A conversation with Trey Derbes and Ofir Barak: Part of the Seeing the Scene series
Trey Derbes created Tour Dogs to share his punk rock tour photography and street photographs. In the spirit of many zine makers who came before him, he knew that the best way to share his work was to do it himself. The first eight issues primarily featured Trey’s photographs but then he started using the zine as an avenue to share the work of other photographers from around the globe. Ofir Barak joined Trey in ownership of Tour Dogs in 2020. They made changes to the design and release schedule to increase the quality of a zine that had already earned a lot of praise from street photographers and viewers who are excited by documentary photography publications. The cost to reproduce high quality photos can be a deterrent when people consider making zines and a regular production schedule is often something zine makers avoid, but Trey and Ofir have accepted the challenges to create a very exciting photozine.
Daniel: I know Tour Dogs emerged from Trey’s touring experiences. Can you talk a little bit about that intersection of being in a band and making photographs?
Trey: I’ve been playing music in punk bands since I was thirteen. That was part of the reason I moved to California. I grew up in New Orleans and there wasn’t a huge punk scene in New Orleans when I was living there. I first moved to L.A. and I was in L.A. for about five years. Then I got a really good opportunity to join a band in the Bay Area, Heartsounds. They were just signing to Epitaph Records—which for me that’s a dream to be on Epitaph Records. Through that, I toured all across the U.S., Japan, Europe, and Australia. I loved traveling. A big reason for me to get into music was hopefully to be able to get almost like a free ticket to travel around the world and see other cultures. So, I was using that to take photos, but it wasn’t just about band stuff; I was also interested in all the cultures that we’d see.
Daniel: Can you talk a little more about what you shot when you started making photos? I assume you were shooting at shows.
Trey: That’s how I started, taking show photos. But I’d go to a show and there could be ten to twenty photographers. There were more photographers than just people there to watch the show sometimes. I didn’t want to just be another one of those people, so that’s where I was trying to photograph from a different angle: being a person in the band. I was also getting into street photography and was basically trying to incorporate those street photography principles—composition and stuff like that—to these tour photographs. I was a huge fan of Daido Moriyama and Japanese photography. To me, it just felt very rough and the emotion that I felt from it was very gritty, very punk. So, I was trying to get some kind of mixture of street photography principles and then capturing my touring stuff, trying to capture that feeling of chaos that comes with touring.
Daniel: Before we get into creating Tour Dogs, can you talk about your start with photography, Ofir?
Ofir: I started taking photographs around 2014. I was a painter, and am still a painter at my core, but there was a time when I couldn’t create more with a brush or charcoal and I looked for new ways to express myself. And I decided that I need to go someplace, clear my head, and surround myself with every kind of artistic form I could find. Something that I would be able to create with. I traveled to the U.S. eventually, and the U.S. had free museums and galleries that I could walk into and get inspiration. I went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and there was an exhibition by a photographer I didn’t know, Garry Winogrand (American Photographer Garry Winogrand Retrospective). Right then and there I knew I wanted to be a photographer. I couldn’t consume everything at once, so I had to go back three or four more times. This was one of the first books I bought, the exhibition catalogue.
When I came back to Israel, to Jerusalem, I decided that I wanted to do a project. I had a very strong relationship with my grandmother; we were both into art. So, I started taking photographs and we had a weekly routine where we sat down and we would talk about the things I captured. We’d just talk about normal stuff in the photos because we didn’t have too much background with photography. We appreciated the light, the subjects, the composition, and stuff like that. A few weeks later she got ill for the second time with cancer, so we didn’t have more time to sit down. And there was a time that she needed to get hospitalized. I sat down by her bed one time and just wanted to ease her mind from the all the treatments she had received. I showed her a picture on my iPhone screen. It was a neighborhood in Jerusalem of Hasidic Jews called Mea Sharim. She right there and then told me: “This is very different than what I have seen up until now. You should keep going and do this thing” about photography. And she passed away the next day. So, that started my journey to capture the neighborhood for three more years.
Daniel: Let’s talk about the zine. What inspired the move from making photographs to creating a zine, Trey?
Trey: We weren’t going on these extravagant tours. We were sleeping on floors and doing a lot of overnight drives. I came up with the name Tour Dogs because I was filling in on drums for this band from Australia, Anchors. They were coming to America to do a three-week tour. During the tail end, when we were going through Mexico, we’d stay in places where we’d have four mattresses on the floor of a bedroom. We were all just crammed in there, sleeping with all of our stuff. One of them said, “Man, we’re really tour dogging this one.” I was like, “Ah, I like that. That’s a good way to describe this: just tour dogging it.”
But what got me into zines the most is Cometbus. I thought: “I’m going to do a Cometbus thing but make it with photos.” But the more I got into it, the more I realized that this has been around for a while. I wanted to do something other than keep them on my computer. That’s why I started doing the free zines. I thought: “Nobody’s going to want to buy these if they haven’t seen them.” And I felt like there’s a value in seeing them in print; it just doesn’t come through on the phone.
Daniel: Creating an opportunity for people to see the work.
When I started doing this, I was giving away zines. I wanted to get them to as many people as possible, to get the photos off of Instagram and into people’s hands.Trey
Trey: When I started doing this, I was giving away zines. I wanted to get them to as many people as possible, to get the photos off of Instagram and into people’s hands. There was a lot of value in that even if it cost me money. And the zines were so easy to make. Before I started the subscription, I was printing them on my work printer and just making them myself.
Daniel: Trey’s comment about Instagram is important. There are thousands of excellent street photographers using that platform. Why make a street photozine rather than creating a blog or webzine?
I think there’s a value to the printed material. When you can hold it in your hands… it’s up to us to make the work count.Ofir
Ofir: I think there’s a value to the printed material. When you can hold it in your hands.
Ofir: Trey did an awesome job and we met because I wanted to do a zine with Trey. We clicked. And I told him that I think I could contribute to Tour Dogs. When I compare the zines to books, it’s almost the same for me. Although it has a lot of variations, obviously. But when you open a zine or a book, you sit down, you take your time. Sometimes you smell it. You dedicate time to it. And there’s an excitement, looking forward to the mail coming. When you open Instagram, Facebook, or whatever, you flip through the photos in a second. So, you don’t really absorb the work. With the photozine it is up to us to be the curators, the filters. It is up to us to find work that we think should be published; it’s up to us to make the work count.
Daniel: If I compare punk photozines, which were the first photozines I discovered, to your documentary photozines, there are some differences. There is a new Tour Dogs issue every month, whereas most punk photozines come out infrequently; the covers feature a similar style and other design elements repeat across issues. Is there a level of professionalism that is expected with documentary photozines that might not exist with punk zines?
Trey: I don’t think it’s expected, but I wanted to be consistent, so you know what you’re getting. You know this is a Tour Dogs zine, and you don’t have to wonder if there’s gonna be one this month or next month.
Ofir: Even the cover. I remember one of the guidelines being that you have to have eight letters for the title.
Trey: That was fun for me, although people would struggle to come up with a title. And I’d help them: “What about this?”
Ofir: It pushed them.
Trey: Once I started doing that, and I was giving it away, people from all over the world would get them. I thought it would be great for other photographers. I saw that there was talent on Instagram that wasn’t getting the attention or appreciation and maybe that’s because of the format of Instagram. I thought: “If I could do this every month, including giving out zines. That could get these photos in the hands of people all over the world.” I started by giving out fifteen and lately I’ve been giving away twenty every month. There’s some value in that even though it’s not monetary.
Ofir: If we go down the line with considering inconsistency: an album made by a musician might not match the old style. Artists evolve, they grow up. And I think this is what we’re doing with the zine. I think we are sharpening one other, each with his own knowledge of photography, books, photozines. Tour Dogs has been up for three years. This is a good time to show our audience how we’ve grown and evolved.
Daniel: Early on, were you chasing photographers and how does it work now? Do you invite photographers, are photographers approaching you?
Trey: In the beginning, I would make friendships through the giveaways. People would get a zine in the giveaway and I would look at their Instagram. And if someone was really good, I’d ask: “Hey, do you want to do a zine?” So, it was a bit of chasing down, but I wouldn’t have seen their work if they didn’t reach out to me.
Ofir: That’s how I met Trey, through the giveaway.
Trey: In the past few months Ofir and I have been actively reaching out to photographers to get higher quality photographs and increase content. Before the zines were twenty pages and we’re trying to get them to double the size and we’re trying to do two zines a month instead of one. So, for the past few months we’ve been actively chasing down photographers. It’s difficult because both of us have day jobs.
When you have something that is in your heart then you make time for it.Ofir
Ofir: But when you have something that is in your heart then you make time for it.
Daniel: This is my theory about a zine: It’s cheaper to make, it’s quicker to make because the page length is less, it’s cheaper for people to buy so the barrier to entry for a viewer is a lot lower than many books (especially if published with a commercial press). It seems like books right now are either self-published and could be affordable or a book is targeted to a collector’s market and very expensive for the average fan of documentary street photography. Therefore, a zine seems to be situated in a nice place. If I spend eight dollars on a zine that is cheap to ship, and I don’t really dig the photos, then I’m not out a lot of money. Can you talk a little bit about the choice to make a zine versus doing a book series?
Trey: I chose to publish zines because I could design them on my computer and print them at home. It was very easy to make. So, it’s cheaper to print them. But I still tried to do one-off books here and there. I feel like there are so many books in the world and it’s hard to stand out if your book is on a website with a thousand other books. Even if your content is really good. I feel like another benefit with zines is that they’re cheap enough to make that I can give them away, which becomes a promo for the zine more generally. If it was a book, there’d be no way. I did a book at the end of 2019 and I was trying to sell it for as cheap as possible: $15. The shipping for international was like $20. The shipping is more than the cost of the book and it’s just kind of strange.
Ofir: I see the zine as very important. When we are approaching photographers now, they’re really, really good photographers. Both Trey and I really value them. We make an excel sheet where we both have to approve them. Between us, we have a very hard process. Some of them won’t make the cut because one of us didn’t approve. We have enough time for choosing, but it’s sometimes harder than a book because you have to cut down during the editing process. To sequence twenty photographs; they usually send us thirty-five and we have to cut down. We struggle with this: what to keep in, what to cut out. We want to do the best that we can. For example, we printed out my zine. We did 150 copies. Everything was ready. But then Trey and I found an error. We can’t publish the zine like this. We have to re-print it, which takes money. The “downside” for us is that we have to chase the quality, and that’s not usually easy—to publish each month a very high-quality zine. When you publish a book then you set your goal: one book and then it’s off. You don’t have to deal with it each month.
Daniel: Yeah, as an individual artist, it might take a year or more to publish a book but then you start on the next project.
Ofir: It takes me three years to publish a book. I published two books in six years. Each month we have to make the zine. [laughs]
Trey: There’s something else, too, about zines. I feel like there’s a feeling or an emotion you get when you look at a good photograph in a zine or in a book. But sometimes I think that the zine itself, like when I used to read older Cometbus zines, even having the zine was an emotional experience. You felt like you were part of the band or the scene or whatever. That’s another reason why I like zines so much; it has this inherent emotional feeling, this punk rock feeling.
Ofir: There’s an excitement. You get it each month in your mailbox. Usually you haven’t heard of the photographer, but the work can inspire you.
Daniel: I can only speak for myself. I saw images on the Tour Dogs Instagram account, they looked good, so I subscribed. But I had no idea which photographers you would feature or the focus of each issue that would come with the subscription.
Ofir: The price is very affordable. We always have to look from both sides: the viewer and the creator. We are trying to make the best zine we can at an affordable price so the viewer can enjoy it without being limited by the financial aspect.
Daniel: Trey mentioned Cometbus and punk community. A DIY punk community is much smaller (even from a global perspective) than a collection of people who are into documentary street photography. Do you have any sense of how the readers connect to the zine and to street photography zines more generally (including why they buy or why they subscribe to Tour Dogs)?
Trey: People have messaged me directly on Instagram and have said that they like the zine or that they just like what I am doing for the community. Let’s say there’s a photographer on Instagram who doesn’t have a huge number of followers, but I enjoy their photos, so I’ll make a zine for them. People seem stoked that they can see a lesser-known photographer in print form. And I do feel like it’s creating its own sort of community. A lot of times people will share images of the zines I send out that month in their stories and then I share their stories. There’s a good back and forth. And I hope that as I keep doing this, we are growing this community that is its own sort of thing. Also, for the photographers, I want there to be some light at the end of the tunnel. I know what it feels like to have photos but you’re not really sure to do with them. You could post them online. And people are making more zines; that’s becoming more common. But when I started doing this a few years ago, I wasn’t really sure what I should do with my photos.
Ofir: One of the things that we set up on the new website is a submission guideline, which is an opportunity for people so they can start sending us materials. It will also make the work easier for us so people can approach us, and we can filter. It gives a small token of hope that you can be published, and you can be seen in this vast world of photography.
Daniel: Let’s talk about production of the zine for a bit. Sequencing and editing are really important to make a high quality photozine. Does the format of a zine—size, the location of the crease and the staples—affect your decision to use a specific photo?
Trey: Ofir is teaching me a lot of stuff about design and how things should be consistent. I would print the zines a month in advance just to make sure I have them for the giveaway. But I wasn’t very good about which paper I used or which paper would look good with this print, or if they should be the same. We definitely take into account the placement of elements in a photo when we’re designing it, including the crease.
I wouldn’t say it’s limiting; it’s the form of the zine, so you have to work with it and around it.Ofir
Ofir: A good photo is a good photo. I think the only thing that can limit us with the zine format compared to a book is that the zine is consistent. You have the same size, whereas a book you can make a square or a rectangle. But this is up to us to make the photos visible within the restrictions; we have to make it work. We use our knowledge and our skills, so a reader won’t notice the crease as intrusive. People are looking to get enjoyment from the zine, so they probably won’t focus on something like this. We have limitations with everything, so in general we have to overcome them. When we edit, we try to pay attention to the small details. We can go to the edges and make sure hands are not cut off, or legs. The line with the staples doesn’t go on an eye, for example. I wouldn’t say it’s limiting; it’s the form of the zine, so you have to work with it and around it. The presentation doesn’t affect the picture or the message.
Daniel: Any display format will create problems. A gallery, even beyond the fact that most people can’t get there, needs to worry about lighting, the size of the wall, what else is located around the gallery space in terms of who comes to the gallery.
Ofir: We only have to worry about the crease [laughs]. Obviously, there’s the context of the forty pages. However, it’s all about the story: you have to have some pictures that are weaving the story to get to the highs and the lows within the story. You have to have pictures that get into the best pictures; it’s not necessarily that there are bad pictures but within a story maybe that photo doesn’t hold up on its own at that point in the story. Most artists now have enough pictures for two zines or a book. They send us a lot of pictures. But in the form of a zine a specific photo might be limiting. I would say it’s all connected to the story that you’re trying to tell. Some pictures work better with the story.