Lele Saveri, right, and Nick Sethi, a photographer and volunteer at the Newsstand holding the April 2013 issue of VICE.
Despite the dominance of the internet and all-digital everything, there are some who advocate for the "dead" media formats—not as hard-headed luddites or holier-than-thou snobs, but genuine love for objects from a clunkier age. Some of these folks release noise music on cassette tape-only music labels. Some make films on VHS camcorders and play them back on huge tube televisions. Some build wooden bicycles and wear goggles or some shit. And some make and sell zines.
They've got an odd little space to do so thanks to Kevin Kearney, a managing director at creative agency Alldayeveryday who noticed a vacant newsstand in a subway station on his daily commute to Manhattan and thought it would be an ideal place to set up "something." A few months went by before he decided that a pop-up zine fair would fill that void perfectly, so he contacted Lele Saveri, a curator and photographer who runs the 8-Ball Zine Fair, to help him out. After a few months of negotiations with city government, they were able to lease the nook nestled between the Lorimer L and Metropolitan G train stops in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The Newsstand, like the 8-Ball Zine Fair, brings publishing houses and galleries like Hamburger Eyes and OHWOW together under one roof while giving shoppers a chance to touch, feel, gaze at, and buy their work—in other words, a "store." It's manned by volunteers comprised of photographers, illustrators, and designers who are all part of 8-Ball's network in one way or another. The stand is a potpourri of zines, knickknacks, books, mixtapes, snacks, postcards, and posters, but its focus is the collection of handmade photography zines haphazardly organized in milk crates and on shelves.
The Newsstand can seem a little intimidating to commuters, and many are under the impression that only a certain type of person can participate (New York magazine was very quick to label it "hipster" in a silly two-sentence dismissal, which made the requisite beard reference), but when I stopped by to interview Lele I found it to be an inclusive space where ideas are traded between anyone who likes art, creativity, and copy machines.
VICE: How did you transition from photography to distribution?
Lele Saveri: It's very straightforward. Most of the photographers who were serious before the blogging thing just always made zines. It was the cheapest way to make a book. I started getting into distribution cause it just made sense. My friend was trying to think of a place where she could have a small release party for her latest zine and at the time we were working at a pool hall so we decided to just throw it there. Since there was so much space, we thought it'd be a good idea to have others participate.
So it snowballed from a one-time thing to a convention?
It just clicked. A pool hall is a perfect place. We reached out to smaller publishing houses and we had the whole fair booked within a week. That's where we got the name 8-Ball.
And the zine fair caught the interest of Alldayeveryday?
Yeah. We always had a pipe dream of taking the zine fair and making it a little more permanent. Like a pop-up shop. They noticed the vacant spot and got in touch with the MTA. At first they were very skeptical since you could only lease it in ten-year increments. They eventually realized that it wouldn't be a bad idea to have someone there temporarily.
Can everyone participate at the Newsstand, or do they have to be zine-makers?
There's some commuters who come in and drop off stacks of free books. I met this one guy who makes these political T-shirts and was wondering if we would sell them. And we do. I want this place to be an open forum for anyone to do what they want, creatively. We mostly focus on zines because that's our specialty, but anyone can participate regardless of age, or budget. Most of our inventory comes to us organically. For example, we started with about 150 zines and now we're at 500.
Does the MTA have any reservations about the kind of things you sell, and the crowds you draw?
I don't think they care. At most bodegas you can get pornography.
Are there any plans to make the Newsstand a more permanent venture, through crowdfunding, say?
There's never really been any serious talk of doing that. I think this space works particularly well because of its location. There are about 17,000 commuters who pass through here every day. I think that's why we've been getting a lot of attention. A few people have approached me and told me that a Kickstarter approach could work. Who knows?
Check out Lele's work in the 2013 Photo Issue.