What I learned from making Zines

This week I released two Photography Zines for sale, and until 30th June all profits from any sales will be donated to the charity Caritas here in Spain. Caritas helps those in need by providing food, clothing and much more throughout the country. It’s my way of doing something – albeit small – to help those who are struggling during these times of crisis.

The two zines are from the two projects I worked on throughout last winter, La Huerta Valenciana and the depopulation of the old town in Segorbe. You can see photographs of the finished articles below, and can order copies – if you’re interested, and can afford to do so without causing yourself financial difficulties – here: https://www.blurb.es/user/OwainShaw

Sharing a link to the Zines is all very well, especially when profits are being donated to a worthy cause, but besides that I also wanted to share a little bit about what I learned from the experience of editing and putting together the two publications.

Editing

Editing (not post-processing but selecting) was the most time-consuming part of the process. I had previously edited both sets of work in order to create their respective pages on this website, and had also edited a selection of photographs from both projects for other purposes – a grant application and an exhibition, in which one of my photographs from Segorbe was ultimately featured. However, neither of these edits would be useful for the zines. The one edit which did prove of some use was the selection of photographs I had made to print at 20x30cm for my own collection. In any case, considerable time had passed since I last sat down and evaluated both bodies of work, time in which my thoughts about the projects had also changed.

Given that I was going over the work with fresh eyes and different – if not entirely fresh – ideas, I decided to go through both bodies of work in their entirety rather than basing any new edit off of previous ones. I did this because a book, or a zine in this case, is not the same as a screen, and certainly not the same as the Internet or social media where single images compete for attention. The book is not a collection of individual photographs in the same way an Instagram feed is. A book has a story, or a rhythm and a flow to it, and not every individual photograph needs to stand out to the viewer, but can guide them towards the next or contribute a subtle detail to the overall picture that is the book. Photographs which might previously have been overlooked in edits for other purposes might now become important parts of the zines. Likewise photographs which are strong on their own, individual terms, might not have fitted in with the overal structure and feel of the zine.

Photographs such as the two above, might not stand out as individual images, and would almost certainly not succeed on social media but each adds something to the overall story of the different projects. The photograph from La Huerta Valenciana shows a little detail of the irrigation systems which feed the land including the name of a local town where the stone cover was made and an orange – also common to the region – dropped by either a passing worker or lorry. The photograph from Segorbe shows one of its steep, cobbled streets with only a very narrow, stepped pavement – where a handrail is deemed necessary – for pedestrians alongside. These details might get lost on the Internet but in the more considered viewing of a book have time and space to contribute to the bigger picture.

Having decided that I wanted to make zines for both projects, I began the editing process for both simulateously and worked alternately in stages. I used Adobe Lightroom and started off with the complete set of photographs for both projects – around 1000 in the case of La Huerta Valenciana and around 800 in the case of Segorbe, made (with a few extras I had made earlier) over a period of about five months.

There are possibly better tools out there, but Lightroom works quite well with its star rating system. I made a first pass through both bodies of work giving one star to photographs I liked for any particular reason. Given the number of photographs involved, these first passes took the longest, and I think I had to call it a day afterwards with La Huerta down to a little over 300 and Segorbe down to just under 200.

The following day I made a second pass of each of these initial edits, assigning two stars more selectively and beginning to think about the things which I thought it was important to show in each project. In the case of similar photographs I started to think about which was stronger, but also which might fit in with those general ideas I had in mind for the project. Alternating between the two projects gave me a little bit of space for reflection before each subsequent edit. I worked with a rough target of around 40 photographs per project and eventually got down to 38 from La Huerta Valenciana and 32 from Segorbe, with which I was happy.

Sequencing

These would not be the final edits, however, because sequencing would see further changes made to both. The edit was a good working base with which to start, but was not the final contents of either zine – both saw some photographs return in order to add or complete parts of the story, or partner with another image, as well as photographs which had to be removed because they did not fit in with the overall sequence.

‘Kill your Darlings’ is a common expression among authors and editors, and it’s also true with photography. A photograph you may love, may ultimately add little, nothing, or even subtract from the story as a whole. Even if one of these darlings makes it through the edit, sequencing is when you realise that it actually doesn’t fit and, however much you want to keep it, has to go for “the greater good“. It’s also when the unsung photographs start to show their worth and find their place in things.

Neither of these photographs is especially strong on its own, though both have their merits and were made for a reason. Paired together, however, their colours complement one another and both provide details and fragments, both add texture to the story of the streets of Segorbe which other photographs, perhaps more striking at first, would not provide.

I found that there were two steps to sequencing – a micro and a macro level. Firstly I had to put the photographs together in sequences which worked on an image to image level, making sure that the photographs worked well together. Then I had to make sure those individual sequences worked together to create an overall sequence for the zines.

I put the zines together using Blurb’s software Bookwright which I found worked plenty well enough for my needs as a photographer wanting to create something pretty simple to show my photographs. I don’t know how to do flashy piece of graphic design, but by keeping it simple I can normally manage to make something that looks clean and classic – as Dirty Harry said, “a man’s got to know his limitations”.

I imported all my photographs and started pairing them together, starting with those which I could immediately see would work well together, or which had been made as pairs or sets from the beginning. When I noticed that I had gaps in a particular page layout, I would decide whether to go back to my edits and add a photograph which might complete that page, or whether the gap wasn’t a sign that something was missing but that there was excess. Once I had my sets of photographs laid out, Bookwright allows you to overview the entire publication which helps with deciding the overall sequence, and it’s easy to move a page or double-page spread around within the publication.

A screenshot of one of my page layouts from La Huerta Valenciana. I put these photographs together because of the common theme of earth, and earthy brown tones.

Just in case anyone unable to carry on with their suspicious mind, I have no prior affiliation with Blurb and my own copies of the zines were bought with my own money. It was my first time using them to make a zine or any other product, but I found the process really straighforward and I’m sure I’ll make more zines, for myself if nothing else, in the future.

Creating

This in fact leads us to probably the most important thing I learned – which was that making a print publication of my work proved to be really worthwhile for me personally.

Having spent a lot of time working on creating the photographs last winter, my work deserved something more than to live on my hard drive, in the ever-expanding depths of my Instagram feed … or even in my collection of prints which I never really show anyone. I decided that I couldn’t really justify making either project into a book, but that a zine would mean that there was a finished product for both projects that I could show people and of which I could be proud.

The process of creating the zine forced me to revisit the work, spend some more time with it and critically evaluate the strong and weak points of my projects. It was a positive process because although I was making a hard edit of my work, I was doing so in order to produce something from it, to make it all into something real.

I was really excited when my copies of the zines arrived, and honestly, making the zines has given me more pride in the work I have produced. It’s a lot more satisifying to say “I made this” about a book I can hold in my hands or give to someone, than to say “I made this” and show someone a small image on a mobile phone screen. I intend to make at least one more with a past project, but it’s also something I will definitely be doing more regularly with future work. It isn’t expensive to produce a zine like this, and I think it definitely has more value than the money it costs.

Whatever it is that you create, I’d recommend doing something like this even if it’s just for your own appreciation of what it is you do. Depending on what it is you make, there might be different ways of working or creating something which works for you, but in any case, I just want to encourage anyone reading this with a creative pursuit, photography, writing, illustration or any other, to get their work off a screen and into the world. You’ve worked hard to create something, it’s a shame for it to live on a computer forever.

If you’re still reading, then I’ll end with a reminder that my two zines are available for sale, and that 100% of profits from any sales before June 30th will be donated to Caritas here in Spain. I decided that this would be a way to add some social value to the work I’ve created, and for anyone interested in my work to get a proper copy of something I’ve made in their hands. You can purchase either of the zines from the link below:

https://www.blurb.es/user/OwainShaw

Thank you very much for reading.

7 Comentarios

  1. Very nice Owain! Happy for you about the zine and thank you for sharing the detailed explanation into your workflow. I totally agree with you, it is something special to see your work printed and finalized with a book, zine, exhibition…
    I’m working on a lockdown zine at the moment, editing process right…;)

    1. Hey Yuri,

      Thanks for the feedback – hopefully there was something useful in there for you. In the past I’ve often shied away from printing work, but this was a pretty painless process and I’m really happy with the results so I can see myself doing it a lot more.

      Are you making your Lockdown zine for yourself or for publication? I might make one for myself and close friends, as a record of this time to look back on one day. Good luck with the editing process – give it time, and then when you get to something you’re happy with – go for it!

  2. Ahh, I’ve done printing via Photobox and have been happy with their stuff too – for the price you really can’t go wrong. Similarly though, I looked at making a photo album with them years ago and it quickly got very expensive – I think that’s why I didn’t think of them this time, but I might have to try a zine with them too. Blurb’s zines seemed reasonable to me, and I was happy with the quality when it arrived.

    I think books on demand get expensive pretty quickly whichever publisher you use – in some ways it’s inevitable, they’re printing a single copy of a book on demand, it’s not something that can be done cheaply. If you try to add some profit on top, then it becomes something that few people are going to buy, unfortunately.

    Zines work well, though and I think I’m going to stick with those until I have something I think really needs to be a book.

  3. I understand. I’m sticking to self publishing for now and i love zines format and idea. Will keep making them too. I think whatever platform you choose, you have your reason. I think it’s awesome to print your work, images and stories that you can enjoy years later. Except for your blog maybe not a single social media photo platform can give you that satisfaction.

    1. Agreed. I think blogs and websites are the better digital platforms because you have some control over the presentation, can add text and more of the story. Social media just passes by too quickly – images are too small and somehow simultaneously too many and not enough.

      I’m glad I made these zines, and it’s definitely something I want to keep doing now I’ve started – wish I had started earlier but I can’t do anything about that other than making sure I keep going now. I’ll make a Lockdown one as well, like you say, for the memories years from now.

      And yeah, the important thing is that whatever platform you use brings you results with which you’re happy.

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