SPOTZ pop-up Recap + A word with photographer Pete Voelker

Matthew Loyd

February 16, 2022

Last weekend, Public Access NYC down in the Lower East Side hosted to celebrate the release of their latest photography zines in print, PIX 019 and PIX 020. Opening night for the installation was bustling as photography enthusiasts and friends of filled the small but adequate gallery space at 105 Henry st. The previous installations of the PIX zine lined the walls, all the way from 001 to 020, and there was a slideshow of select images from the entirety of the project projected on the wall in the back. As I was making my way through the space, strategically maneuvering and dodging between conversations and other gallery goers, I got a chance to pick up most of the issues of PIX and flip through them. Each issue was in beautiful full color print with even better looking images filling each page. I stood around in the same spot for moments on end, flipping through, analyzing the photographs shot by talented photographers from all over, then putting down the zine I was viewing to pick up another, and start the process again.

I decided to cop two editions of the PIX series thus far, PIX 016 and PIX 019. PIX 016 featured a photo from the very notable Peter Sutherland on the cover, and is filled with some really beautiful landscape and abstract shots from other artists. That one caught my eye because of the super cool forms and colors in the photographs throughout the issue. PIX 019 features a portrait shot from Alain Levitt, and the inside pages feature a plethora of portrait shots that give the whole zine a very intimate and personal kind of vibe. It’s full of all different kinds of people in loads of different places and spaces, each photo making me think “huh, I wonder what was happening before or after this pic was shot”.

“PIX is a call and response project.”

That comes straight from’s FAQ section on their website. Spotz creator Pete Voelker uses PIX as a way to create a visual dialogue and narrative between seemingly unrelated photographs and photographers. Each issue has its own curation, it’s its own mini art exhibit, where you’re constantly trying to guess the theme as you flip through it. The fun of it is that it’s all up to your own interpretation, as per Voelker’s vision, where he simply chooses a starting picture to guide each project (displayed on the cover of each zine) and asks photographers to submit based on their own visual interpretations of that starting photo and their own work, and the connections they feel exist between the two. Of course, this warrants a very varied response, but Voelker curates each issue in such a way that the individual photos can be entirely unique and at the same time entirely cohesive to produce a complete project.

But hey, don’t just take my word for it. During the hustle and bustle of it all, I got a few minutes to chat with Pete about what the project really is, how it came to be, and what his vision is when going into each new issue of PIX.

Pete Voelker: My Name is Pete Voelker, Spotz is my publishing imprint and PIX is a project that we started in 2019. The first book came out in February 2019. We’ve published 20 since then.

20XX: So what was the original inspiration that pushed you to do PIX and especially present it in the format of a Zine?

So I’ve always been interested in [zines], I’ve made artist books and zines. I’ve always kind of dabbled and done different projects and submitted to other people’s projects, you know, since like high school. And then I had a project called “Spot Zine” back in 2014 and it was 6 issues and each one was all about building community. It was fully curated, [and] it’s all artists who didn’t know each other. Then we’d have a band play, then a DJ, it was all about bringing different scenes into the same room also. So it’s all about a party. We’d cover the walls with Xerox’d shit, and [it was] just very rudimentary but very authentic and fun.

And that kind of work fizzled out for one reason or another and it was a few years later and I was like, “oh, I wanna do that, but do it better” and figure out a more clear idea. And basically the way I came up with PIX is as a photographer myself, when I see an image that I really connect to, I often think of one of my own photos that might be cool to put next to it or whatever. Just as a visual person I often will be like, oh, that reminds me of a photo I took. Not because it’s the same photo, but there might be some sort of connection.

The shades, colors.

Yeah, exactly! Form, composition; it doesn’t have to be subject, or, it could be literal. It could be really abstract. And I was like “how could I make a project out of that?” I was itching to start a new project and I had talked to a couple of photographers about if they have this sort of moment where they think of one of their own photos when they’re connected with another image, and a lot of them were like “yeah sometimes” and I’m like oh cool. And I was like “how could I do it?” and it kind of just evolved. So I made the prompt which is “Look at the photo. Be critical of the photo. Submit your own photo”, and that’s it. So it’s really open from there, but it’s just enough of a guideline. I can do this structured thing, but it’s pretty out there.

Yeah, you can get all types of things that also fit within the same narrative while being their own and very different.

Totally, yeah. In each of these books there’s 30 photos, but everyone’s only seen that first photo. So when it’s published, they then see everybody else’s response and then they see how I’ve edited it and kind of sequence it together, which is my challenge, you know.

So what goes into choosing the first picture? You pull a picture out and you’re like, “that’s it like that’s the one that’s going to be the one for the next PIX issue”

It’s pretty fluid to be honest, but I’ll say, it started with a list of people I respect, and colleagues and whatever who, one, I think they’ll be into it. Two, I would like to collaborate with them. So I really tap into my network and take advantage of that sort of thing. You know, whatever, friendships I’ve had for X amount of time. That’s pretty fluid, and it’s very internal. Like Chad is number 1. Chad Moore is one of my closest friends and we both worked for an artist and that’s how we met, and that artist is Ryan McGinley, who’s number 4. We both met at Ryan’s studio in like, 2008 and it goes from there.

There are some artists on there who are not with us or passed away. You know, like Eugène Atget, he was a turn of the century photographer, but he’s someone whose work has always been important to me and his archive is… there’s no trademarks on it, so you can use it. It’s like an open source sort of thing. So I called up the Library of Congress and got a high quality file from them that they scan from a glass negative.\

Really? Wow, that’s really cool.

But some artists, I’ll say, “Do you want to do this?” And they say yes, and they send me one photo and they’re like “this is the photo.” And I’ll be like, “Sick! I’m glad you’re into it and you’ve thought about this.” And there’s some people I asked and they’re like “here’s a folder of 50 photos,” and then I pick the photo, but I really just roll with it.

Now my last question is, if there’s one thing that you can say to the City of New York right now, what would it be?

Keep it going. We’re doing it. You know–don’t stop.

If you’d like to support Pete and Spotz, check out their website, where you can purchase a copy of a PIX zine of your choice!