Lockdown has given the opportunity to spring clean the digital street art photograph archives. Exploring defunct folders served as a reminder of the pleasure that came from nearly a decade of making a small photographic contribution to a street art zine. Here is a little look back at the days of street art zine Very Nearly Almost including some precious memories that editor and founder George MacDonald kindly took the trouble to share.
In 2006, a limited edition print release on the opening night of an art show by a street artist in Shoreditch would for sure result in a queue going down the street. One Thursday it was opening night at Leonard St Gallery, I don’t recall which artists, someone walked up and down the queue giving away a photocopied street art zine. It was a time the way art was shared and enjoyed was changing radically, street art fans and artists uploading photos to the internet, particularly street art forums and Flickr was fostering a very versatile, growing fan base. Publishing that zine, Very Nearly Almost, on paper was definitely going against the digital tide.
Some months later the VNA editor George MacDonald got in touch asking if he could use a photo of some ephemeral street art piece or other from my Flickr collection, he’d give me a free copy (price had gone up to £3) so I said “sure”. From that small interaction I became part of a small select group of London street art photographers who contributed photos to the zine.
“Those early days of VNA were all about the purity of documenting the scene. I felt passionate about capturing the hard work of street artists and so badly wanted to share them with everyone.” George Macdonald, Editor VNA
The magazine’s print standards rose quickly, the quality of the writing improved significantly.
Each edition had a featured artist with a large interview and a special limited edition screen printed cover collector’s edition would come out.
Launch nights were held in galleries, pubs and boutiques and they became as rammed as any artist’s opening night.
The magazine even won awards and got international distribution.
“I look back on the VNA days fondly. We constantly tried to make the magazine better and better and the party’s bigger and bigger.” GM
Each edition of the magazine featured photos of the latest London street art and often featured the best from one or two “guest cities” around the World. A very impressive collection of street art photographers from London chipped in flicks on a regular basis including Cheffo, Claude Crommelin, Delete, Howaboutno, Mark Rigney, Paul Gray, Romanywg and myself. It was an honour to be among such a select group, having a photograph published in VNA was be regarded as prestigious. It reached the stage where I’d take a street art photo, look at it and think “yep, going to hold that back, it might be good enough for VNA”.
“Flickr was the perfect place at that time for street art photographers. There was some serious competitive documentary photography going on.” GM
It was a thrill to get your hands on a new copy on launch night, weeks or months after you sent in your latest photos and see which if any of your photos made the edition.
April 2021: Check out the Easter series of Virtual Street Art Tours
Sadly VNA became rather a victim of its own success. The publishing volumes, the commercial arrangements, the organisation of special artist contributions and the development of something called a life became too much for what was for almost everyone involved essentially a hobby. George and his team called a dignified end to VNA in 2016, going out with a bang with a huge DFace edition.
“In the end, we needed to fully commit and keep pushing but we were all running out of time between family commitments and jobs. I felt it was slipping away from us so we pulled the plug. It’s a shame as I wanted to keep going until we got that Banksy cover but it never happened“ GM
So, where is this heading? The archive of photos offered to VNA which never quite saw the light of day in print contains some beauties. In almost every case the art no longer exists so it’s time to occasionally dig out those ex street art pieces. Check out and follow the Instagram hashtag #VNAOneThatGotAway, who knows what nuggets might surface!