Keeping photography accessible: The Photocopy Club on zines, affordability, and London

The Photocopy Club was set up by a young Matt Martin in 2011. Since then, the project has moved around the UK and abroad, featuring the works of various photographers through Xerox exhibitions. This month, The Photocopy Club launch their latest project: London Calling. An album of photocopied images covering London’s gritty charm. In this interview Matt talks about making the iconic image, why he is attracted to self-publishing and DIY culture, and how The Photocopy Club is opening the doors to all photographers. 

What is The Photocopy Club about?

The Photocopy Club is an open submission exhibition project. The idea was to make a project that people could submit to that was affordable. When I started the project I was finding that a lot of the photography competitions you could submit your work to was really expensive. You had to get C-Type prints and pay a submission fee. I worked with photocopies for a long time and the idea was to make it affordable for photographers, myself, and for people to buy one-off pieces of photography cheap. So, that’s where photocopies came into play because they’re really accessible to everyone and they don’t cost very much. Aesthetically they look really good too. The idea then was to do different exhibitions between Brighton and London, and then it kind of exploded and grew from there. Since then, we’ve done stuff in San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Berlin.

So, you can basically buy any of the prints on show?

Normally we would have a one-night exhibition and all the prints would be sold that night. You could take the print off the wall at the end of the night for £5 and take it home. The money then goes back into keeping The Photocopy Club running. This particular exhibition is going to be on for a month, and we’re going to have a final day on February 1 where people can come down and get a print on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Is zine culture still very much alive today or is it a niche?

The self-publishing boom really helps especially with people making photo books. I think zine culture has always been there. I don’t think it ever went away. It’s just now big brands and musicians use it to sell their product or themselves. The word zine is a lot more within the public realm, but I think zines have never gone away. I think from a photography sense it’s just a really good way for photographers to show their work rather than a printed book – it’s easy and accessible. We always sell the zines at the LA Book Fair, the New York Book Fair, and off-print. It’s a really good community.

How many people work on The Photocopy Club?

I always say ‘we’ because I can’t do the project without all these people submitting. I like people to think it’s a group because I think it’s nicer than saying ‘I did this’.

Is it quite time consuming to run the club?

The last Photocopy Club we did was about a year ago, but I’m always making zines and doing talks. The Photocopy Club just moves in different ways – sometimes it’s an exhibition, sometimes it’s a workshop or talk, and sometimes it’s just zines. It jumps about and you just find the time.

How has being a curator at Doomed Gallery influenced this project?

I started Doomed about four years ago. I was already running a gallery in Brighton and that’s when this project started. I’ve been doing DIY exhibitions since 2009/10. Doomed had already been open for about a year and I did a Photocopy Club there. I got on with the owner, Ken, really well. I moved up to London to help him with that. Ken has a punk background, but he didn’t really have those connections within DIY photography culture. That’s what I brought to Doomed.

What is appealing about the Do-It-Yourself lifestyle?

It’s just so tiring waiting for people to get in touch with you, so why not make your own thing. DIY lifestyle is a part of so much – music, art, and the way you do a business. I think the appealing part of it is not having to answer to anyone else. And, if you can do it you can do it.

If you had to highlight the least appealing part of this lifestyle?

I don’t want to say money because obviously it’s not about money. I’ve been doing this since I was 19 and I’m 30 now. I think when it gets to the point where I’m broke all the time – I love doing all these projects and I don’t want it to be about money – but, it’s just finding that balance between trying to have a job and do commercial work and then using that money to do the good stuff. I don’t know if there is a downside to it. You just have to choose that lifestyle and if it works it works.

Has punk influenced your own style of photography?

Yeah, completely. All this stuff comes from punk flyers, bands, and merchandise. In Exeter, where I grew up, we had a really good punk scene and the whole city had flyers that were photocopied. That’s where it all came from.

Your own photographs feel quite nostalgic and isolated, how do you create that atmosphere? 

It’s kind of expanding now. I used to just shoot my friends, skateboarding, and music. As I’ve got older it’s really progressed into shooting landscape work and objects. But, what I like especially with the Xerox projects I do is to try to make the iconic image. I’ve been writing this essay recently – basically you can’t make the iconic image it has to become iconic. It’s about trying to cheat that process into making an image look like it can stand the test of time. It could be taken from any point in time. I am trying to make pieces of work that don’t have a time to them by printing it in a certain way and using a subject matter. I am trying to reference American documentary work that has this iconic feeling to it.

It’s very subtle though. Often you see people trying to recreate older styles, however it’s quite overt. Is there a particular method you are using?

I try to treat photocopy like I am in the darkroom, so the idea is to print work over and over again, and play with contrast and tone. I don’t want it to come across as just using photocopy in a retro sense. I also show colour work and normal black and white work, which still has that same feeling. I also like how scanned or photographed printed images look, because it’s something that has more feeling to it or something you can physically touch. That helps with the process of creating a historical document.

What’s your relationship with America in your own work?

I love the road trip in the essence of photography, of travelling, and documenting as you go. A lot of photographers have done the American road trip. It’s a staple thing to do. That’s why with the Xerox America work I wanted to do a project that hadn’t been seen before. I just love America. I love how it looks.

Are you attempting to give an insight into youth or underground culture with photographs you produce and choose to feature in The Photocopy Club?

When it first started we didn’t know where it was going to go, so it was just saying to all my mates, ‘hey, just submit stuff.’ So, in that time it was all about youth culture and young people because those were all the photographers I was reaching out to. As it’s grown it’s become more of a document. The photographers’ age ranges have changed, and their backgrounds have changed, and the work has started to cover everything. We’ve done different themes such as; family, riot, skateboarding, adventure, and London. We’re trying to choose different themes that don’t pigeonhole photographers into just thinking, ‘I won’t submit to that because it’s just for certain types of people.’ I want it to feel like whatever type of photographer you are you can still submit to it. I think that’s what you can see in this show. There’s a lot of stuff of young people, but there’s also great portrait work and documentary work.

Was there a particular time frame for the London Calling exhibition?

No, I wanted people to send old stuff too. The majority of the stuff has been shot in the last 10 years, but there might be a couple of pieces that are a bit older.

How do order the images for exhibitions?

It’s pretty free-spirited I guess. I just get everything out on the floor. I’ve already photographed everything, so it’s just through memory to think a particular picture would work well in a certain place. The aim is to give a visual overload where the idea is that we still have a flow to the exhibition rather than floor-to-ceiling images. You have bigger and smaller pictures, so it’s staggering. The idea is that when you come in you can follow the flow, but it also means you’ll miss suff so you can come back again and again and see new things.

What are your hopes for the future of The Photocopy Club?

The idea is to do a UK tour, but also get it into small towns. We want to build a historical document of the UK through people’s photographs, whether it’s through people’s old family photographs or stuff they shot the day before. We’re going to do workshops and exhibitions in each of these places and photograph everything, so in the end we’ll have a book that will be a document of the UK through Xerox work. Then, hopefully do it in America or something.

Images thanks to Matt Martin, Vivek Vadoliya, Michele Baron, and Blake Lewis

London Calling is on at v3 London until February 2, from 6.30-11pm 

For more details click here