in a "higher" fine art community. The work I make is about family and home. We all have a family and/or home in some way, so I don't see why my work can't be available to anyone.
Jordan: Zines are and have long been a part of my working process, because I don't make work in the traditional body sense. I'm just always photographing, and if the photos work together, then they go together. Zines allow me to be democratic about my editorial process and have old and new images share space and be given equal opportunity. Text is also a large part of my work and works great in the pages of a zine.
How large is the zine market?
Rachael: The zine market is huge! I have no idea how many are possibly being made, but I see them everywhere, and I think even more zines are being put out than before now that self-publishing is a rising trend among artists . Around September of 2015, I attended the Dallas Zine Party (Founder: Randy Guthmiller) and experienced it as a really great opportunity to meet new artists from and around the Dallas (but also Houston and maybe Austin) area. This was a really valuable experience for me, because in my time living in Texas, I found that when I'm not teaching or making my own work in a different state that my knowledge of Dallas artists is a little more limited than I would like for it to be. The zine party was a great resource for me in terms of expanding my knowledge and appreciation for local artists.
Jordan: I have no idea how many zines are produced every year, but I'd say in the millions. It's a huge part of our culture now and has also very much spread to mainstream, where fashion magazines will now include smaller editorials in a stand-alone zine that's placed inside the magazine.
Nathan: There are thousand of zine makers out there, and lots of zine fests are popping up. The crowd of photo zine makers (and buyers, sellers, etc.) is much smaller. I have attended several zine fests in the last few years, and it's pretty common for there to only be 2-3 people selling photo zines out of the hundreds of other zines. They are gaining traction though.
I think a lot of people who aren't initially familiar with more traditional zine culture come to be interested in making and consuming photo zines through their interest in photobooks. Because of that, I think there are more photo zines at art and photobook fairs and photobook stores than places that specialize in zines. There are exceptions though like the 8-ball zine fair where you are likely to find lots of photo stuff. Despite photo zines being just a small fraction of both zine and photobook scenes, I find both of those crowds to be full of very positive people so the reception for photo zine releases is usually great.
Through those crowds I have found a lot of people who buy zines we put out through Same Coin Press. Some are photographers but many more aren't. I think the fact that they are affordable plays a big part in their popularity. Not only because it’s a very small financial commitment to pick one up, but also because people don't feel precious about them after buying them. I'm sure lots of folks collect them and place them next to their signed first edition photobooks, but there seems to be an equal amount who buy them and leave them on the back of their toilet in their crappy apartment. I'm sure there are lots of people who fall in between those two as well. For some people I really think it's some of the first art they have purchased. Folks that either aren't able to buy a print for hundreds of dollars or those who can afford it but haven't yet made that commitment can own the work of a photographer they love for $10 or less. What they are getting is something really cool, and because it is likely made in a very small print run it's instantly collectible. It's like gateway art collecting I suppose. People are building low-rent photography collections. I know I am.
How do people get their zines out there?
Jordan: I think a lot of getting your zine out there is sort of knowing where you see yourself. The first thing I say to people when they ask where their zine should go is, “Where do you get your zines from? How do you find out about new work?” Depending on how many you have made or the preciousness of your own zine, sell them at record stores, leave them on the bus, send them to photographers or other artists whose work you enjoy. I used to slip my zines inside photobooks or novels that I was a fan of so someone who also enjoys that work may find mine.
Rachael: In terms of how zines get out in the world, people do a wide mix of things. Personally, I get my own zines distributed through self-promotion and social media. I will also sometimes send free zines to editors/artists/friends who I specifically want to see my work. When I was first introduced to zines, it was when I was a teenager at punk shows and at independent book stores/community centers.