Review: Behind the Zines: Self-publishing Culture


Book Reviews, Photobooks


Very crudely speaking, the zine often lives at the intersection of artist books and photobooks produced by commercial publishers: From the former the zine takes the fact that it’s put together by one person, the artist, from the latter it takes the mass production. There is one aspect that makes most zines differ from artist books or commercial photobooks: Zines tend to be lo-fi affairs in terms of their production. To produce a zine you care about the making in ways that, at least superficially, is the opposite of what you’d expect from artist or commercial books. Of course, this description is rather simplistic, but you get the idea. If you’ve ever visited The Independent Photobook Blog you will be familiar with photozines - those tend to be flying underneath the radar of the photobook publishing world. (more)

A new book, Behind the Zines: Self-publishing Culture, now sheds more light on zines in general. The first thing you’ll notice when looking through the book is that my earlier description of what a zine is really was too simplistic. A zine might be a cheaply stapled collection of photocopies, but that’s not the only option. But regardless of how they are produced what unites most zines is that the seeming lack of production value actually is quite the opposite: There is a method to the madness. Photography does not necessarily have to be printed on the finest paper with ink produced from minerals mined on asteroids to work. They might look fantastic in xeroxed form, too.

Behind the Zines solves the problem of how to cover such a diverse scene by using five chapters (Gallery, Archive, Laboratory, Kiosk, and Theater), each of which at the beginning presents one publisher/artist in more detail. Theater starts out with Erik van der Weijde’s, and the photo-centered zine plays an important role throughout the whole book (interestingly enough, many of the photozines were already featured on The Independent Photobook Blog).

I can’t think of a better way to introduce the zine to the larger audience it still deserves than this new book. Zines might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the amount of creativity that goes into their making often gives commercial photobooks a run for the money. As an added bonus Behind the Zines itself looks like a zine - albeit a pretty big and heavy one.

Behind the Zines: Self-publishing Culture, 240 pages, Gestalten Verlag, 2011