Pete Voelker is always advocating for a better future. Whether that’s in his own personal practice as a photographer documenting activism globally, or his work in the communities he’s a part of–he is one of the most consistently curious people we know. That is why it’s no surprise that he has built a platform of his own to help showcase & create dialogue amongst image-makers now. Through his imprint Spotz he is able to put out portfolios in addition to his call & response style zine called Pix, which asks a handful of photographers to pair their own work with a featured artist’s image. We discuss how this project has influenced his photography, the journey to re-starting his zine-making & what is next for this project.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current practice. How do you balance your own photography with the making of Pix?
PV: My name is Pete Voelker and I’m a visual artist primarily focused on photography and book making. For years I worked for an artist in downtown Manhattan where I learned an immense amount about both the commercial and fine art industry. That experience informed my career as a professional photographer which is what supports my work as an artist including the production of PIX.
How did you start Pix? What drove you to start this project?
PV: I started PIX because I wanted to revisit some successes from an earlier zine that I published in 2014 called Spot Zine. This was a combination of a few different interests; art, music, and parties. It was a great series that brought together many different scenes in NYC. But the motivation for PIX came from a 2018 conversation with friend and mentor Michael Northrup, the first photographer I worked for while in undergrad. We were discussing the fact that when we both see and connect to an image by someone else, we often think of one of our own photographs and how it would pair next to it. I was intrigued by this conversation, and with my renewed desire to expand the Spot Zine series from years before, I decided to launch Spotz with a debut series called PIX. 30 portfolios later, PIX continues to use the same prompt:
Look at the photograph.
Be critical of the photograph.
Submit your own photograph in response.
Why is collaboration and community important to you? What are some creative communities that inspired you along the way to making your own through Spotz /Pix?
PV: Collaboration and community are the only things that lead to a better future. Whether it be artists in Lower Manhattan or nation states uniting to strengthen their sovereignty via the European Union. I believe collaboration is key to understanding and seeing a perspective other than your own.
Some creative communities that I’ve been involved with and inspired by would be 8-Ball, founded by Lele Sevari as well as Photocopyclub by Matt Martin. Both of these communities have a similar ethos to Spotz in the sense that community is the goal and result. Another big inspiration would be Tiny Vices by Tim Barber, which was primarily an online community, but one that I think served an incredibly important role in the early aughts.
You’ve been working on Pix for nearly 5 years & you just launched your latest collection with Delilah Jesinkey in April—we are curious about some of your biggest learnings over the years with these collaborations?
PV: Last year I launched a new series called Artist Portfolios where I aim to highlight projects by a single photographer, a departure from PIX which features 30 photographers per portfolio. Delilah’s book is the third edition in this series, and is a beautiful portfolio of only 12 images. It was an opportunity to work more closely with her outside of PIX, where she has previously contributed. My biggest learning would likely be that patience is key. This is applicable throughout life, but working closely with an artist adds a hefty level of nuance to the situation. The passion and vision is strong and learning to navigate both my own feelings in addition to another artist is something that takes a lot of understanding. I think the only way it works is with honesty and clear communication. Everything is personal to an artist.
What are some standout issues to you, and/or the most surprising photos contributed in response to an artist?
PV: PIX 003 with the cover photo by Farah Al Qasimi is a favorite to viewers and myself. The use of color and form becomes almost ethereal throughout the portfolio, it’s a real beauty. Additionally, I was so excited to work with a photo by Jack Pierson for PIX 030. I’m a big fan of Jack’s work and collaborating with him was a dream come true.
Has working with other artists on this project made you edit your work in a different way?
PV: Yes, more now than ever I’m able to analyze and be critical about how my photographs should be utilized.
Who are some artists you’ve been dreaming of working with in your own photographic practice & also to feature as their own Pix issue?
PV: That is hard. I once had a list that I referred to often but it has been exhausted at this point. One artist I was very excited to work with on PIX was Jill Freedman. She loved the concept and we bonded over smoking pot and talking about cops in NYC, I found her to be one of the realest, most inspiring people I’ve met in the city. Unfortunately we did not land on an image before she passed away. Her estate managers rebuffed my request because I didn’t have many Instagram followers, so, I’d say she is still top of mind in that category.
You’ve been branching out and collaborating with other magazines like Racquet for the special tennis edition of Pix—can you talk a little more about this process and the differences that come up in your production?
PV: Tennis in NYC came together from the success of PIX, but ultimately was a standalone project. After coming to a PIX party Caitlin Thompson and David Shaftel, founders of Racquet Magazine, asked if Spotz could do something for them. Not being a tennis player I approached this the only way I knew, I launched an open call for submissions in addition to countless hours of research. This was an opportunity to add more voice to Spotz and produce a poignant product with a strong message. I enjoyed it immensely and am still so grateful for that opportunity.
What are some things that inspire you outside of image-making these days?
PV: Outside of making photos, editing them, and obsessively reviewing other images by colleagues and peers, I find a lot of inspiration through traveling and talking to people I don’t know. I love to open myself to a lively conversation where I can learn something new.
Do you have a zine-making playlist? Could you share it with us?
Click here to listen to Pete’s playlist on Apple Music