The alternative discourses of music fanzine photography

Aline Giordano

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Academic research into music fanzines has largely focused on the study of the sub-cultures they represent (Atton 2010), the alternative models of politics that they offer (Duncombe 1997), or the aesthetic aspects of text, graphics and design (Triggs 2006). This type of research usually focuses on the text, design and graphics of the fanzines, or the cultural contextualization (Hebdige 1979) but not the photography they contain. A relationship between music and photography has been established (Keightley Pickering 2006) but our understanding of music ?fanzine photography? has not yet been addressed and needs to be given research attention. There is, therefore, a need to investigate the intersection between music fanzines and photography. From a political perspective, music fanzines can be seen as ?home-made? propaganda machines promoting alternative tools of communication and contributing to the expansion of alternative music networks. This divergent perspective is based on the fanzine ?de-professionalised?, ?de-capitalised? and ?de-institutionalised? characteristics as noted by Chris Atton (2001a). The fanzine experience is also, as Stephen Duncombe describes, a ?refusal to be passive? (1997:179), ?the negation of what is? (1997:183), and ?politics by example? (1997:188). While 1970s punk fanzines embraced their misuse of English grammar and disregarded established publishing traditions thus creating their own form of communication (Triggs 2006:76-77), fanzines in the 1990s were not borne out of the same political and social frustration of the late seventies. Atton (2001b:38 2010:518) notes the change in aesthetics of fanzines in the 1990s with fanzines becoming more conservative in their layout, highly organised in their content, and illustration used ?straight? rather than ordered at random. Photographs of artists and celebrities have an important, perhaps too important, place in modern society. The incessant display of photographs of, for example, troubled artist Amy Winehouse under the influence of drugs in the tabloids and various magazines in 2007 springs to mind. What does this kind of photography bring to the music industry apart from sales? When used with this purpose photography becomes, as French poet Charles Baudelaire (1855) suggested, ?art?s most mortal enemy?. One might say of popular music what Roland Barthes (1957:101) said of cars and Gothic cathedrals: ?conceived with passion? and ?consumed in image?. Professional photographic images contribute to the strengthening of genre categorisation. Semiotics is one of the key rules defining the musical genre along the ?formal and technical?, ?behavioural?, ?social and ideological?, and ?commercial and juridical? as first developed by Fabbri (Frith 1996:91). Semiotics and the photographic image of bands play a crucial role in constructing the musical genre. As such they have become a means for fans to attach to a particular genre using the images inherent to the genre as a fashion, behavioural or social model. The ?destroy? image and aggressive behaviour of punk rockers encapsulated in the punk imagery send a simplistic message to the mass, one that replicates Roland Barthes? process of filiation (1977:160) and conformity of music taste, clothes sense and behaviours that are associated with the musical genre. As Levi Strauss points out (2003:10) ?such images may work as propaganda (the effectiveness of which is quantitatively measurable), but they will not work at other points on the spectrum of communication?. Levi Strauss also notes that this simplistic message reduces the viewers to accept or reject the message, thus reducing listeners to be either part of a genre or not. Mainstream media images affect our social remembering because they form part of Guy Debord?s ?projected reality? (1967:36) produced by those who are paid by the ?Authority? to construct that reality. As a consequence our personal memory is affected. In contrast, fanzine photographs affect our personal memory directly thus helping individuals construct their own separate type of remembering because the fanzine photographs act as unfiltered documents. Indeed they are published without ?process of filiation?, most of the time without the permission of the ?Authority?, thus without its interference. Fanzine photographs are not intended for mass consumption. The primary function of a fanzine photograph may not be aesthetic but informative, social and political. By political, I do not mean that it tries to emulate photojournalism, rather it is the anti-expert techniques and the (perhaps utopian) attempt to break the ?projected reality? that are political. Indeed, a fanzine photographer can be seen as an amateur photographer with a political and social conscience. Fanzine photography, through the lens of unskilled photographers, acts as a document aiming to break away from the popularised imagery of musical genres fabricated by the professional photographers. I have been involved in the production of a fanzine, called Uzine, from 1991 and have been single-handedly producing and publishing it online since 2005 on I am a fanzine photographer and have been shooting and publishing photographs for my fanzine for over twenty years. I shoot the ordinariness that surrounds me at concerts without paying attention to the rules and technical aspects of photographic shooting. I am not a trained or skilled photographer and as such I am Baudelaire?s ?would-be painter? (1855) and Bourdieu?s Corsican peasant all the same and make no apologies for shooting concerts or family gathering with the same ?technical clumsiness? (Bourdieu 1965:6-7). The case study below was featured in my exhibition entitled ?Photo/Music/Text?, which ran at Southampton?s Bargate Monument Gallery in the UK from 1 April to 1 May 2011. It featured some of my fanzine photographs spanning twenty years of fanzine photography. The photographs can be viewed by following the following link: Case study: Kurt Cobain from Nirvana, Rennes (France), 16 February 1994 by Aline Giordano ?Many professional photographers have tried to capture the genius, the madness or the despair of Cobain. They photographed him posing with a gun, in a wheelchair, with oversized fashionable sunglasses and, more humanely, just slouching on a sofa playing his Fender guitar. They also pictured him as a family man, with wife Courtney Love and baby girl Frances. I was fortunate to see Nirvana twice and be given permission to photograph the concert on both occasions, in 1991 during the French festival ?Les Transmusicales de Rennes?, and at one of their last ever concerts, again in Rennes on 16 February 1994. I took many photographs of the band and Cobain in particular. To me they are archetypal examples of Bourdieu?s (1965) ordinary photographs - often clumsy, blurred, and without any artistic flair. They are like snapshots that I would be ashamed of sharing outside of the family circle. Imagine, if Kurt were your brother and you were looking at my photograph of him, you would laugh at him and comment on his dress-sense, his spots or wasted figure. And yet, you might say that this photograph shows the real Kurt Cobain. I have been hunted down by people who have looked at the one photograph of Cobain published on my website. They wanted to know if I have other photographs, or information about Cobain, and whether I know of other recordings (visual or audio) of this particular show. Sometimes they just wanted to share their experience with someone like me who saw him in the flesh. My photograph of Cobain has no aesthetic value whatsoever to the Nirvana fans, and actually nor to me. It represents a part of their personal memory about Nirvana that they are trying to complete, either individually or as part of a community, if they belong to the various popular ?official? Nirvana websites. My fanzine photographs help fans fill out their personal narrative of popular music by offering an alternative image of the artist. This photograph not only acts as a document but also has the potential to link people who share common interest, or a common fantasy?.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2011 IASPM Benelux conference, 14-15 april 2011, Netherlands.
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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