Today is the The Newsstand’s last day in the subway. It’s been a good run, 8 months and countless events and release parties. Stop by tonight at 6PM to see Lele Saveri’s Commuter’s installation and pick up a copy of the book.
It’s Halloween in New York City, seemingly the only holiday that is celebrated by every single one of the city’s 8 million residents regardless of age, gender, race or religion. At 7:00 PM, the Lorimer/Metropolitan subway station is a zoo, quite literally speaking, as grown men and women pass by dressed as zebras, cats, bears and any other animal you can possibly imagine. That’s not to mention the slew of zombies, ghosts, Walter Whites and “sexy” everything’s who make their way along the passage, transferring from the G to the L to begin their nights out.
Lele Saveri is there too, camera in hand, to document the evening’s festivities. Since the beginning of June, he’s spent the majority of his waking hours in the Brooklyn subway station, running a pop-up zine shop out of an old newspaper stand. “The Newsstand,” as it’s aptly named, features independently published zines from over 1000 different artists and hosts art exhibitions, release parties and various other events several nights a week.
How did the idea for the Newsstand come about?
I was doing a Zine Fair called 8-Ball in different billiard halls. In December I did it in Koreatown for the first time and I asked this company Alldayeveryday to help me out and promote a little bit by reaching out to different people and they really enjoyed it. They’d just opened up a new space in the East Village and I curated a little stick and poke pop-up shop. And they really liked that too. They’d been working on a lot of web stuff and they realized that if you gather people together, avoiding the Instagram and whatever else, you can still get great feedback and people get really excited about meeting with each other. So after we’d done all that, Jamie from Alldayeveryday got in touch and said that he saw this newsstand that had been closed for a few months and thought it would be cool to do a pop-up for a week, as an extension of the Zine Fair. So we started reaching out and it took us a few months to get to the right people in the MTA. Then it was hard to get the license because we wanted to do it by month but they only did 10-year leases. So we had to convince them that it was going to be a trial and that it would be something good for the community.
When did it first open?
And it was only supposed to be a month at first?
Yeah. I was away for the whole month of May because I had to go to Italy to renew my Visa. So that whole month I was organizing, I designed the boxes and everything to go inside. We would have started a little bit before if I hadn’t had to go back there.
Do you still accept submissions from everyone?
Yeah. That’s my main philosophy, that there’s no filter here. Every shop, every bookstore has a filter for what’s good or bad and I don’t think that’s fair in here because this is very much of a community space. It’s everybody’s place, if you want to do something you can do it. I didn’t want to judge myself. That’s why we’re only keeping three copies of everything because then I let everybody be in it. We keep putting new things up front so that everybody gets a little bit of shine. I mean if people like it, people buy it.
It seems like most things like this, especially in New York there’s so much ego involved, it’s all about who you know and that’s the only way to get into it.
Exactly. You need to know the guy who runs the store in order to be there and it’s always a big favor from their side. That’s not the way that this shop should be. I understand that some of the shops need to be curated some more, but this is something that’s not going to be forever and I want it to be here for everyone.
Do you know how many artists you’ve taken zines from thus far?
Today we got to 1002 individual artists. That’s without including the titles from publishers or the titles that other bookstores give us.
How long have you been doing 8-Ball for?
The first 8-Ball Zine Fair was in June of last year. We’ve already done three because we do two a year, in June and December.
Do you have another one coming up in December of this year?
Yeah on the 15th.
Why did you decide to hold them at pool halls?
I used to run a billiards hall on Grand. I mostly worked there to help out the owner who was going bankrupt. He hadn’t paid rent in a year and owed like 70,000 dollars. It was this whole big thing. I ran it for like seven months. Miyako was working there too. I had all of these friends working as bartenders and one night we were talking about a zine she wanted to release and I was like, we should do it here. We have all these tables, we should try to do something with them. So in two weeks we organized it, it was super big. The first one was so amazing. Then from there it just became a thing.
Had you been making zines yourself before that?
Yeah, forever. From graffiti zines before I even knew what photography was to photography later. But never with any artistic intention until I think around 2003 or 2004; I thought to make zines with some kind of cool, artsy thing. But before that it was just a way of making something.
You released a zine called Creeps earlier today. Do you still have much time to make your own zines with everything else you’re involved in?
Way less than I would wish. This morning I woke up at 11 o’clock and while I was preparing and sending emails, I was trying to find some images to put on the blog for Halloween. I realized that I had tons, so at 11 o’clock I decided to make the zine. It really came together from like 11 to 4. I just went to the Xerox machine by my house and put it all together. So sometimes, but very little, I’m missing it.
Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve gotten to work with through the Newsstand and 8-Ball?
So many. Everyone I managed to get in touch with through the 8-Ball thing is someone that I really wanted to get in touch with. The first time was 15 artists and it was all people that I knew so it was easier. But later on it the artists were all people that either I didn’t know or knew very little. I did this zine about GG Allin’s last tour. His roadie had taken all these pictures and on the way back GG Allin died and so no one had ever seen his pictures. That was one that I really loved. I did a zine recently with Asger Carlsen and Leo Fitzpatrick, both of them that I admire as artists. I did a mixtape with Neck Face that I really like, I did another one with Chances With Wolves who I really admire as DJs. Everyone that I got involved with doing 8-Ball stuff, I was really stoked about being able to reach out to them. Recently I did this book with FUZI. He’s a French graffiti writer and he’s somebody who changed my life in ’94 when he came to Rome. But he’s somebody that I’d never met and then he wanted to do a book with me. That was one of the best, one of the main achievements of my life.
When did you make the transition from graffiti to do more with photography?
I moved to London in 2001. From there I quit graffiti in my head. I did a little bit more later on but really it was over after then. Like the seriousness of it. Because graffiti for me was not just like, doing graffiti was being serious about it. As soon as I couldn’t dedicate as much time, I couldn’t dedicate any time. I had to quit. When I moved to London I was working in Pizza Hut for three years. I had Sundays off so I would go out and take pictures of London. From there I started like that. I think 2002 is when I discovered photography and I just got so focused on that. I think that’s how the transition happened as soon as I replaced graffiti with photography in my mind.
And then you eventually became a photo editor at Vice?
Yeah for three years. I started in London and then I moved to Milan to do Vice. Vice had just gotten to Europe when I started working for them so they needed someone to coordinate because there were like 10 different Vice offices. It started with England, then went to Italy, Germany, Spain and then France. Everyone said that Europe was an important moment for Vice because it was a French thing and they were bringing lots of money to Vice. They needed the money from the fashion industry so they needed someone who could bring higher photography onto the magazine and I think that’s why I started there. We had a gallery in Milan too. I was mostly there for that.
Is that how you got started curating?
Yeah. But I didn’t think that I wanted to do it anymore. When I moved to New York, I was trying to escape the curatorial parts and then once I got here this just sort of happened.
Why do you think you ended up getting into photography instead of a different sort medium?
I could never draw. I’m terrible at it. Photography has two main attractions for me. The main thing is the memories. It’s the fact that you’re freezing something forever. I have a very terrible memory and I constantly need to be reminded about things and that’s the one thing I know that captures something forever. And secondly is the fact that its immediate. So I don’t have to worry about how to make it, I just need to learn how to make it then make it right away. Those are the two main things.
How did the idea to take photos of the commuters start?
I’m someone who is always around with a camera. I don’t really use many of the photos that I shoot. I’m always around with the bike, I’m always walking around or whatever and I always take tons of photographs. But once I was here, especially the first two months I was here everyday, I could never be out. I was really missing out on being reminded on how to take pictures. I was getting really frustrated and then I realized that this is a place where there are tons of people that keep coming by, and I needed to document some of it. So that’s how it really started.
What has the Newsstand’s relationship been like with the MTA?
It was good at first then it became a little harsher. They didn’t think that we were going to be staying this long. So at one point they got kind of bored of having to see all these people coming here for events, so now they’re constantly on our case. I know some people in the MTA really like us. They send us emails to thank us for everything and the CEO of the MTA has been sending out links to the articles in the New York Times and everything else. So they don’t think of it as a bad thing, but before it was very open and now they’ve been blocking us.
This stop operates as a sort police station as well, what sort of interactions have you had with them?
It was very good at first. Then we did a stand up comedy show where we built a whole stage with a PA and they just shut us down that day. From then on every time we do something they’re always coming here and telling us to turn everything off, so it’s changed a little bit.
Were you surprised with the media attention the Newsstand has gotten from outlets like the New York Times, New York Magazine and everything else?
It’s been very, very weird, to me at least. NPR came to us and some TV stations came to us recently as well. It was totally unexpected. I thought the shop was going to be a good reaction for the kids that live in the neighborhood just because it’s kind of a good neighborhood for that. But I didn’t think that other people would be interested and I didn’t think that the media especially would be paying any attention. It was very weird. To this day it’s difficult for me to actually talk to them, I’m not the best person to do that.
You were working on some other projects recently too, right? You went to SF to do the Citrus News and then you had the Opening Ceremony pop-up as well.
Those are all like side things that are happening now, which to me are very good because I can see a future somewhere else that’s not just in photography or in the subway. The Citrus News started because I curated something for Red Bull, it was just like a library of zines. That was a good thing for me because it was the first one that was outside my own things. So these people were trying to curate something and they wanted books and wanted to do a library there. I just thought that doing a fruit stand was good. My Granddad had a fruit stand forever so I grew up with fruits. I wanted to be outside and I love San Francisco so that was easy. Then we did Opening Ceremony for Fashion Week and the thing for the New York Art Book Fair. We’re preparing a few other things now, like Miami Art Basel we’ll have something there this December. It’s all really curatorial stuff because everything I do outside of this is very selective. Whereas here, everything is for everyone. But in San Francisco I used only San Francisco artists, at Art Basel I’m going to do a higher level of art and for Red Bull I did all music stuff. There is more curatorial than it is for me here.
What other projects do you have lined up for the next few months?
Art Basel will be a big thing. Then the next 8-Ball Zine Fair in December. I’m also opening a project-space in two weeks with Mark Cross. It’s very close to here, on Montrose and Lorimer. The first show is going to be a book launch for Sandy Kim. The space is going to be divided into a showing space, like a gallery, and the back will be a workshop where people can do things. We’ve wanted to have a place where people could make zines. Then there’s the LA Art Book Fair in February and a few other things for next year that I don’t want to say yet.
What does the future look like for the Newsstand?
I want to close it at some point. It needs to end. It needs to have people still excited about it. Not necessarily very soon, not this month, but I want to close it in the near future for sure. It needs to have an end. Stop it and then reopen something else. It just needs a break from this otherwise it won’t be as …
Do you think that people will just start taking it for granted or it won’t be as special anymore?
Yeah exactly, I don’t want that. I want people to still be very excited. And if I’m always here I can’t come up with new ideas and I need to be able to do that.
What are you going to do with all the photos of the people you’ve been taking today?
That I don’t know. I’ve no idea. I’ve just been taking them. I’ve been taking pictures of people going past since day one so I think that I need to keep doing it. I wish that I could do it forever, it’s beautiful and I have a free platform. Being down here I don’t really have time to take many pictures anymore, so that’s the one thing I can do and I’ll just have to keep doing it.