The experience of flipping through a zine can sometimes be akin to looking through someone’s diary. There are entry points into all kinds of thoughts from the creator: musings on pop culture, reflections on their neighborhoods, magnifications of recent heartbreaks.
In L.A., zines can feel simultaneously personal and political — and they can hit close to home for many Angelenos. In order to shed more light on the zine scene and Long Beach in general, the Long Beach Zine Fest is coming to the Museum of Latin American Art on Sunday, Aug. 6. The third annual event is free and will feature more than 100 zinesters.
One of them is Valerie J. Bower, a Long Beach photographer who uses her camera to chronicle the little moments that happen in L.A. and its environs. Bower started making zines in 2014, mostly as a way to compile all the photographs she was taking.
“Zines and printed work became the best way for me to organize my images and put my concepts together,” Bower says via email. “Also, I love collecting art and music, so having my photos as hard copies is important to me."
Bower sees the zine as an especially poignant medium for showing the “intimate moments and friendships” that she captures in her photographs. Her latest project is a softcover, 52-page book called Homegirls. It features black-and-white photos of three young Latinas, Canela, Morena and Luna, set against the backdrop of Roosevelt Park. One of the images features two of the young women standing near a chainlink fence as one puts makeup on the other. The close-up shot captures the trust and intimacy in the women’s relationship, as well as the fleeting nature of the exchange.
“I got to hang out and shoot with these girls on an afternoon, and it became one of my favorite series. Two of the girls are sisters, and all three girls are friends, so it was very easy to shoot them together. I never want to force anything and I got a lot of candid moments also," Bower says. "My favorite pics are of the girls doing each other's hair and makeup and laughing together.”
She’ll be displaying Homegirls for the first time at the Long Beach Zine Fest, where the work of people of color will be up for perusal and discussion, including at a panel on Latinx zines. The panel features Marissa del Toro, Chris Valles of the zine collective Mi Desorden, Roxy Morataya of Dirty Girl Zine and Curvy Cuties, and Brenda Montaño of Zine Rasquache.
Del Toro, a current graduate intern at the Getty Research Institute, focuses on art history but more specifically on zines. Her research involves finding zines from Latinx creators and thinking about how the medium can help shed light on communities that often go unheard. No topic goes untouched: The zinesters in her panel cover “gentrification, fat feminism, femme identity” and more.
Bower’s work focuses on L.A. and the people who make up its personality with an intimacy that makes her street photography feel genuine. Del Toro has noticed a recent resurgence in a focus on street photography in zines; many zinesters are turning their attention to “the landscape, both in urban and rural areas.”
Both del Toro and Bower were inspired to learn more about zines because they felt they didn’t see their identities reflected in mainstream art and institutions.
Bower — who identifies as Filipina and white, as well as other cultures — has definitely noticed the power of zines to create unity within communities of color.
“It's a little more isolating for me, though, because I don't fit in any one group, so I just had to make my own lane,” Bower says. “In the past it was rare to find zines and art I felt I could relate to. Now there's definitely been a surge of POC and especially WOC self-publishing, making zines, art and even starting their own collectives. … Now we're taking up more spaces and are able to represent ourselves and self-express. There's more of a community and more to relate to.”
For Bower, zine-making is really a stepping stone to other ways of displaying her work. She hopes to work on bigger projects in the future.
“I'll still make zines occasionally, but I'm going to start transitioning into making books with bigger bodies of work,” Bower says. “I have to try new things and keep progressing.”
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Del Toro hopes that attendees to her panel walk away with a similar feeling: the inspiration to create a zine or anything else creative that reflects their own personal history.
“What I hope people kind of get from the panel is to recognize that we all have a voice and recognize that they see themselves in these zinesters who are talking about their own work,” del Toro says. “It is time-consuming to produce a zine, I’m not going to deny it, but just starting by writing or collaging or photographing — there is a power in making that gives yourself confidence. I hope people recognize the power in themselves to start producing their own work. Not to be afraid anymore.”
Long Beach Zine Fest, Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach; Sun., Aug. 6, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; free. lbzinefest.com.
Disclaimer: L.A. Weekly contributor Sarah Bennett is one of the festival's organizers.