Unboxing Nate Matos’s ‘Blandscapes’ and Littlefields #15

The Blandscapes are a series of 4 (at time of writing) small, economical, easily reproducible and open editioned, quarter-fold zines from Nate Matos. They’re quite different from his Serif & Silver  series and Compendium, but no less inspiring.

Littlefields is, for me, a beautifully strange sort of photo magazine from Jim Clinefelter. Each ‘issue’ consists of a random selection of 10 C-Prints from a series of 20 or more photographs and a couple of text panels in a handmade wrapper/sleeve thing. I’ve never seen anything like it.

They should really be in two separate videos, but since they came in one box together, there’s just this one…

Littlefields is a cool thing, for sure. The whole presentation is spot on, from the handmade wrapper/sleeve to the physical prints. Jim Clinefelter travels extensively between the Pacific Northwest and Japan, and Littlefields content reflects this, with ‘issues’ from Jim and other photographers based in and around Portland and Tokyo. There’s no apparent schedule to the releases, they’re not monthly or quarterly or anything as far as I can tell, and most back issues are out of stock. I’m tempted to go and order up some more of them and $15 isn’t so much at all, especially given the product, but I’m trying give my wallet a bit of a break just now. (Full disclosure: I picked mine up direct from Nate at a bit of a discount; he’s currently sold out, but copies of #15 remain available at the Littlefields store.)

The pictures in Littlefields #15 appear to come from the same body of work that produced the Artifacts series, and to have some of these as actual, physical prints is great. The colors are more vibrant, the pictures have a depth and presence to them that is lacking in the Serif & Silver Compendium, and I have some nostalgia for the feel of 4×6 prints in hand. The print quality is excellent, and it’s a pleasure to sit and flip through them, rearrange, lay them out on a table, and see what sorts of stories can be made from them. The quality and this aspect of randomness and chance in Littlefields appeal to me the most, and it feels a little bit precious too, with a collectible element that is somewhat disrupted by the lack of conscious and consistent ordering and editing. 

This randomness carries over into the Blandscapes zines too, sort of. In assembling the zines, Nate inserts the internal pages at random, and so the ordering changes slightly from issue to issue. This aspect of the Blandscapes is less interesting to me than the Littlefields, but, then, they’re different things: where Littlefields is a sort of little art collection, the Blandscapes are more straight-up zine.

Each issue of Blandscapes features a 30 shot series on a single theme, but without a strict narrative structure. Nate envisions them as dealing with “repetition, monotony, and spontaneity” and “as the antithesis of Serif & Silver…” and he nails it on all counts. The Serif & Silver Compendium is slick and well produced, with quality printing and binding all the way around, but, then, it’s $50. The individual issues were (I believe) also slick and well produced, and while they were only $10, they were limited editions and therefore a bit precious and, well, limited. At $4, open editioned, and with cheap printing on cheap paper, the Blandscapes are indeed something much more democratic and DIYish, and the themes themselves bear this out, in some way.

  1. From the Driver’s Seat
  2. Images on My iPhone
  3. When We Were Young
  4. Placed By the Gideons

For each issue, the title is fairly descriptive of the issue’s contents and they’re all, more or less, repetitious and monotonous, with moments of spontaneity. There is very little text in each issue: the title and author information on the cover, date and website on the back, and each picture has a bit of information under it: in vol. 1, the titles give the city and state where the picture was taken; vol. 2 has GPS coordinates taken from the exif data; vol. 3 has the year the picture was made; vol. 4 has some cryptic remarks, a sort of narrator listing some attribute of an anonymous sex partner he (or perhaps she) had an encounter with at the location (usually older motels) depicted in the photograph. This way of titling or notating images is very interesting to me, and it has some possibilities, I think.

Nate has a nice walkthrough of the first three volumes on his youtube and gives some background to the series, how he developed the themes and put the various sets together. He’ll give you a better take, maybe.

The first three zines are, as mentioned, black & white copy machine prints on cheap paper; the fourth is in color on magazine stock, and probably produced by a copy shop. Some images in my copy of vol. 1 suffer from flattened midtones and a lack of contrast that may be due to low toner in the copy machine or something: it’s not consistent from picture to picture and it’s not in the other volumes. The lower contrast amplifies the waffle or chain-link pattern of the fibers in the copy paper, and adds a texture to the images that I doubt Nate intended. I ignored it at first, but about a day after flipping through the zines, I remembered the pattern and had to go check to see if it was just my imagination, so it can a bit distracting. This pattern is still there in volumes 2 and 3, but it’s far less visible, and the photos are much sharper, with more contrast, so I expect it’s a printing issue.

Despite the quality issues I have in with my copy of vol. 1, I appreciate and admire the Blandscapes. In fact, I’m hoping to produce a series of zines based on this quarter fold, copy-shop model in coming months, and I probably wouldn’t have even thought of this without this series.

Sadly, it looks like they’re sold out in Nate’s store, but all the copies I have say ‘open edition’ on the back, so if you ask nicely, he might do another run of them. If not, do keep an eye on his site, God willing there’s more to come.

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