Something Tactile: Why Photographers Should Create Zines

For more, check out James’ Instagram.

Fact: digital marketing isn’t always the most effective method of marketing your photography. That’s why photographers have been creating zines for years. Of any of the photographers in the stable of the Phoblographer, James Moreton perhaps understands this the most. He’s a man who is all about something that’s tactile, film, and aesthetics. And he’s also collaborated on and made zines.

From the perspective of a photographer, I asked him to talk about the zine making process and his newest zine.

Phoblographer: What made you want to make a zine?

James: I believe the photographic book is the best medium for photography. The ability to create impact by pairing, juxtaposing and sorting pictures into a flow in order to tell a story or instill an emotion in the viewer is unsurpassed by any other photographic medium. Having something tactile in your hands that you can keep and look at on your own terms is also very important. A zine is an accessible way for someone to create this object and they can take on many different forms – from a very DIY aesthetic to high end magazine print quality.

Phoblographer: Why are you attracted to zines?

James: I really like the freedom zines enable. The ability to create something tactile, as described above, whilst having the creative freedom to do what you want is very attractive. I would like to make a book, but publishers, funding and financial pressures could potentially get in the way too much. Zines also seem to be at the cutting edge of contemporary photography; the multiple different aesthetics as described above also make zines a very interesting and intriguing modern art form.

Phoblographer: When you thought about making one, what was mostly in your head for how you envisioned it and wanted it to look, feel, etc? What did you want it to be about?

James: I wanted it to feel professional, with high quality, thick paper and good printing. I really wanted it to be one step down from a photo book. I spent a lot of of time looking for zine printing services online and eventually found one that met my needs. I also taught myself how to use InDesign in order to lay it out. In terms of subject matter, I had already been working on the series that eventually turned into the zine. I always make work with a project approach, either for a web series, exhibition or in book/zine form. For ‘Figments’ I knew the concept I was trying to investigate and express.

Phoblographer: That has to do with your own zine. But when a collective puts one out, how does the mix change things?

James: Having produced my own solo project and then being part of a collective zine; the experiences were very different! The collective zine was much more of an introductory concept – each photographer had 3 images and small amount of text to put out in order to establish the collective. We conducted some interviews (including interviewing Jason Lee) in order to give some variation to the content. The logistics behind the collective zine was probably the biggest difference, just trying to get seven creative people organised and to agree to major decisions, via a private facebook group, was probably the biggest challenge. We learnt a lot through the experience and we are now putting that learning into practise by working on our second issue, coming out in the next couple of months. Follow this Instagram to keep up to date.

Phoblographer: Why do you think photographers should make more zines?

James: I don’t think people should make zines just for the sake of it. (Just think of the trees!) I believe you should make a zine if you have a desire to express yourself through photography, or have something interesting or important to say and want to do it in a visual way. You should only be thinking of making a zine if you can think in a bigger context than single images. You must think of the whole concept and what you want to achieve.

Phoblographer: Do you feel the effort is worth it? How do you make it worth it?

James: Yes, very much. I shoot pictures on a regular basis and I’m constantly thinking about project ideas; photography is the way I like to investigate concepts and express my creative streak. Making a zine is a lot of effort, my first zine was two years in the making, there was also a lot of time in editing, promoting and then selling (packaging and posting) but I am proud of what I achieved and made enough money to cover my costs and invest in new darkroom kit. I also got some good feedback from people, my zine seemed to resonate and people understood what I was trying to portray – which I see as a success.

Phoblographer: What’s the creation process like? What big questions go through your head as you’re editing and putting stuff together?

James: I really like the creative process. All sorts of things go through my head as I start to pull a project together – elation, despair, joy, crazy self-doubt… It’s hard to describe it as there is no formula but I would suggest starting with a large pool of images and either decipher a main concept to establish the backbone of the project, or come up with the concept first and make images with that specific concept in mind. Once you have your pool of images and concept I strongly recommend printing small images out so you can lay down a flow and look at pictures side by side. You will be amazed how different pictures feel compared to staring at them on a screen! Pairing of images and the flow images in a sequence is crucial. Sometimes you really need to study and think deeply in order to pair images and sometimes it hits you right in the face. Two good images that are well paired can be transformed into something altogether more powerful – the best photographic books manage to do this.

For ‘Figments’ I had shot about 150 rolls of film over two years and then started to edit down the images I liked before making work prints and sequencing and grouping them into the rough flow. First I sequenced a set of 15/20 images for the web and asked for feedback from some trusted friends. I then worked on the larger flow as I had established the themes and certain pairings. The final stage was importing into InDesign and getting some proofs made. I even showed an early proof to Martin Parr, but he wasn’t in a great mood at that particular point in time, so I won’t elaborate on that any further. Get some feedback from people who’s opinion you value and trust. The world is a much smaller, more accessible place with social media, so don’t be afraid to ask for feedback – it’s crucially important.

Phoblographer: Tell us more about Figments. What’s the work inside like and what prompted you to turn it specifically into a zine? You get into that more generally otherwise, but this specifically, why not another project?

James: The reason Figments was turned into a zine before any other project was purely because it came to fruition and felt more complete before anything else. I had a beginning and an end and the flow fell into place using the techniques described in this article. I still have many other projects in motion but they are nowhere near complete yet.

Figments is meant to be a little peak inside my subconscious. It is meant to represent thoughts, dreams and nightmares. During the making of the work I started to see lots synergies between dreams and random thoughts that were popping into my mind – I was also obsessed with a poem called ‘Her Dream’ by William Butler Yeats that seemed to have plenty of similarities with the pictures I was making. I like to read a lot of literature and try have this rub off on my photography where possible – this is a good example of that.

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