In the four and a half years of my undergrad study at CCA, we call each studio class assignment a project. We would have called this the final project instead of prompt 4. However, this new name has grown on me, because this work done in the past six weeks is a start instead of a final. I started to look back at all the zines and photo books I made since the winter of 2020 when I created a folder named “some self-publishing”.
Coming from a photography and graphic design background, image and visual culture are the main inspiration for my works. Without even noticing, my artist book and self-publishing practice has also been influenced by my image-making and photography work. Starting from intertwined, my undergrad photo thesis, I worked with images I captured from different protests across countries and cultures. A recent work, 「到此一遊」 (translation: have visited this place), photographs that were taken on a night in NYC Chinatown form the sequence for this small and self-printed book. During the past six weeks, I recorded a few seconds of video of the first snow I saw in Vancouver (it was also the first snow of the season here), and made a flip book using the footage. Image has always been the essential element of my self-publishing practice.
Do It Again
Similar to a design method called prototyping which requires a designer to constantly create and make stuff while researching the topic, I like to make many iterations before I make the first batch of the book. Nonetheless, I realized prototyping is used in product development in which the outcome will most likely be a solution to a problem. The tricky thing is that my artist book practice is neither a solution, nor it’d fix anything. Therefore instead of calling it prototyping, I’d call this method “forgive yourself, do it again”.
I began obsessed with the idea of self-publishing when I graduated from my undergrad study in graphic design and photography. The first self-publishing project I did was 「世界末日大平賣」which is a photo essay that included the photographs I took in San Francisco Chinatown. One interesting thing (or I’d say it’s an eye-grabbing factor as I used to say in the GD department at CCA) about this book is that I included cardboard with a price on it which was the exact image of the price of cardboard that I encounter in a market in SF Chinatown. After I finish the first copy, I realized the trim size of the cardboard was too small compared to the real-life-size price board I’d see in Chinatown. Moreover, I thought the full-bleed photographs would benefit from a slightly bigger size if I enlarge the whole zine. Thus a second trim size which was also the size I printed multiple copies with, was bigger than the first trim. From then on, I kept this experimenting stage as a part of my design process—make a full copy first (with all of the decided materials) and progress from it (or not).
Easy to Replicate
Since I decided to dive into the world of self-publishing, I have had a significant rule or goal which is to print more than one copy for each book. Unlike visiting a museum, where an art piece is supported and framed by the space and institution, publishing by nature is free from space limits and big institutions. I don’t see my zines as individual art pieces but as publications that can be re-print and distributed again. Thus designing an easy-to-replicate book is always one of the methodologies of my book-making practice.
The first zine I made called intertwined was a part of my photography thesis. The interior pages were printed at a small commercial printer in San Francisco Chinatown; its covers were the outcome of the plotter printer from a FedEx printshop since it was the only accessible large format printer during the Delta era of the COVID pandemic. The printing accessibility allowed me to produce multiple copies at any time. Only two copies were produced for my online thesis presentation. However, after serval months, I applied for a book sale opportunity in an art studio located in Oakland. This was when I decided to print a second edition of the zine from the same printing method. Looking back, the zine luckily benefits from an unintentional design methodology that uses accessible printing and binding methods (stitch binding). I also integrate this methodology in my recent book making—refuse, a self-published photo essay I did for my prompt 3. Risograph was used in the entire book printing process, both interior and cover. Further, I used rubber bands to bind the pages together since I had a goal of making enough copies for every cohort in the studio class.
Finding my identity was the theme of my senior year of study in photography, and now it has become a life-long artist practice. As a Chinese diaspora, I’m constantly facing unfamiliar objects, cultures and knowledge every second of every day; hearing voices from Gen-Z Chinese who envision a better China like me, and from the pioneer generation of the Chinese democratic movement. With the noises, finding an identity and finding your community has become a way of self-caring and a cure for being on the other side of my home.
This practice has left many traces in my work. I connected the space between Hong Kong and San Francisco in intertwined by superimposing two laser-printed photographs. Conceptually, I am expressing the excitement of learning the different world views and political viewpoints for the first time—because in China, you can’t get a better view with all the walls. The diasporic perspective became more prominent in refuse. This photo zine has many “first times”: it’s the first time I used risograph for the entire zine; it’s the first time that I included a piece of writing, and it’s my first time using imagery to tell a story of my identity-seeking journey. The images seem not to be irrelevant in my cultural background and identity-finding practice, however, my writing, like a piece of small text on a dairy page, connects the time and space. Those photographs are the location that I have been to—I was physically in those places, then a trace has revealed itself—it’s the pattern of my identity footprint.
After I made refuse, I entered the phase of the last prompt in my first semester in grad school. I made a flip book. The content was a recording of the first snow I saw in Vancouver. The scenery of snow cheers me a lot. Growing up in southern China, I never had a chance to see snow until I started my study in the States. However, San Francisco, the city where I spent the most time other than my hometown Canton doesn’t snow. Knowing I will spend even more time in Vancouver—since I will immigrate to Canada—this snow, to me, is a mark on my immigration journey, and a symbol of my new place to live. Of course, I was so excited because I have never lived in a place that would snow in the winter.
During my presentation, I included a slide of a question: how to build a press in 2023/2024? It might be an overly ambitious goal for my grad study. I still found this question quite meaningful to my practice in a design program, and my thesis research. Building a press could mean many things: to make books, to give care, to build a community; the second part of the inquiry reminds me this is a special period in history: it’s the time when people try to walk out of the trauma of the global health crisis, but at the same time facing unimaginable challenges from geopolitics, global warming; to me, it’s the time for me to explore my book-making practice and study in a design program while working for a living while seeking immigrant status. I don’t have an answer to the inquiry, and I never will. Perhaps building a press and finding my identity are very alike—they’re a lifetime practice.
Last, after making this claim of my goal, I want to end this blog article with a quoted sentence from a little zine about publishing, Thick Press, Peer Review: Publishing the Present, as a reminder for the rest of my study in the MDes program, “…but we have no illusions that we as publishers are doing the real work of transformative justice or abolition.”