Documentary photographer Simon King talks about the way he and the members of the British photography collective “New Exit Group” used a unique methodology to produce their debut zine, BARDO: The Summer of ’20.
From April to August 2020 I, and a group of three other photographers (David Babaian, Andrew Blowers, Sagar Kharecha), documented the situations we found ourselves facing in what we agreed to be the most surreal summer of our lives so far. We used black and white 35mm film and decided early on that our efforts would ultimately be collated into a zine—a perfect medium for the kind of stories we found ourselves telling.
Photograph featured on page 68 of BARDO, captured by Simon in East London.
“Bardo refers to the ‘in-between’ existence many of us found ourselves in, somewhere between normality and absolute breakdown. We felt this would be a good title for the kind of story we wanted to bring out from this situation. ”
A zine is usually a limited, self-published collection of ideas, artworks, writings, and in our case, photographs. Classic zine culture tends to embrace methods that are a little rough-around-the-edges, and examples with clear DIY elements are usually the ones where you can feel the most passion from the creators. This makes them a more refined, personal piece, as opposed to mainstream published photo books—hardback, heavy, cold.
August 31st was a hard deadline for us—everything we had shot from April until 23:59 on that day would be up for consideration for inclusion. We had shot for hundreds of hours, across hundreds of rolls and needed to find an efficient way to cut down this material until we were left with a streamlined, flowing narrative—a coherent and collective thread told across photographs from all four of us sequenced as one continuing, run-on sentence.
We decided to start by producing a set of around 90 postcard-sized prints each, based on our own values—the photographs which stood out to us as containing storytelling potential. This meant absolute ten out of tens, as well as quieter transitional images which would be the glue connecting those more powerful frames.
We met up with these postcards, just over 400 in total, and dedicated an entire day to studying our selection, finding patterns, and stringing this thing together. We started by breaking the pile down into portrait and landscape images. This was because we wanted to decide on whether the orientation would be based around a portrait or landscape format. There turned out to be many more landscape images, so that decided our orientation for us.
From here it was a process of shuffling and dividing the ‘deck’ between the four of us, and then working through and acting as each others curator in order to distil down to a purer selection. We did this a few times, at first silently, and then shared between each other in order to justify our decisions. This allowed us to quickly cull just over half of our images, leaving us with the remaining pile to start working on ordering via diptychs and sequencing.
Sequencing worked almost like a card game, where we sorted our distilled selection based on theme, content, and energy, and then worked on playing from our hand based on what had previously been set down. ThisContinue reading