artist book: a work of art realized in the form of a book.
The definition may sound simple, but the world of artist books can be a bewildering place. From the familiar pairing of images and text, to sculptures created out of paper and complicated bindings that create a performance each time the book is opened, nearly anything can be called an artist book if there is intention and consideration. This series showcases artists from different realms of the art world exploring the structure and meaning of the book.
The aesthetic of a zine has a distinct non-precious feel that makes it an important vehicle for burgeoning artists and writers. It doesn’t have to be slick and hard bound to be sexy—what’s most important is to get the work out there and get it seen. As an artist who’s prone to get precious with ideas and aesthetics and not let anything see the light of day until it’s perfect, a zine represents freedom that self-imposed perfection; that does not mean that a zine is any less of a perfectible and reputable art form, simply that the tactile form it takes makes it more accessible to the reader (and generally more affordable). The innate response to form variations in our culture can be a complicated blessing: imagine picking up a soft-cover smallish item with slick pages versus an item with hard covers and more pages that have a pulpy feel as opposed to glossy—what would your expectation of the contents of those two different items be? It’s those learned responses to minute form details such as paper stock that allow an artist to craft an experience when their work moves into a published form, and is also an opportunity to subvert expectations.
Daniel “Buddy” Bleckley is a Los Angeles based photographer that I had the privilege of getting to know when we were both students at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. I have seen him produce many different types of art work (everything from 8x10 black and white landscape photographs to high end studio based commercial projects) but as with many artists there was also a personal project that he was constantly working on. Personal “passion” projects offer many artists the fuel they need to stay inspired and improve their craft while working the jobs that bring in money but be more restrictive creatively than one would like. For Bleckley, that personal project was always skateboarding and the culture surrounding it, so I was beyond tickled to receive of a copy of his new zine Euphoric Youth in the mail last week, and see the new form this body of work as taken.
Initially published as a run of 200, the 5 x 7 inch zine consists of 13 folios and a heavier stock cover stapled together in the gutter. The satin finish and slightly weighty paper stock lends the zine a substantial and sturdy feel that says “I don’t need to be coddled” while containing high-quality, well-printed images.
Bleckley’s brand is clear and concise, with contact information printed inside the first page as well as on the back cover with a brief bio. Occasional captions give the viewer a secondary entry point to the subject matter of these “Euphoric Youth” without telling what is sure to be a longer story. The zine is a standalone work of art, but also functions as a teaser to the rest of Bleckley’s work, making it an effective, affordable marketing tool.
I took the opportunity this week to ask him a few questions about his experience with self-publishing:
Margaret Hall: What is the impetus for this body of work? Why did you choose to publish it this way?
Daniel Bleckley: For as long as I have been photographing I’ve been taking photos of skateboarders. I loved looking at the magazines and seeing all the awesome places those guys got to see. I knew I wanted to be one of those guys shooting the photos when I grew up, so I started taking pictures like them.
After years of shooting, I had a small collection of work with no outlet besides the portfolio on my website so I decided to self-publish a zine. It was mainly a personal thing to hand out to skate companies and friends but as I was beginning to transition out of being a photo assistant and into a full-time shooter, I wanted to make something that was appealing to skaters […]. So this body of work is actually going to be packaged alongside another zine of editorial portraits and previous jobs I have done, and sent out to photo editors, art directors, and small agencies. I made it a zine because I wanted it to be something with a handmade type of feel. The original idea was going to be newsprint but costs were almost double that of the stock I chose. I couldn’t justify the expense for something I was going to be giving away.
MH: Where was the printing and assembly done? Did you have any trouble finding a shop that was up to your standards?
DB: I went through a number of printers and got samples from some mail order places but in the end I wanted to keep it local and as hands-on as I could get it. I chose a place in West Hollywood called Gotham Press for their incredible customer service and the quality of their paper stock, and I loved how they specialized in making comic books and other small zines. The binding was done through Gotham Press, but actually at LA Press; they allowed me to be really hands on with that as well, going in the day the proof was ready and having all the edges trimmed up to create real full bleeds.
The hardest part of the designing it was just learning InDesign. I haven’t ever used the program but after calling on my good friend Marcus Guttenplan everything came together much more easily.
MH: What is the intended market for the zine? How do you intend to package it?
DB: I mainly made it for myself and my skateboard friends, but I’m sending it off to a bunch of magazines and agencies to try to get more commercial and editorial work. It’ll be packaged with a similar zine of more mainstream portraits and other work.
I actually spent a whole day driving around LA looking for the perfect envelopes to mail off to the art directors; there’s this whole “consider everything” mentality and I think I’m going to be using a recycled brown paper padded envelope with an acetone transfer for the addresses and my person branding. I also want to print out a postcard of one or two images and include them in there as well. I’m looking into small paper boxes as an option as well, but I need to order some samples online before I make any decisions.
MH: How does Euphoric Youth influence your commercial work? Is it difficult to market yourself as both kinds of photographers?
DB: I wouldn’t say it influences my commercial work as much as it just makes me want to keep shooting, and when I’m not shooting I can be doing new mock layouts for another zine. I also do make some money off skateboarding photography so to have some professional skateboarder come by and be like “I saw your zine, it looks awesome, let’s go shoot something” can lead to me selling an ad for their sponsors or get me on a trip with a team or something like that.
The marketing is something I am completely struggling with because it is such a huge part of being a photographer or artist, and the college I went to never taught me any of that. It might be because I’ve ben shooting skating for so long and commercial for only a few years, and it’s just a matter of having more skate stuff than “work” stuff.
Margaret Hall is a book artist and photographer living and working in Asheville, NC. Before moving to Asheville to train in book restoration (and live life in the mountains), she taught book arts at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, where she also received her BFA in Photography with a minor in Art History and Book Arts.