Why You Should Be Making Photo Zines

As I was gearing up for the Phoenix ZineFest, I thought a lot about what an underutilized medium zines are in the model photography community. Many of us strive to be involved in a cutthroat magazine culture that is shrinking in both readership and income- you’re considered lucky if you can get published in a physical magazine for no pay, and online magazine spaces are really no different than blogs, except for the vanity press component included in things like MagCloud. Zines, on the other hand, are short-run, self-published pieces so easy to make and sell that they can double as both product and promotional giveaway.


Zine culture is largely based around the copy machine or other cheap methods of printing; neither the consumers of zines nor the producers of zines focus on the high-end object. Why? Because in the world of indie art, being poor is a badge of honor, marketing to wealth is the original sin. Zines are by the proletariat for the proletariat; we disseminate our creations and our art in the most affordable, easy-to-produce method. Often we sneak around in our day job offices to take advantage of the copy machine when no one’s looking, or we bite the bullet and invest a few quarters into printing our manifestos and confessionals. It’s easy to burn off any number of copies when supplies run low- as opposed to any other kind of vanity book publishing, which typically requires a particular threshold number of copies printed, and often at such a high cost that it’s unlikely to turn a profit at all.


Photo zines allow for the curation of themes, concepts, and series. They can be a final statement on what these photos are all about, presented in an order intended by the artist. It’s vastly preferable to guide viewership in this manner, rather than the common social media experience of a random photo from a series here and there, seen out of order or never in the context of a series. We don’t choose to read books via random paragraphs – we shouldn’t treat our visual art solely through randomized one-offs.


All creative people have had these moments of self-doubt, of loneliness, where we question whether anything we make is of any value to anyone else, including ourselves. When we create in a vacuum and only interact with others artistically via the occasional photoshoot and social media, it’s a massive erosion to our positivity and creativity. Zine culture allows you to interact with people face to face in zine fests, make work that they can hold in their hand and have a real personal, physical interaction with. You’ll see your art means something real- to real people. They’ll remember you and value your art in ways far greater than the casual swipe of an image on a smartphone.


Zine culture prides itself on inclusivity for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community- so mainstream magazine fare of models in the vein of Vogue, Playboy, Maxim etc. would be less likely to find an audience through a zine fest than something quirkier, more off-kilter and more focused on storytelling through imagery.


When making your zine, look for a common thread to your images rather than a “Greatest Hits” style package. I have put together zines focusing on one model and ones focusing on one particular style (instant film, never mixing color and black and white). When tabling at a zine fest, or selling your wares online or in a zine distro, it’s phenomenally important to be able to deliver the elevator pitch of what you’ve got – “this zine is about adventures with my daughter and includes her words of advice to her fellow first graders on Valentine’s Day”, or “this zine contains noir-ish black and white portrait photography work shot on instant film” sells a lot more zines than “this zine explores interactive graphic design of people and places I’ve shot over the last 10 years, and includes random puzzle pages…” The latter is too overly complicated- “you gotta see it to understand it” – while the former two examples evoke a certain vibe that entices customers.


I’d like to recommend some photo zines made by others. Locally in Arizona, Death West Film has put together a great collection from female film photographers. A Parade of Strangers by Ed Pavez collects a straight month of medium format street photography, Polyester Zine has colorful dark fashion with alt-models, and Buffalo Zine is a neat parody of high fashion magazines.

When the lines blur between a website, an Instagram page, a print-on-demand service like Blurb or MagCloud, and a zine, the best place to seek out authentic printed zines are a  (such as Phoenix’s Wasted Ink Zine Distro) or your local zine fest, dozens of which take place across the country. Meet real artists putting together real art at an affordable price, or be one of them yourself. There are no barriers, no gatekeepers, just the purest form of unbridled creativity.

David Miller

David Miller of Primordial Creative studio was born in 1977 in Omaha, NE. He graduated with his BFA in Photography from Arizona State University in 2006, creating portrait series that reflected both the hyperkinetic films, games and comics of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as more humanist documentary work with Indigenous communities in America and Australia. After ASU he became a teaching artist as well as exhibing around the Southwest/ West Coast and been published in numerous magazines such as Orion, View Camera, B+W/ Color, and others. In 2014 he was named as one of the top 100 Creatives of Arizona by New Times Magazine. He currently lives in Chandler with wife Vesna and 2 children, Patrick and Magdalena.

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