Zine culture is surging, as The National Museum of Women in the Arts has an exhibition of photobooks and photo zines featuring contributions completely by women.

Over at HOW, Nadja Sayej writes about the exhibition Full Bleed: A Decade of Photobooks and Photo Zines by Women running until November 30 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, and curated by Sarah Osbourne Bender.

From the  NMWA.org website:

Although digital images dominate visual culture today, the photobook remains a meaningful and thriving form. A deliberate, ordered, and sometimes narrative arrangement of photographic images bound in a book with little or no text, the photobook is an intimate presentation from photographer to viewer, one on one. This selection of photobooks and photo zines, created by an international group of women artists in the last ten years, embodies essential truths told through eclectic visual vocabularies. The images encompass coldly objective photographs of American locations of mythic importance, digital photos snapped through a car window, and prints resulting from experiments with expired photo paper.

The Rise of Zine Culture and the Power of Women in the Arts — Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma
“Lazy Mom — Easy Come” by Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma, via nmwa.org.

The exhibit illustrates the recent surge in zine culture and its growing recognition in institutional levels of the art world. Sayej also interviews Alison Baitz, photographer and zine-maker who is showing work in the exhibition, for the HOW article.

Self-publishing means that anyone can get in on the scene, no matter their budget or vision.

—Alison Baitz


Rise of Expression in Social Media

Baitz expounds on the culture and the power of communication zines can facilitate. She adds, “To me, the uniting theme in these photobooks and photo zines is the experience of the photographer’s intent.”

She explains that the selections for inclusion in the exhibition were focused on photobooks, and how zines of the last ten years were some of the strongest candidates.

The Rise of Zine Culture and the Power of Women in the Arts — Sarah Anthony
As of Late by Sarah Anthony, 2017 — Sarah Anthony photographed men while asking them to reflect upon manhood, via HOW.

The exhibition shows the results of the relatively recent and unprecedented amount of exposure for the perspectives that women are sharing through their personal viewpoints, with social media hashtags like #girlgaze.

These viewpoints are elevated via the lens of the camera and the artistic expression that DIY zines and photobooks facilitate:

It is safe to say that our culture is centered on visual content more than ever and the production of images has never been more democratized.


Zine Culture

The interview goes on to explore zine philosophy and its cultural positioning — as a way to cheaply disseminate personal or political viewpoints free of social barriers.

Is zine culture still alive and where does its power lie?

Zines are used to communicate via printed medium in a relatively fast and inexpensive way, often content of a personal or political nature.

I had to include LaToya Ruby Frazier’s The Notion of Family, which was published by Aperture in 2014, and it was an instant classic. . . The work is the result of a 13-year photography project started when Frazier was 19, and documents her community and family, specifically her mother who is a key subject and collaborator.

The Rise of Zine Culture and the Power of Women in the Arts — Zanele Muholi
Faces and Phases by Zanele Muholi, 2010 — Zanele Muholi presents portraits of South Africa’s Black lesbians, via HOW.

The selections for the exhibition are comprised totally of work by women, but don’t exclusively portray femininity.

Sarah Anthony’s contribution to Oranbeg Press’s As of Late project, taken from her series called Brink, combines the powerful photographic theme of gaze with the documentation of adolescence. Anthony’s empathetic portraits of young men moving from teen years towards manhood present a picture of masculinity that is unsettled and awkward.


The interview is a wonderful overview of not just the exhibition but also of a growing medium of interest in the art world. It supports the notion that the zine is the new pamphlet of democracy. Anyone can contribute to the movement, and every voice is equal.

The immediacy of its message, combined with the low cost and ease of production, makes the zine a very effective channel for all points of view — especially those we’re not used to hearing. Those may be the most important voices of all right now.


Cover image via How.

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