Documentary photographer Marc Vallée has published three photography zines and is about to publish a fourth. Here he talks to us about production, distribution and reaching new audiences through self-publishing...
You’re just about to publish Number Four, your fourth zine in a series of five. How did you start self-publishing your work?
I’d been documenting graffiti writers for a year. At the end of that year I had an exhibition in the graffiti tunnel in Leake Street, London on A0 photocopies. The idea was to bring the images back to the spaces where the pictures were taken; giving it back to that audience. My graffiti zine, Writers, was the first one and it was about reaching a new audience. These days, the question is: will the professional photographer survive with everything that’s changing? It’s about trying to seek out new audiences all the time.
Has the way you shoot images for the zine changed?
The images for the latest zine were all shot on a Fuji X100, which is a different camera for me. My work camera’s very heavy, but the X100 is nice to have in the bag. I’d see stuff and just get a shot. Some of the pictures I wouldn’t have got otherwise because I wouldn’t have had the work camera at that moment.
I’m not one of these photographers that talk about cameras. I buy a camera and have it for years until it dies. For me, the pictures are the most important thing – what are they communicating, what’s the story?
What’s your approach to editing a zine?
I’m quite a tight editor. If I go out and photograph something today I’d only pull out one or two.
I print everything off and stick it on the wall of the office. You move stuff around and reject stuff, and it starts coming together. I also use editing programmes like Aperture on the Mac, which you can kind of do that with. But if you’re making an object that’s physical, that’s printed, it seems logical to print stuff out.
Your first zine was published as an edition of 200 and the next three were editions of 50. What prompted that decision?
Printing costs. If you’re doing really old-school photocopied zines you could knock out 50 copies for £60. Then if you’re charging £5 or £10 you only have to sell a few to break even. But if you’re getting them printed your costs are going up and you aren’t getting a huge amount of money back.
Whatever profit they make I plow back into the next one. New people from all around the world get to see the work and they’re taking away a piece of it for a tenner.
Why did you decide to do editions rather than print on demand?
I like the idea of the edition, signed and numbered. The object has a tangible value because it’s my pictures. Once you give it an edition you give it another value; once you sign it you give it another value, so there’s that preciousness. Also, with the first five, the format and design are the same so you’re buying into a collection. I’m a collector myself and I usually want the set.
With print on demand you don’t get that - it’s impersonal. And what if the printer is a different that day? It’s about the consistency of quality as well.
What’s been your strategy when it comes to distribution?
Most of the zines are sold from my site [through Big Cartel]. You get international customers there that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a bookshop in the UK.
With bookshops it’s literally a case of walking into small independent shops and going, “Hey I’ve got a book / zine can you look at it please?” And they do. They look at it and they make a decision there and then about if they’re going to take it or not.
One of the problems with distributing through shops is that you reach a particular audience. It may be an audience with particular weight, but you’re not getting the full money back. It’s usually 60-70% to the photographer and the rest to the shop, so if you sell online you get more of the money. Paypal take their cut but it’s a lot smaller than the bookshop.
Marc's latest zine, Milibank and that Van, is published by Cafe Royal Books.
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Image of Marc by Andrew Youngson. All other images © Marc Vallée.