Monochrome by Dmitri Tcherbadji – Photo Zine Review and Interview

monochrome zine analog cafe

Hello and welcome to the first – hopefully of many – Photo Zine Review and Interview posts here on My Favourite Lens.

This inaugural edition features the Monochrome zine that Dmitri Tcherbadji from Analog Cafe put together during… let’s call it the great global downtime of 2020.

Featuring the work of 14 contributors from 8 different countries, it’s a zine Dmitri has curated rather than created with all of his own photography.

I’ll do a review of the Monochrome zine (which you can get a copy of from Etsy) at the end of this post as, in complete opposition to its title, we’re going with the interview with Dmitri first.

Give that a read, and then keep going to see my thoughts afterwards.

About you, film, and your creative projects

Who are you, Dmitri Tcherbadji, and how long have you been into film photography? And where can people find you online – socials, website, anything else?

I’m a thirty-something who lives near Vancouver, Canada and works with computers for a living. This year will mark my tenth anniversary since I bought my first film camera.

Online, I spend most of my time writing and editing articles on Analog.Cafe; I’m fairly active on Twitter and occasionally post on Instagram under the same account.

Can you give us a quick rundown on what Analog Cafe is and why you wanted to create it? My Favourite Lens is really 99% my own stuff but you wanted to build a platform for other people to submit theirs. Why did you want to make that, do you think?

Analog.Cafe is a film photography blog that publishes weekly essays, reviews, and guides using software I built specifically for that purpose. I wanted to create a space for people who share my passion for analogue cameras to read and post personal experiences.

“Web 2.0” has been at the forefront of what I do for a living since the early 2000s, so it felt fitting to use my skills to bring a few nerdy art people together.

Just in case there are any other website owners or builders reading, you say you built Analog Cafe from the ground up instead of using WordPress or some other existing option. Why did you want to do that? And – briefly – what did you use to build it?

I’ve learned most of what I know about computers by working on personal projects — some ideas, like Analog.Cafe, catch on, so I continue to improve them and my skills in-tandem. Projects like these are my way of growing both personally and professionally.

Analog.Cafe is built on top of the open-source, free-to-use software ecosystem, supported by a community of individuals, small businesses, and large corporations like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Some of the tools I’ve used to build the website are

  • Node.js
  • Next.js
  • Slate.js

About the Monochrome zine

What is the Monochrome zine and how did it come about? Why did you decide to put it together?

Monochrome (edition 1.20) is a paper publication that features stories and photographs by fourteen photographers submitted following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been planning to print a zine since 2019, which was just that until the pandemic created an environment of urgency that I used as a catalyst to get the project going.

If you were on Twitter last March, you may remember some photographers declaring that they’ve lost the drive to make pictures and couldn’t express themselves. Monochrome was to restore some faith in creativity.

Why did you want to curate a zine from other people’s work rather than make one from just your own stuff?

Other than following my desire to connect with people creatively when the world began to shut its doors, it felt appropriate to bring diversity to a publication that talks about the onset of the pandemic.

What was the response like when you put out the call for submissions? Was it as expected? Did anything surprise you about it? Were there any specific challenges you had to overcome?

The submissions didn’t begin pouring in until about 48 hours before the deadline, which makes sense as most people would probably like to use all of the time available for something like this. To be honest, I felt a fair bit of anxiety up until the last few pieces made it to the inbox.

Why did you want to do a handmade zine instead of getting it printed by someone like Mixam or even print-on-demand on MagCloud? And can you tell us about the materials you used and why you chose them over other options?

With Monochrome, I was hoping to take control of packaging, ink, and paper selection so that I could experiment with reducing waste and using sustainable materials. I was also looking to incorporate premium features like perfect binding for a cheaper per-copy rate. It felt liberating to experiment and iterate quickly without relying on mail or in-person proof reviews.

The zine is bound using heavy-duty staples, Gorilla wood glue, and Recollections cardstock, printed on sustainably-sourced 60lb Hammermill and 32lb Xerox paper with no-cartridge-waste monochrome inkjet. These were the best materials in terms of quality and sustainability I could source locally.

For anyone that hasn’t made a zine by hand before like Monochrome, which is probably most of the people reading this, can you talk us through the process a little? And also if you have any tips to help those who may want to give it a go too?

I found that it’s really helpful to have a printer, even if you plan to outsource the job to someone else. I use a lot of paper to get an idea of what a final product would look like as I pick images and curate their order. You’ll find leaves lying around my bed, hanging on the wall, spread over the dinner table. It’s very exciting to imagine what the project will look like once finished.

If you’re using software to create the layout, a step that typically follows drafting, I recommend using a tool built specifically for that purpose. Before I switched to Adobe InDesign, I tried using Photoshop, which led to huge files and loads of confusion regarding page numbers and sides.

You can also keep this step mostly analogue: another publication called Quarantine Zine, for example, is laid out using paper collages that the curator @timodani scans to create a digital master.

Services like MagCloud are great for simplifying print and distribution. Local print shops may have interesting paper/binding options not available elsewhere, and they can show you a proof as soon as it’s ready.

Some zines are printed at the libraries and office printers / copiers though you may need to limit the number of pages in these situations.

Home printing being the third viable option that I chose for the above-stated reasons; the process is relatively straightforward, with the binding possibly being the most complicated piece of the work. I describe a few technicalities of the particular method I use here.

You can build just a single copy as something for yourself, the home, or that special someone. But for larger runs, you may need other people to help you finance the copies or, again, use a service like MagCloud to distribute on-demand.

With Monochrome, I wanted a method that would give me the best price per copy at a relatively low run, which home-printing seems to be the best at.

Monochrome is available to buy on Etsy. How have you found that as a platform, as opposed to maybe just selling privately through Twitter posts and Paypal as some people do? Or the aforementioned print-on-demand sites like MagCloud?

For a large corporation that Etsy is, I think they’re the least evil one, which I like to support. They offset emissions on each shipped item and have been very helpful to their community during the pandemic onset.

Their marketplace is only accessible if you build something yourself or ‘find’ a vintage product; this cuts down competition for projects like Monochrome.

As you can see on this chart, about 15% of the zine sales came from folks who have no idea who I am and are simply browsing Etsy.

I’m not popular enough on social media to warrant enough sales with Tweets and Stories alone, but these channels were still helpful to get the message out. It may sound surprising to hear that there are loads of people on the lookout for zines and homegrown publications.

It may also surprise some to learn that over a million people worldwide still shoot film, yet here we are.

Has that organic finding of the zine on Etsy led to many clicks through to Analog Cafe? And how useful have you found Etsy’s paid ads to be? I know they do off-site ads too, which sounds interesting.

Not really, though I would rather have someone buy the zine than visit my website, read an article for free, and never come back (not that it would be a bad thing in itself).

I’ve tried Etsy ads with limited success; in the end, I’ve calculated that they aren’t worth the investment. Etsy’s off-site ads are a black box technology that selects products they think may sell well and charges the vendor commissions.

100% of the proceeds from Monochrome are going to the UK Black Women Documentary Photographers Fund. Can you tell us more about this organisation and why, with so many great causes out there, you chose this one to give to?

The human connection is at the centre of the Monochrome project, which I wanted to promote by contributing to a small circle of artists. An occupation that had suddenly become “non-essential” as many of us busied ourselves with fighting over TP at the grocery stores.

It also seemed a little more efficient to give directly to the people rather than have the dollars sift through the layers of distributors.

Is there anything you wished you did differently with the zine or would do differently next time?

I loved the opportunity to showcase such diversity of expression with Monochrome 1.20. That being said, I’m planning to work with a tighter circle of photographers in the next issue.

Managing a large number of contributors is a lot of work and is difficult to unite under a specific style/direction. Plus, it’s very expensive: I’ve spent no less than $400 on free author copies, money that could’ve made a decent commission fund instead.

Aside from the obvious just do it, what advice would you give to anyone else looking to put a zine together from their work or curate one from the work of others like you did here?

I like to print because the paper can create a tactile experience, screens can’t and because it’s a more permanent medium. Websites come and go; they vanish when the server goes down, but a paper, as long as it’s well-kept, can last a century.

Plus, each person who ends up owning a zine is essentially a keeper of the author’s legacy, a concept that the digital medium cannot reproduce nearly as well.

These are my reasons which I feel justify the effort. I’m sure there are better-fitting ones out there for someone else. However, I wouldn’t say that making a zine is a requirement for a happy creative life.

Looking outward and forward

Do you have any favourite photo zines or books from other people that you’ve bought and want to give a shout out to? Or even just people who publish their work online that you think deserve a mention and people to check out their stuff?

While what I said earlier about web vs. print still holds, I think the Internet is a huge blessing for film photographers. Without it, I would’ve never met you, Lee, and other people whose work taught me everything I know about the craft.

I’d say that I appreciate every single page put out there on the topic, be it something like Camera-wiki.org or 35mmc or KosmoFoto or Emulsive or an obscure forum post from the early 2000s. They’re all helpful.

As for the zines, I’m currently enjoying ‘City by The Sea’ by Anil Mistry right now. Highly recommended.

Is the Monochrome zine a one and done thing or will there be further editions of it with new submissions?

I hope to publish a new issue of Monochrome once or twice a year, though it also looks like I’ll be skipping 2021 since I’m rather busy this year with the ‘Moscow Dayze’ book project and loads of new feature developments on Analog.Cafe.

Have you made any other zines aside from Monochrome? Or anything else physical with your photography?

Yes, Analog.Cafe got funded initially through a zine project on Kickstarter. Other than that, I’m relatively new to the scene.

What are your future hopes and plans for your photography? Any more zine ideas in the pipeline, or any other projects, books, exhibitions or anything?

There’s a book coming out this summer about my pre-pandemic trip to Moscow (linked above).

I’m still accepting submissions to Analog.Cafe and have plans to add a few more reviews/essays of my own too.

I’m also working on a software that I hope will simplify negative conversion for those of us who scan film at home, though it’s rather involved, so the demo probably won’t be ready until 2022.

Finally – and thank you for taking the time to answer these questions – is there any message you want to leave people with? Anything at all, be it related to what we’ve been talking about here or otherwise?

If you haven’t yet tried shooting film, be warned: this stuff is addictive!

Thanks, Lee!

Monochrome zine review

First up I have to say a big thank you to Dmitri for giving such full answers to all of those questions. There’s a lot of insight there that I hope you, the reader, can take something from.

As for the Monochrome zine itself, I really think it’s achieved what it set out to do. 2020 was a significant moment in our history and, with the portraits and a lot of images from people in their homes, Monochrome is a genuine snapshot of that.

I would say that none of the images in Monochrome are the kind I tend to shoot myself. I don’t have a great deal of experience with portraits and I never shoot around the house. So it’s inspiring for me to see how this – especially the latter – can be done to create something great.

Another thing I have zero experience in is putting a zine together by hand myself. I just uploaded PDFs to MagCloud for my first one. Holding something you know has been made in this way and sent around the world in a handwritten envelope is something special, I think.

And I wonder too if Dmitri doing it this way made it easier to produce an A4 zine, whereas a lot of other zines I’ve seen are on smaller paper sizes. The fact that it is A4, so a sizeable thing to hold and look through, is another plus point for me.

All things said, Monochrome is a zine I’m very happy to have in my growing collection.

Final thoughts

I’m all about creating things with your photography here at My Favourite Lens, and I wonder how many levels there are to that with the Monochrome zine.

By that I mean, how many of the contributors shot for the zine as opposed to sending in stuff they’d have done anyway.

I don’t know the answer to this and probably never will, but it’s nice to think that in deciding to create a zine, Dmitri inspired people to create for the zine when they may otherwise have done nothing.

As someone who could probably be more active on social media when it comes to sharing my own photography and even this website, I have to commend Dmitri too for putting the call out for submissions.

He did mention the anxiety of waiting for responses to come in, and I think we’ve all been there in terms of posting something we want a response to that has then gotten zero engagement.

So I think that’s my final thought on this. You can make a zine of your own work like I did, or you can curate one with the work of other people too. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

It may sound easy to put something together using the work of others. Just put the call out and reap the free images to use! I had to shoot every damn shot for my zine. Nobody gave me any.

But curation is still a lot of work. And also, I never took the risk of making that call for submissions and having the chance to be ignored by everyone. And if Dmitri hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t have the Monochrome zine.

So I’m glad he did.

Thank you, Dmitri. 🙂

And once more before we end this, you can follow Dmitri on Twitter or Instagram or go see what he’s doing with Analog Cafe (where you can check out my profile too), or get yourself a copy of Monochrome from Etsy if he has any copies left.

p.s… Want to have your zine or book featured here too?

If you’ve made a zine or book or any other kind of publication from your photography and would like to have it featured on a Review and Interview post just like this one, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.

To get the ball rolling, send me an email at lee@myfavouritelens.com with some basic information about yourself and what it is you’ve put together.

I will need you to send a copy of your creation over for me to check out in the flesh and take photos of for the post, so please be aware of that if you do decide to get involved.

Lee 😀

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.