The creative process behind the Commutare zine was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Not only as a creative, but also as a person. Before all of this, a photo zine was for me a simple photo collection that wanders around a particular theme. It can be that, sure. But it can be so much more too! And there is a lot more work to make one that one might think.
In this post, I’ll share with you the process I went through to make this zine so that you can learn from my mistakes and also by what I did.
About the Commutare Zine
Commute: to make the same journey regularly between work and home.
It all starts when we wake up in the morning. Everything is still dark and cold. It also ends in a similar note early in the evening. We all go through our own commutes every day of the week.
It is easy for us to enter into autopilot mode and to disconnect to everything around us such that we only go home to work and work to home. We start to focus more on our personal problems, goals, and to-do lists at the cost of looking around and appreciate everything around us. I spent more than three whole hours in commute time every day when I made this project. And that was a huge part of my daily life.
Commutare is a 36-page photo zine with a written narrative to show us that we can see beauty every day and at every moment of our lives. If we can see it while commuting, which can be difficult because everything is so familiar, then we can also see it anywhere else as well.
For this zine, I woke up slightly earlier every day for two months in late 2019 and shot several rolls of film. It was a beautiful and rewarding experience for me. Not only it filled me with gratitude and awe in some particular moments, but it also challenged me as a photographer.
Now that more than half a year has passed, I look at these images and realize that so much has changed. I don’t need to commute and part of the world has stopped. Only a few commute now.
Coming Up With an Idea
How well would you do if I just asked you to come up with an idea for a zine in the next 5 minutes, hours, days, or even weeks? Probably not very well. At least I didn’t. A good starting point to learn and make a zine would be to just choose a specific subject to photograph and stick with it – for instance, lamp posts. It probably isn’t the most rewarding idea to work on, but it’s part of the learning process.
I probably shouldn’t have skipped the step that I just mentioned above. I spent weeks trying to get an idea for a zine without much success. Until something happened in my life – for the first time in my life, I was going to definitely live away from my family house. I was happy to live closer to my current job but then something dawned on me. My hour and a half commute that I did throughout years of my life were reaching an end.
The commute was horrible – a total of three hours every day – but it was such a part of me that I felt emotional about reaching its end. I then decided that I had to document this commute before I moved to my new house.
Working and Evolving the Idea
In the beginning, I wasn’t even thinking of making a zine out of it. I just simply wanted to capture it how I would remember it. I started by waking up earlier so that I could have some time in my commute to stop and think about what I would want to capture. As I was doing this, I started to be so involved in this process that I loved it. I started to see more beauty in something that I mind-numbingly went through every single day.
My initial documentary idea evolved into something more. Not only I wanted to document it, but I also wanted to show everyone that we can see beauty every day and at every moment of our lives. If we can see it while commuting, which can be difficult because everything is so familiar, then we can also see it anywhere else as well. This is where I thought about making a zine out of the idea.
Seeing beauty in places that are too familiar to us is hard. Everything is so boring and uninteresting. Is it really? Or is it only our perception of it? Maybe we can explore that. The famous photographer, Paul Strand, did something like this in his photo book The World On My Doorstep.
Adding a Story to the Idea
A commute has a beginning, middle, and end. Why not do the same in the zine? Build a narrative story about it whilst keeping the original idea – show everyone that we can see beauty every day and at every moment of our lives.
To build a narrative, I had to think about what else I had to photograph in order to facilitate it. Luckily, I was already doing it by simply documenting the daily commute.
After two months of working on the narrative, I decided to stop photographing it and start selecting the best images for the zine.
Photo Selection And Sequencing
In sequenced the images to build a narrative. I found that selecting and sequencing the images is critical and also challenging. For this zine, in particular, sequencing was easier than selecting the photos because of how sequential the narrative is. But not always it is the case.
If we only select the most beautiful photographs we will most definitely lose context. We need to also add images that help us understand where and when we are throughout the zine. However, if we add too much context, then the zine will also be redundant and visually boring. We need to balance this.
I did small prints of all of the photographs I took on cheap paper and ink. I then put them all over a table. The first thing I did was to pair images. I grabbed two images that could be paired and I folded them together. This helped me discard images that weren’t pairable or that wouldn’t be interesting to the narrative.
After pairing the images, I opened them again and started to sequence the pairs. From beginning to end. This also helped me discard pairs that were also somewhat redundant. I only wanted contextual, relevant, and also visually beautiful.
After doing this whole process, I ended up with a pairing sequence over the table that would be the first structure of the zine. I took a photo of it in the end to register the sequence.
Moving On and Forgetting
I’ve read about how emotional we get with the photos and projects we make when they’re very recent. We instinctively value each image by what we felt at the time instead of the image itself. I wanted this zine to be great and I followed this advice.
After four months, I looked at the photos and sequence once again with fresh eyes. Some of the pairs stopped making sense. Some images weren’t as great as I thought they were in the beginning. I had to redo the photo selection and sequencing all over again.
Going Out Of The Comfort Zone
The new version of the sequence seemed like it lacked something. I really like how the images were sequenced as well as the images itself, don’t get me wrong. But the whole sequence seemed to lack “soul” to me.
After devouring an unhealthy dose of videos from Daniel Milnor – of which I wholeheartedly recommend you to check – a new idea came up to me. What if I added written text to my sequence? It’s just one of the things where I am the worst at! What could go wrong?
The writing wasn’t as hard as I was initially thinking at all. As I already had the main concept and sequence of the story, it was just a matter of putting it into words. Also adding some drama, mystery and key ideas and thoughts for the reader to think about. For photographers and non-photographers (what is a photographer after all?).
Creating a Digital File Of The Commutare Zine
My first digital version of the zine was made on Adobe InDesign. I followed the fantastic advice given by Nick Exposed in his video tutorials. However, I don’t yet have a home printer, so I wasn’t sure how well the printed version would look like.
I opted for a safer choice for my first zine and ended up using Blurb’s Bookwright. It’s a simpler version of InDesign with built-in templates from Blurb’s products. Making the zine there was easy and fast. Mainly because I had already done and designed it on InDesign. I did some extra work and I did it on four different formats:
- Premium Magazine 22×28 cm
- 5×8 in, 13×20 cm
- 6×9 in, 15×23 cm
- 8×10 in, 20×25 cm
Printing Test Versions Of The Commutare Zine
I then proceeded to order several printed versions. For trade books, I ordered one copy of each format with different types of printing. One had standard B&W printing, and the other two had economy and standard color printing. Once I received all of these copies, I had to take several aspects into consideration in order to choose a final format for the zine.
The first aspect I looked at was the size format. By reading through all the different formats, I felt that a smaller size was the best for this particular sequence. The magazine format was beautiful but it was too big for my taste. It asked to be in a smaller and more portable format. The 5×8 in, 13×20 cm trade book felt too small and so the 6×9 in, 15×23 cm trade book was the lucky winner.
The next aspect was the print quality. I had to make a trade-off here between cost and quality. My aim was to print a reasonable number of copies for it to reach the largest amount of people possible. Also, I wasn’t doing this zine for profit. I was doing this because I wanted to create something meaningful to me and hopefully to others too. Standard Color printing was the best, but it almost doubled the cost of the zine in comparison to Economy Color. I ended up choosing economy color because it was the second-best. If my zine was purely made out of photos, I would be forced to go for Standard Color printing.
I am happy I did these printed versions because I was able to choose from several tangible options. This simply wasn’t possible to do by only looking at the computer screen. I ended up deciding that the best format for the Commutare zine would be a 6×9 in, 15×23 cm Trade Book with Economy Color printing.
Asking For Feedback
Making photo projects are a great opportunity to learn from feedback from other photographers as well as people outside of photography. We have to take our ego aside, ask and listen to others’ opinions with a grain of salt. As photographers, we are creatives and we have so much to learn from each other.
I learned about what other photographers did right and, most importantly, wrong in order for me to do things the right way. One of the things that people don’t get quite right is the font size as well as the page number sizes. Usually, the page number sizes are too big for the zine and this mistake happens to who never did a test print. I did this mistake and I was happy to have noticed it before ordering the first batch of printed zines.
I am grateful to have had constructive as well as supportive feedback. The sequence was slightly tweaked, the font was changed, the font size was reduced and the image disposition on the pages was also modified.
Ordering The First Batch Of The Commutare Zine
As I’ve never launched nor sold a zine before, I had no idea of how many zines to order. We want to have enough zines for everyone whilst not ending up with a bunch of them in stock for too long. Blurb has several prices depending on the number of copies and I remember that ordering from 50+ copies seemed to be worth the risk vs cost. I still had some more money to invest and I ended up ordering 60 copies. My main goal for this zine was for it to be experienced with as many people as possible, so I decided to sell it with barely any profit at 7€ per copy of the Commutare Zine.
The moment when I received and opened the box with the copies was beautiful. Something that I won’t soon forget.
I also ordered several strong cardboard envelopes as well as transparent plastic bags to ensure not having any problems after shipping the zine copies. The cardboard envelopes reduce bending risks and the transparent plastic bags reduce the risks of the zine getting wet or humid. I also work on delivery logistics and I know how important these details are.
Final Thoughts Behind This Process
The whole process that I just described was an invaluable, true-life experience of a creative. It was challenging, it had its ups and downs, some creative blocks, and happy surprises. But it always gave me a sense of progression as it was mostly a learning experience more than anything else. Sitting here and writing everything that I did to make the Commutare zine was also quite an amazing thing to do and read again.
Will I do another zine again? Absolutely! When? I can’t tell. I am on the lookout for ideas and I’ll know when an opportunity comes. And while it doesn’t come, I’ll keep photographing. Perhaps I have been shooting a theme without even knowing it and I can do something out of it.
I hope that I could give you some ideas for a future zine or at least some inspiration. If you need any kind of feedback, I’ll gladly help you out, so just contact me through social media or send me an email. Again, as photographers, we are creatives and we have so much to learn from each other.
If this post made you curious about the Commutare zine, you can buy it through this link for 7€. I appreciate your support!