When it comes to zines, VANESSA BERRY is pretty much the entry point for most enthusiasts. Eternally cool, the creative polymath shares with us her experience of discovering zines as a teenager in the 90s…
In the world of zines, Vanessa Berry is a rockstar. She is a writer, blogger, visual artist, author of books Strawberry Hills Forever and Ninety9, Sydney explorer, longtime music lover, and op-shop queen… you get the idea: Vanessa is lady of many awesome talents.
But what she is most known for — and the start of her creative life –is zines. She made her first zine in 1996 and to date, Vanesssa’s made around 140 zines in different series: Psychobabble, Laughter and the Sounds of Teacups, and I am a Camera and Disposable Camera. Naturally, she’d be the first person to profile in our first issue, ‘Firsts.’
How were you introduced to zine culture?
I read zines for years before I made one of my own. I loved how odd and idiosyncratic they were, and in the pre-internet days it was unusual to encounter personal writing, so that struck a chord too. I made my first zine Psychobabble in a cut-and-paste frenzy one night – it was made up of clippings from books and magazines that I found weird or interesting, and I scrawled whatever came into my head in the gaps between the clippings.
I kept making zines because I became connected with the zine-making community and found plenty of kindred spirits in it; I loved getting mail from readers, and loved the process of making them.
I recently had a memoir published, (Ninety9, published by Giramondo) about growing up in the 1990s and discovering music and underground culture, and there is a section about zines in that. Writing that made me reflect on how much zines changed my life – it was the thing that made me feel connected to the world. I think this is a common teenage experience: finding something, no matter what it is, that connects you to the world. Sometimes this is a phase, other times it’s with you for life. For me and zines, it seems to be the latter – I’ve been making them for 18 years now.
Tell us about your zines…
My current zines are I am a Camera and Disposable Camera. I started making I am a Camera in 1999 and I make it roughly annually. It varies in content but it is usually stories from my life. They’re personal but not confessional, looking out at the world through my eyes rather than looking inward. The last two issues have been about travel – issue 16 was about Ōkunoshima, or “rabbit island” in Japan, and issue 15 was about visiting Dunedin in New Zealand and my love of Flying Nun bands from the 1980s.
Disposable Camera is the little sister zine to I am a Camera. I type it in one sitting on a typewriter and it is paired with a map that relates to the story – a memory map of Annandale is one example, teamed with a story about visiting goth houses in Annandale in the 1990s.
What’s in your latest issue?
I’m working on a new I am a Camera, and this one is similar in theme, although with a more personal slant. My previous one was a split with another long-time zinemaker, Luke YOU, and it was about the 80s pop band The Housemartins. Luke lives in Melbourne and we sent the zine back and forth in the post as we worked on it.
What’s next for you?
I’m working towards an exhibition at Penrith Regional Gallery in March. Another one of my projects is a blog — Mirror Sydney — which is about unusual, forgotten or overlooked elements of the city and suburbs. I have a big list of places I hope to explore, and write about, this year.
Who: Vanessa Berry
What: I am a Camera, Disposable Camera