Ottawa’s creative spirit hides at times just below the surface. If you know where to look, there is evidence everywhere, from colourful murals to vibrant cafes to an intimate musical evening. One of Ottawa’s emerging creative endeavors is the analog photography zine Do it for the Grain. Apartment613 sat down with the founder Kenneth Charlebois to learn about the project ahead of their one-year anniversary show on Thursday March 5 at Driphouse, from 8-11pm and you’re invited!
The party will showcase photos, digital prints, and will have silver gelatin darkroom prints for sale. You can also pick up the ninth edition of the zine!
Charlebois has approached the project with a can-do attitude. “I woke up one day and thought, [starting a photo zine] would be cool. Ottawa has a lot of great things and I think most of them are just started by people wanting to have that in their city,” said Charlebois, and he set about figuring out how to make it happen.
“Part of it is that I want everyone to see Ottawa the way that I see Ottawa—as beautiful and full of creative people and nice things. Photography is a natural outlet for that,” he said.
The photos in the zine are taken with an analog camera—that is to say, not a digital camera or a smartphone. There’s something timeless about the use of such technology.
“The idea behind [the zine] is making photography physical,” Charlebois said. “You’re taking photos, not for the sake of necessarily posting them online; you’re taking photos for the sake of actually creating an image.”
When is the last time you created a photograph that didn’t exist just as pixels on a screen? For me, it was developing a disposable camera that was given away for free at Osheaga many years ago. My photos are a time capsule, of sorts, and despite the amateur quality and bad lighting they elicit more meaning than my digital photographs from that time.
Graininess is an inherent part of shooting film, and the title of the zine references #doitforthegram—ironic, as this really isn’t about Instagram—as well as #doitforthegains, a fitness inspiration hashtag.
Crowdfunding the launch
From the beginning, Charlebois knew he wanted the zine to be available at no cost. “It has to be accessible above all,” he said. “[Otherwise] there’s competition because there are institutions, focused on this kind of thing. Plus, I love free things. I know other people love free things too. So if you can figure out a way to make things free, it’s kind of ideal.”
“The idea behind [the zine] is making photography physical. You’re taking photos, not for the sake of necessarily posting them online; you’re taking photos for the sake of actually creating an image.”
Charlebois looked into the different ways he could get the zine published. Professional printing costs were several hundred dollars per issue, so he explored other options. He briefly considered advertisements, but that didn’t feel like the right approach. He realized that if he purchased a printer and invested a few days of his time, he could print each issue at home.
“I didn’t have any money at the time, so that’s a barrier to doing a lot of things. But Kickstarter is a way to get money to do things,” said Charlebois. “I thought would be that would be something that a lot of people would like to see. And what I like about Kickstarter’s platform is just that people who can afford to create this thing are willing to invest. So if you can only afford like $5 or $10 but you want to see this thing happen, you can do that.”
The Kickstarter campaign in February 2019 was intentionally short—only about two weeks—but he more than doubled his goal and raised $766. This was enough funding to purchase a printer plus enough ink and paper to put out five issues. Among the perks on the Kickstarter was a film tutorial day, where he taught the basics of shooting, developing, and scanning your own film—something that Do it for the Grain is starting to develop into a workshop series. Charlebois brought his signature sense of humour to the campaign, with the promise “Overall, this is such a low-cost venture that there isn’t really much at risk. It’s not like you’re gambling on some ill-conceived island festival.”
Response to the zine
On Thursday March 5th, Do it for the Grain is releasing their ninth edition in a single year. The zine has been well received, and the number of submissions as well as their quality continues to go up. Charlebois is now working with a few collaborators on the project—Nicolai Gregory, Diego Alvaredo, and Yuli Sato—with whom he shares curation duties.
“I’ve tried to include a lot of different styles [and] as many different perspectives as possible,” said Charlebois. “I don’t want the zine to just be landscapes that are all sharp and beautiful. Landscapes are so nice, but you can’t have a million of them! I didn’t want to glorify a particular style, I wanted to glorify Ottawa and the diversity of Ottawa.”
Charlebois spoke about how many people have reached out to share how much they like the zine, and offered donations—both financial and of equipment. These donations have been crucial in keeping the venture going and supporting the photography community. For example, he received a high-quality photo printer and can now make archival professional quality prints at home. The majority of proceeds from the prints go to the artist, and a portion gets re-invested into the zine.
Do it for the Grain has some exciting hopes for the future, and they are keeping themselves open to different possibilities. One of the priorities is looking for a permanent space, which would provide an affordable community darkroom. They are hoping to make it a gathering place with a small gallery space, “where you don’t necessarily have to gather under red light bulbs,” joked Charlebois. The group has put on a few workshops now, and the process of installing a temporary darkroom is fairly difficult. A permanent space would facilitate their ability to teach about analog photography.
They are also considering making higher quality zines that focus on a single photographer, like a mini portfolio of their work. This type of publication would be for sale instead of just being distributed, with the zine taking on a role more like a publishing house. Charlebois is also beginning to look into grants to help scale up their activities.
As he puts it, “A lot of changes are in the works. But a lot of staying the same in the right ways.” And what is staying the same? Keeping their activities accessible, reducing barriers to trying analog photography, and providing a space for Ottawa’s many film photographers to showcase their work. I’d say they are on the right track.
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Somehow a year has managed to pass by since this project began. It has grown beyond what I could have expected, so I guess it's time for another party! . To mark the anniversary we're pleased to present our first exhibit, hosted by the friendly folks at @driphouseottawa . There will be a selection of large digital prints from the zine, silver gelatin prints from our upcoming workshop, as well as works by the people who make DIFTG happen. On the night of the vernissage, we are also looking forward to presenting the latest issue and our new logo! . We hope you'll celebrate this milestone with us! There will be no cover charge, of course, but we will have some cool knick knacks to trade for donations to keep the organization running. . If you'd like to have your work featured, send it to email@example.com or use #doitforthegrain . If you'd like to participate in our next darkroom event February 22nd-23rd, check out the eventbrite link in our bio or the post from a few days ago. . . . . . #ottawa #ottawaart #ottawaphoto #613artbeat #myottawa #analogphotography #silvergelatin #blackandwhite #filmphotography #grainisgood #vernissage
The Do it for the Grain zine release party is happening at Driphouse on Thursday March 5th from 8pm to 11pm.
Follow Do it for the Grain on Instagram and Facebook here. Photo prints and subscriptions are available. To submit your own photograph for the zine, tag #doitforthegrain or send your work to firstname.lastname@example.org