I have recently been going through the process of designing my own zine from the images that I shot while in Japan with the intent to print a limited run of maybe 50 copies. Part of this process has involved picking the brains of a few guys that I have been following for a while online. Guys who have had some experience in the publishing side of things as far as these little self published photo zines go. I think the self publishing of small print run photo publications in this day and age of the internet and social media is a special thing, and I would like to try and feature the work of some of the artists here. One such guy is Chris Leskovsek. A Chilean living in Aukland. He has been kind enough to spend some time answering some questions about his work and his great little zine series, Øbservations. Below is the teaser video of issue number 1. I am posting issue number 1 as the video for the post for two reasons. First, its number 1. Second, its the one I am missing so I like to look at it this way as I dont have a hard copy and Chris doesnt have any copies left.
Hey Chris, thanks for spending some time to have a chat about your work and your publications. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work.
No problem, thank you for the opportunity Tristan.
My name is Chris Leskovsek, I'm originally from Santiago, Chile but I've been living and working in Auckland, New Zealand for the last 3 and half years.
I'm an Art Director/Designer by day and Photographer the rest of the time. I was brought to Auckland to work in advertising which turned out to be a sweet & sour experience. On the other hand, Photography has always been in my life, and actually is the reason on why I became a designer in the first place, but never consider it or did it more 'seriously'. I should point out that is hard for me to stand still for long periods of time, I 'need' to be moving somehow, and the routine of working for 10+ hours in front of a screen inside an office was really driving me mad. That's when I grabbed the camera and started walking with it for hours and hours. Lunch breaks, after work, weekends, etc. Then it clicked. I liked that I can 'create' images, tell my stories, while on the go. ~2 years have passed since I've been doing so, and I'm really focused into what people call the Everyday and/or Documentary Photography.
After a year or so I realized that I wanted to do something else with my work than getting a few "likes" in this or that digital outlet. Then came the Photobook world, as a result of looking for places to show my work (Galleries, museums, etc) here in NZ. And I was hooked. The perfect mixture in between design and photography on one. That is when I started, back in October or November 2013 with my "Øbservations" series, about my wanderings around Auckland specifically.
Santiago… Very cool Chris. Can you tell us some of the differences between shooting in Chile and shooting in New Zealand?
Well to start Santiago (the city I'm from) has almost twice the population of the whole of New Zealand, actually, Santiago has roughly 6 times more people than Auckland (where I currently live). Funny thing, is that Santiago having almost 6 times more population than Auckland, is also half the area size. So that's already a big difference. haha. Jokes aside, differences are more cultural than anything else.
I feel that people in New Zealand are more reserved than in Chile, also New Zealand feels more of a 'tourist' destination than Chile (whatever that means). A lot of people come and go, there's immigrants everywhere in NZ, people from all over the world come to NZ, whereas in Chile is not like that. If you are landscape photographer I think Chile has more variety of scenery than NZ, while NZ is more of an 'adventure-hippie-surf-chill' proof country. NZ to me feels like the capital of the backpacker. And Chile on the other hand is not like that. I'm not saying one is better than the other, just sort of trying to explain some of the differences. I know that I would love to go back to Chile and shoot more.
Now for the type of photography I like to do, I think theres options anywhere. Good stories usually happen in your 'backyard' right? But, I believe there's more social matters happening in Chile than NZ. Sometimes NZ feels 'to good to be true', which makes it a really quiet place. For example if you are a street photographer, this is NOT the place to be, compared to many others.
How do you think that spending more time in New Zealand has changed the work that you have been doing?
Tough question. When I came here to continue my career as an Art Director/Designer I faced many frustrations. So when I picked the camera as my own personal way of 'writing down my everyday life', New Zealand has been key, in a very positive way.
NZ is a very, very small country, there's only a handful of places to showcase photography in the country, so you have to be creative with your work. That is one of the reasons I started publishing 'Øbservations', I wanted to share my work with people outside flickr and instagram, so I could put my work out there. I've made some great friends along the way and that is great.
I really enjoy the Observations series, they are a great little take on Aukland. Can you tell us a bit about publishing something, and what it means to be in print?
Thanks!, I'm glad you like them.
I started Øbservations as a way to share my thoughts, and of course images about my wanderings around different parts of Auckland. Somehow I've been living here long enough to 'know' the place but short enough so that I'm not an 'Aucklander' yet. So that 'outsider' spirit still leaves in me when I'm out there walking. And I prefer that. Also, before I started publishing 'Øbservations' I had a bunch of images that didnt work as a 'single' image, but when put together with other ones, made perfect sense. Stories. I wanted to tell my stories beyond single image platforms such as flickr or instagram (don't get me wrong though, I use them and love them and have helped my work tremendously but they dont work other than to show single images). So I decided to build a dummy of the first Øbservations and shared it with other photographers from overseas and form NZ to see their feedback and input. I think I did 5 rounds before getting the first one published. It was a great excercise.
Also using my background in graphics and illustration, it was an obvious and very simple decision to sit down on my computer and lay out a book/zine. But publishing involves a lot more than just putting something together on your computer. You need a printer, test runs, define a print run, then stock them with boxes at home, handle all the promotion, and wait for the first orders to arrive only to start doing the handling, packaging and shipping all by yourself. In my case, I do have a department of logistics, aka, my wife. hahaha.
For me, your work (illustrations, paintings, or photography) needs to live within the real world and not behind of a screen. Things feel different. There's textures, details, smells that no 1200 million dpi screens will ever give you. People react differently when they see an image on instagram than on a book, or gallery or museum. So for me, doing Øbservations, I wanted that. I want people to spare a few minutes or hours of their life just to sit down and enjoy my work. Also, for me self publishing helps independent or upcoming artists/photographers to showcase their work than no other entity, gallery or museum wants to showcase. Photobooks are or feel like your own little 'gallery show' that you can revisit as many times as you want. You can share it, study it, and what's most important to me, you don't forget it. Usually, when you go to a show, you forget a great amount of it after the next few weeks, with books and magazines, is not like that.
Your comment about wanting to branch out from the digital side of things are really interesting. Where do you see photography moving with the beast that is the internet?
Well, everyone is a photographer now and the Internet has given everyone a voice, but because of this, now the search for good artists (in any creative area) is like searching a needle in a haystack, you know?. I see the internet as just another platform to put your work out there. It feels like 'raising the hand in the middle of a big classroom waiting for the teacher (galleries, museums, publishers, brands) to pick you up', but after someone 'picks you up' then you really have to showcase your work in real life, and whatever that might be, it will for sure be out of a computer one way or the other.
Since there is a sea of photographers out there competing for more followers and virtual likes, I think I'm focusing more on personal journals, and photobooks. I believe in photobooks, as they are a real object that has thoughts a story behind them, they were laid out in a certain way by the photographer which is always unique, and like I said before, the fact of having a real thing in your hands is different than flicking through whatever internet gallery you have on your bookmarks.
But the internet will be key in helping to wider your audience and distribute your work overseas. In fact almost all my books go overseas. And that was absolutely unexpected when I started publishing 'Øbservations'. Internet with a bit of luck can also help you out to reach to publishers, gallerists, etc. Is a double edge sword in the end.
Can you elaborate a little on the photobook conversation and the layout of your own zine? Maybe a little about the process you used?
Well, for this particular project, Øbservations, I wanted to publish a journal with my everyday photography, for some reason, every time I sat down to design one, themes and stories pop up. Editing, has been a great lesson on how to edit my work. Also a window of two months is in between publications, and that has also pushed me to shoot almost every day. And that has been great.
Now, when I'm laying out the books I usually start in lightroom, were I pick what I think it could work and put it into a selection, then I jump onto the slection and start sequencing my thoughts. After that when I lay out the book sometimes I edit the work even further. For example is easy for me to start each issue with around 60-70 images that only 15 to 20 gets printed on each book. After that, I send it to the printer and wait for the test print, were I check paper quality, contrast, crops, details, etc. After that I usually hit the "print button" and wait for the box to arrive.
Then I usually upload it onto my website and start promoting through different networks. When orders come in, I pack them, and ship them as quick as possible.
Another thing is that I try to make this books as affordable as possible so more people would be interested in checking out my work and buy one. That's why I try to keep my prices as low as possible, I hardly make any money by doing so, yet that is not my point when creating this books. This is a personal project that I share publicly. To my surprise, I have lots of people from different parts of the world order a copy or two which has been incredible for me.
Black and white images in your work are very strong tonally. I am a little biased in this fact, but do you shoot any colour as well? If not, why?
Thanks for that man. Yes, I do shoot color. I hardly publish them though, but Im thinking of doing a color project in the future. All my cameras are set to display and record in b/w. Seeing in black and white is different than seeing in color, I don't see in b/w but my camera does, and when I see through it, I see things differently. Black and white is personal, intimate, feels like a different reality. My reality. And that's what my work is about. A personal vision of life and the world.
Anders Petersen said something about this, that I agree completely:
"In black and white there are more colors than color photography, because you are not blocked by any colors- so you can use your experiences, your knowledge, and your fantasy, to put colors into black and white."
When I shoot color I'm seeing reality, and Im not really interested in reality unless I'm criticing it, which I intend to do in the future.
Last of all, is there anything else that you would like to say as some parting advice for others that might be interesting in self publishing?
A lot has been said that you don't get into photography to make money. But selfpublishing your own work is like making an statement about your work and your intentions as a photographer. You do it because you simply love to do it, and want to share with others. nothing else. So, be aware that when you do start publishing your work you have to give a lot more than you think, before you get very little back. Perhaps one day, someone will pick that little book left behind at the very end of the shelf long after you are gone, and read your story. At least I know that is my goal, I publish to leave and give something back to life.