Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The shift towards ZINES EVERYWHERE

Hi again!
First and foremost, I changed up the color scheme again, because as much as I love physically putting my words in the Black Box I want to be easy on y'alls eyes, and also on my own eyes even though I still refuse to use any font but courier.

Now that I have that over with, I've been thinking a lot about zines and magazines, whatever you'd like to call them, specifically the contemporary online kind. I've recently been brought onto the team at two with a decently large readership which is really exciting! I never truly had the chance to develop much of a relationship with Rookie because of their submission model and my short time with them, so a chance to be part of a team is already motivating to me, and the main reason I went for it was for the added push to create on the regular, especially with Rookie gone. In the past, just being part of Instagram's community would have been a push enough, but time changes any environment.

One of the best ways to characterize my beginnings with photography is to say I started out with Instagram. I know many photographers who are proud they were the pre-instagram generation, but I'm not ashamed of it. It was a joy to have so much at my fingertips no matter what platform. I have recollections of finding fantastical levitation edits by Lucy Maude Ellis and Lissy Elle there and having that wondrous I WANT TO DO THAT feeling, and doing it, sharing it, and finding joy in the community Instagram had to offer when I was thirteen.
Of course, the end-all-be-all of being a Teenage Instagram Photographer (TIP for short, if you know you know) was having your work shared on one of the big, popular feature pages, something that could get you hundreds more followers, a sense of credibility, and pure high school happiness. As we grew up, many of these photographers were able to turn this hobby into a career––but the shift from hobby to money-maker is reflected in the end result as well as the creative process. The standard for images became higher, yes, but sometimes in ways I still begrudge. The more time went on, the more these pages featured images that adhered only to trends, and the more those trends moved from amateur to professional the more we lost out on these pages being something that brought excitement and support to people developing their craft and instead just posted pictures by, well, professionals. 
Eventually we lost what I felt was a liberating celebration of young people and their voices in 
favor of the trite glorification of agency models once again. We get it! Skinny people with pre-approved faces look nice! Try harder than that. But time does that, trends do that.

Enter 2018: Rookie Magazine, arguably the first major publication to give teenagers a voice away from corporate interests, shuts down, but its influence remains. Every day or two I get a new follow from an empty Instagram profile whose bio says New Zine for Generation Z Creatives and ActivistsSUBMISSIONS OPEN!Coming Next Month. In recent months especially, I've noticed a shift away from social media-specific promotion like feature pages and towards getting published in zines, big and small. People love the professional, grown-up allure of being "published," it's undeniable––and I know many people dream of creating a platform for young voices.

My first thought was a sense of reassurance and pride that my generation, most notably those even younger than me, are moving towards a medium that emphasizes using one's creative voice, and even more valuably, creating a thoughtful body of work, since a series format is much more likely to be published than individual images. It's much more difficult (and in my opinion, more rewarding) to think through a series or planned photo shoot than to put your energy into one-off images, which profit more readily off trends and clich├ęs. It forces us to emphasize meaning, vision, and important themes with our work. I think that in theory, the format helps to preserve art as art and not simply as a shot at notoriety.

But what if that shot at notoriety is just now operating on the greater scale of entire publications?

As I said, barely a few days go by without me coming across another small zine through Instagram.
I feel as though the online zine market is already running pretty rapidly towards overflow.
And it doesn't feel like what I know of the xerox zines from before my birth (not that it needs to be, innovation is a valuable thing). The themes are similar across generations: art, poetry, activism, offbeat expression and social change. But now, instead of passing them around to friends and classmates and record store patrons––using them as an end, a creative outlet––I feel as though they're being used as a means to an end: a shot at making one's curatorial vision seen above all the others. Because of the growing popularity of the online zine medium, I get the impression many of these small publications have already sold out the minute they go online. Want to gain a following in 2019? Hoping to have it jump start your career as big-name music photographer, part-time art curator, and freelance mini-mozart slash chalk artist? Think you have what it takes to be the next Tavi Gevinson? Start a zine! (Spoiler alert: Tavi Gevinson was lucky and what makes her special is that she was the first to do something we're now seeing by the hundreds). As it is, I find it difficult to differentiate between publications and if they have anything unique to offer. Platforms "for Gen Z writers and artists" are commonplace now, so what kind of vision will make future zines stand out from each other?

You might hear me use that saturated market thing a lot on this blog. I could easily wear it out, and maybe I have already. But god it's relevant! Watching the world flood with the Next Best Thing In Art™ over and over again wears me out too, even though I know the cycle will always continue. I don't believe there is a truly limited amount of space for voices in the world––a niche exists for nearly everything––but it's also undeniable that there are limits on peoples' time and how many publications they can pay attention to. Just as much as The Algorithm killed the Instagram experience for artists, the total saturation of the app simply made it more difficult to be seen after some time and I have little doubt the same paradigm will exist with zines in short order. With so many people not only inspired by Rookie and its legacy, but also by sites like Adolescent pushing "content creation"
and partnering with zines, it feels like the way forward, but the way forward is only ever the way forward for so long.

The most important thing to me is genuine work and making things that mean something to the artist. It is so much easier to tell than you might think when someone does something in hopes of striking it rich in some way. I'm interested in being published because I'm aiming for some kind of side career in photography or media and would like to get some credentials and bylines and more formal experience as well as find the visual arts community I've lacked for a while. I want to see where it will take me, personally and artistically. I always find my creativity slowed when it is not a labor of love to some degree––and my only hope is that the good of the online zine movement outweighs any bad that could come when the––wait for it––market saturates.

Do people still comment on blogs? I mean it when I say I want to start a conversation about the things I say here. I'm not asking you a question in my Instagram caption to boost my views, I want to have discussions, and not only share my voice, but talk with others about things I don't feel are being talked about much. Hoping to hear from you?

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Black Box

Hi, I'm Zophia. It feels weird introducing myself. I want this to be less focused––for now––on the idea of "Zophia" for once and more on the blog itself, even if I am here to talk about my own thoughts.

It's been a while since I've really blogged. In that time, I've done many things: graduated high school, moved, started college, started music school, had photo work published, grown personally and creatively, to name so, so few. After all, it's been what, at least three or four years or so?

In that time, the "creative" market seems to have become absolutely saturated. I don't know if calling yourself a "creative" was even a thing four years ago. Sometimes I wonder if I stopped blogging at the wrong time and then felt unsure about ever coming back to it knowing that not only was it harder to gain readers, blogging in general was a dying art. Sometimes I wonder if my photography productivity slowed down at the wrong time too, as flickr died off and Instagram became more and more flooded with young photographers claiming time and space. But ultimately I slowed down to take care of myself, to explore other interests, and to be more thoughtful about my artwork in a way that, now that I've worked through it, I am reaping the benefits of as I come back from a long period of rest with energy and ideas. I think I realized the fields were so full of people and I stepped back knowing I didn't have anything unique to say at the time. Now that I am energetic, it should scare me more that there are so many more people in the industry, but it is scaring me less than it used to.

I do believe that if many of us who make art were born a few years earlier, we would be more "successful" in art and media by conventional measures than we are now. Not to say that we're owed something or there was space for everyone at some magical point, but instead that we missed the "sweet spot" that some artists themselves have acknowledged as allowing them the luck to launch a career: the market had not yet begun to saturate, and the eyes of the powers that be were easier to capture––especially as a young person sharing work on the internet, which was still unique at the time. Then again, I acknowledge I've been working against this odd desire for the arbitrary designation of child prodigy for years now, and it continues to become more of a moot point, especially now that I'm in my twenties. So is this really the shame I think it is? I'm not sure.

But I've always loved blogs. I've read them since before junior high––fashion, crafting, writing, whatever the passion-du-jour was. So I wanted to make an plain, old-style blog for myself, like before, but pared down. A lightly curated space for my own missives, without the metrics of Instagram or the frills of a magazine. Just a simple platform for me to think out loud again, to feel like I don't need "meaning" to carry my camera around and use it and share it, and to ponder the questions I have about what I do that I am sure not to be alone in. Will this be fruitful in some way? Are blogs relevant in 2019? Is this my feeble attempt to tap into my own nostalgia as if pretending I was born a few years earlier would have made my life more interesting?

I think it really just comes down to the fact that I have grown and I feel like I have something to say again.

The Black Box
My working title was "Fish in the Black Box," which is weird, but had a ring to it. It stuck to me, so my intuition told me to start in that direction. I guess to break the initial idea down, it starts with the phrase "fish out of water," and has its origins in how I felt, and still feel sometimes, studying at a conservatory after not deciding to study music until the week I graduated high school and never taking a voice lesson before I turned nineteen. I dropped the Fish only because I knew it wouldn't fit eventually, I am not near the ocean, I do not like fish, and I should find a way to get rid of it.

The idea of the black box first came from the opera black box, a small performance space for more experimental or unconventional operas at Eastman, similar to any black box theater you'd find elsewhere. It was after the name stuck that I thought about the space not just as a physical marker of the school, but as the experimental space it is.
The former dean of the Eastman school, and later president of the University of Rochester, Paul Burgett, used to give this famous lecture about stepping into the "Fiery Furnace," about how feeling small and weak and terrified and stood before a sea of flames will make us stronger when we step back out later––and about how really, we are all in this furnace together.
I think that just as much as we are all stepping into the Fiery Furnace throughout life, we are stepping into the Black Box too, the thing that is not so much inferno as it is pure mystery and confusion and possibility at the same time. Sometimes I do just feel like I'm not in the same furnace as most of my Eastman classmates anyways, as many of us maybe do, ironically. So I think the Black Box captures it better, this place full of secrets and potential where we are all stepping on each others' feet and fumbling around in the darkness hoping our eyes will adjust.

So, here I am out of water and in the Black Box. It's redundant, really. This "we're-not-in-Kansas-anymore" feeling about life and goals. Time to tumble through the dark and complain about how it's hard to breathe oxygen sometimes.

Welcome to the Black Box.