Photographer Ray Potes on iPhonography & the Power of Zines
Ray Potes doesn’t consider his work over the last decade anything special. And yet the 37-year-old — the man behind Bay Area photo book, publishing house, and magazine Hamburger Eyes — is constantly creating culture. Originally from Honolulu, Potes works from a back-alley headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission District, where he grew his photo journal from a Xeroxed zine — made during his graveyard shift as a clerk at Kinko’s — into a glossy, black and white bi-annual, distributed worldwide. Now with a publishing house of the same name, as well as a series of exhibits and art shows, Potes has become a kind of indie icon among a certain breed of Bay Area trendspotter.
So you really started this thing while working the graveyard shift at Kinko’s? Is it crazy to think about how it’s grown?
It’s a trip because there were no intentions. I had been making zines since high school, when I started working at a fast food place called Del Taco. I actually loved that job but didn’t get enough hours. Across the street was Kinko’s. I randomly applied and got the job. Then I started making more and more zines. One day I made one called “Hamburger Eyes,” and it was more popular than any of the others. I don’t know why. so, we kept it going.
What’s a hamburger eye?
It was just something my friends and I said to one another all the time. “That girl is giving you hamburger eyes. Go talk to her.”
How do you describe your own photos?
My photos are just recordings. I can look back at them and be like, “Oh yeah, that’s what happened.” Or, “Oh yeah, now I remember that person or that neighborhood.” For Hamburger Eyes, the subtitle is “the continuing story of life on earth.” So, that’s the main idea. And obviously the photographers all interpret that the way they want.
You’re publishing a zine in an era where everyone talks about how print is dying. Do you think that’s true?
It’s weird. I feel like there are more zines now than ever. I thought blogs would kill them out too, but guess what? Your grandma has a blog and a Twitter, but she don’t make zines. The zine has a beginning and an end. When you are done with it, you can throw it away. That’s the power of the zine.
You said you often get asked if the internet is ruining photography. Is it?
I like cellphone photography. The best camera is the one that is with you.
But what if you’re a professional photographer? Does the iPhone kill your craft?
Well, if I was corporate client or a newspaper and I had to choose between a person with only an Instagram feed and iPhone or a person with hi-res portfolio and gear, I’d probably choose the guy with the hi-res portfolio and the gear. But yes, I do agree, with today’s technology anyone can make a nice photograph. And it is very true that young people with decent equipment and not much experience are getting huge jobs and stealing clients away from the big dogs with million-dollar equipment. But that goes the same for any industry — it’s up to the big dogs to stay relevant and stay hungry.
I’m sure it provides new opportunities, too.
A lot of pros and semi-pros are using Instagram to hype their own work. Maybe their feed, if good, can get them clients. Huge stock photo agencies comb Flickr and pay people for the use of their photos. And news stations are paying people for their YouTubes. I guess it all depends and what exactly you want. People are making feature-length movies on their phones … that doesn’t mean they are going to get the job to direct Avatar 2.
How do you decide what to feature in Hamburger Eyes?
We take submissions from all walks of life, and it’s fun and pretty open. When editing, we just go with the flow of that particular day. Sometimes good photos get skipped over. But hopefully we get to use those for future stuff.
Can you make a living printing zines?
I have hope that it is possible. It must be possible, right?
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