I first came across an issue of Hamburger Eyes on a trip to SF in 2006. I was living in Arizona and crashing on a friend’s couch here who had a great collection of books and zines. I snagged a copy of the mag to read on the plane home and got psyched. That issue of juxtaposed random black-and-white photos of people, partying, girls, shoplifting, hood life and street life was mostly shot here in the city. There was no writing to go along with the images. The mag was really good, obviously made by people who understood the comedic value in the spontaneous interactions we all experience.
Over the years, what started out as a DIY photo zine has evolved into a full photography collective, including darkroom facilities, a gallery space, a cell phone photo application, and, of course, a magazine production facility.
When I decided to pay for a month’s worth of darkroom access in 2009, I met Ray Potes, who runs the show at Hamburger Eyes. Through a mutual friend, I managed to get myself a room mere blocks from Hamburger Eyes’ Photo Epicenter in the Mission. I emailed Ray and told him my deal and where I was staying. It turned out I was living in his old room. Small world. With this in mind, let me introduce you to Hamburger Eyes, the continuing story of life on earth.
Ray started Hamburger Eyes back in 2002 along with his brother Dave and friend Stefan Simikich. He’d always made photo zines. "When I look at a zine, I flip straight to the photo section,” he says by way of explanation. One day, he made one called Hamburger Eyes, and for some reason it was one of the more popular ones. He made a second issue and the momentum continued. He started selling ad space and went to offset printing. Issues of Hamburger Eyes were released about twice a year between 2001 and 2009, receiving nods from noted photographers and other publications. Publishing costs made it tough to continue production, though. They sold some ads, but for the most part Ray and the crew were funding everything with their own dough.
But the magazine isn’t the only way these guys keep film photography alive. The Hamburger Eyes lab is one of only two places in SF where photographers can print their own stuff. The collective has had shows all over the country, and last summer they had their first shows in Europe.
As far as printed materials go, the focus has shifted to smaller, laser-printed zines by single photographers. In 2011 Hamburger Eyes released more than 80 photo zines.
The latest Hamburger Eyes project, Celly Brain, is a quasi social network/phone app based around sharing and rating cell phone pics. There are no filters, it’s just the nitty-gritty. Members are called master blasters and they vote on each other’s photos and score points accordingly. The top pics are featured in the Celly Brain zine.
Hamburger Eyes’ site is going off right now and new pics are going up constantly. “I go through and either diss or give props to every photo on there," say Ray. "This is our deal, we gotta control the content. It's up to us to keep the whack shit down."
At the end of the day, isn't that what it's really all about?
I asked Ray to tell me about some of his favorite pics from over the years. His selections and comments about each are below.
1. Alex Martinez
This photo was published in the first issue of a zine titled Romance Warrior. I think it’s funny and kind of sums up this zine about relationships.
2. Andrea Sonnenberg
This was published in Andrea's first zine with us, Teenage Wetdream. Apparently, this guy likes to booty dance by himself in his garage with the garage door open. Andrea would see him on the way home from work every day and one day got this awesome photo.
3. Bill Daniel
We recently published a zine by Bill Daniel called 847, Do You Have Your Radio On? It’s mostly photos of graffiti that he shot while he was a bike messenger in San Francisco from 1988 to 1994.
4. Chris Atwood
This photo was published in Midnight Special by Chris Atwood. I have fallen asleep with my glasses on in that same hammock many times, so this is kind of classic.
5. Chris Beale
Chris did a zine called 6th Sense and it’s all his photos from 6th and Market, a photo project he has been working on and continues to work on.
6. Mark Murrmann
Photos of The Mummies! I love this band. This was published in Mark's zine Sweat (Stains). Mark is known for his documentary news work, so seeing a zine of just all band photos is great.
7. Michael Jang
The Ramones when they played at Civic Center back in the day!
8. Michael Jang
Mark McGwire of the Oakland A's. Both of these photos were published in Michael Jang's zine One of a Kind.
9. Ray Potes
When the SF Giants won the World Series last year, the whole city went bonkers for an entire night. These two photos are from that night, published in a zine called World Champs.
10. Ray Potes
Portrait of Douglas Dietrich. Ex-military, department of defense military reference technician (Presidio). Published in Spies Like Us.
11. Stefan Simikich
He likes surfing, paint, and donuts. These photos were published in his zine Cool.
12. Ted Pushinsky
He published in a zine called Law Enforcement, [which collects] photos of SF cops spanning three decades. I believe the photo of the lady on the cop car hood came from when the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. I guess all kinds of people were going nuts in the streets, including this crazy lady with no underpants.
Do It Yourself
If you are interested in printing photos at the lab or want to check out the latest selection of zines, you can check out the Hamburger Eyes’ website, or drop by the photo epicenter on 24th and Lilac in the Mission. CellyBrain.com is also definitely worth checking out – it’s pushing the limits of cell phone photography. In a world dominated by digital SLRs and Instagrams, it's nice to know there are people out there keeping it old style by printing, scanning, and xeroxing one negative at a time. Film por vida!