About PhotoStatic Magazine
Introduction to the Photostatic Magazine Retrograde Archive
by Lloyd Dunn
Begun in August 1983 with extremely modest means, PhotoStatic Magazine had behind it a simple idea: in essence, to create a gallery of works made using the photocopier, emphasizing the unique capabilities and expressive possibilities of this machine as a new artistic medium.
We can point to a number of antecedents that encouraged this train of thought: El Lisitzky, Rodchenko, and the Constructivists, certainly; Hannah Höch and other Dadaists too numerous to mention; Surrealism; Duchamp, of course; Moholy-Nagy; Stieglitz to some degree; Ono, Paik and Fluxus; even John Cage. But it is the names of the makers of works published in PhotoStatic that are important to us here: Miekal And, Bob Gregory, Lang Thompson, Clemente Padín, Janet Janet, Thomas Wiloch, Geoff Huth, Bob Grumman, Philippe Billé, Liz Was, Arturo Giuseppe Fallico, Carol Stetser, Guy R. Beining, John Stickney, Al Ackerman, Stewart Home, Serse Luigetti, Jean-François Robic, and dozens of others far too numerous to mention.
We can also point to several contemporary trends that shaped our editorial taste and decision making. Foremost of these, certainly, was the ubiquity of photocopying itself. At the time we started PhotoStatic, which was within a quarter-century of the introduction of the first Xerox model onto the market, photocopying had become very inexpensive, on the order of 2 cents a copy in our town. The then-current state-of-the-art was, arguably, the Xerox 9500. Its oil-based fusing system was noted for its solid blacks, and its strobe-lamp exposure system assured sharp, undistorted reproduction of line art. Importantly, the 9500 was also able to reproduce a passable halftone. This was the model we chose to exploit in putting together PhotoStatic.
But our interests were not limited to the technical; there were remarkable cultural forces at work, too. Punk music had left many of us feeling that we could produce our own culture, and establish our own cultural milieux, sidestepping the often distasteful, certainly non-participatory, modus of the so-called ‘mainstream’. So we adopted the DIY (‘do it yourself’) esthetic, like so many of our contemporaries.
We can point, too, to certain cultural models for this effort. It is perhaps a reflection of our fragmented attention spans that many of our models came from bodies of work decidedly outside of the art world, but it is surely a reflection, too, of our scepticism of the value of these established venues. Maybe we flatter ourselves, but we also see it as a consequence of a mindset that sees ideas everywhere, and can take inspiration at any moment. No doubt it was also our willingness to further efface the already eroding boundaries between ‘fine’ and ‘popular’ art.
That the pages in PhotoStatic were continuously paginated from one issue to the next was a practice taken from National Geographic (indeed, the cover of no. 27 is a direct homage to this stalwart, ubiquitous publication). The page size was chosen not only because it took advantage of a standard paper size — so-called ‘U.S. legal’ — folded in half; but also because the modest finished size and squat proportions lent the printed piece the feeling of a scholarly digest, perhaps; or one catering to a devoted group of obscurantists — not a typical magazine, in any case.
That we insisted on a regular bimonthly schedule (at least for the first seven years of production) certainly had something to do, on the other hand, with typical magazines, which delighted us with their appearance at predictable intervals, and, in the best of them, the sense of continuous dialog they had with their readers.
We saw ourselves as exploring a new medium: photocopy art, xerox art, electrostatic, generative, xerographic art; we never did really settle on a name. It didn’t take long for us to realize that similar potential lay in all manner of common mechanisms, such as the audio cassette, or the Polaroid camera, or the personal computer, to name some examples. We set sights therefore on making our subject-world ‘machine art’ in general. PhotoStatic lasted, in some form or other, until at least 1998, and spanned well over 2200 pages, which also included post cards, audio cassettes, a vinyl record, a floppy disk, posters, fold-outs, and page after page of page art, submitted to us by trusty post.
At first, we aspired to a kind of ‘classical’ esthetic in our layouts. But we only achieved this in very limited degree, since the work that was submitted to us nearly always demanded a quite different treatment. The xeroxed posters of punk bands and other manifestations of the DIY esthetic had a profound, not always conscious, effect.
For we were working in the heyday of ‘networking’ art and zine culture. What we were doing with paper, glue sticks, and postage stamps foreshadowed in many ways what people began doing on the internet, news groups, e-mail and web sites in the mid-nineties. Everyone who could overcome personal inertia enough to pull together and print up a zine could have their say. And the non-zine-publishing could interact by submitting art, writings, reviews, or any product of their creativity that could be easily replicated and disseminated.
We traded zines with other zine editors, we discussed at length by means of typewritten or handwritten letters (often quoted at length in other zine editors’ letters-to-the-editor section). We let others publish our work with neither promise nor expectation of monetary compensation. We shaped each other’s work and lives in remarkable, sometimes profound ways. It was a wonderfully reciprocal, exchange-driven arrangement, and it made all of us very happy.
It seemed, to some of us at least, that we were having our first taste of freedom within the cultural realm. We eagerly left behind the various buddy-systems that promoted, in our view, mediocrity and run-with-the-pack modes of thought. We often rejected polish in favor of immediacy, and gut reactions to considered discourse. This had the unfortunate effect of keeping out some of those who could have helped the movement go further, but at the time, it felt great, and after all, hindsight is invariably twenty-twenty.
Our goals in the beginning were far less ambitious than the project eventually became. We were swept up in the energy of what seemed to be an important moment in culture, a swirling eddy of activities that encompassed mail art, home taped music productions, zine publishing, punk fandom, anarchism and other non-mainstream politics, international correspondence, super 8 film making, video and performance art, and even more.
It is certain that we and all our participants relished the transforming potential that this activity had, and the unique and profound way in which it affected our lives. The sense of connectedness that this activity gave us convinced us that we were doing something significant.
What is left of those days are these publications (and hundreds of others, of course, outside of the scope of this site). In some ways, they are dim phantoms and arouse only modest feelings of what it was like to be involved in their making. On the other hand, documenting what we did is important. And that is sufficient reason for us to apply our labors to this site.
Now it is time for a dedication. This site is dedicated to all the contributors who made a leap of faith and sent in their work to be published under one of our titles. None of them ever got anything in return except our thanks and a free copy of the issue in which their work appeared. It is certain, too, that our contributors tugged us in surprising directions, and to them our undying gratitude for their adventurous explorations is wholly due.
This site is launched in the same spirit as that of the publication PhotoStatic (which was never copyrighted), free exchange, no strings attached, re-use at will, no ownership of ideas. An old slogan on a rubber stamp that we used to apply to all our outgoing mail seems appropriate. It read:
Thank you for interacting.
Prague, January 2002