Where About Now Where do our questions reach you?
Colin Snapp I just finished a month-long artist residency in Italy. It turned out to be an ideal situation for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It was exactly what I needed. I was finally able to have the time and space to complete some works that I’ve been meaning to finish for several years now. Additionally, I discovered some incredibly interesting locations that will play a key role in an exhibition I’m having in June. I'm currently in Paris for the week to start mixing an archive of field recordings I’ve been compiling for five or six years now.
WAN Your photographs and videos deal with the American landscape as subject and, in a metaphorical sense, as representation for a society. What is it about the American landscape that captivates you?
CS I was born and raised in the U.S., it's the landscape that I know best. The sparseness, the banality… The gradient of the American populous. A shopping mall can exist as a church just as easily as a landscape for consumption. The re-framing of the mundane or routine normalcy as not something to diminish but something to celebrate. The ritualistic nature of suburban America. All of these contradictions fascinate me. America is a dying empire yet in a representational manner it is as powerful as ever. The U.S. is what I know, it’s my heritage yet simultaneously I've always felt very disconnected from American culture and values. This feeling of familiar disconnection can be difficult however at this point it's become the perfect recipe for my vision and the artistic language I work to create… An outsider in one's own homeland. This is my reality. I'm trying to be as constructive as I can be with the sense of distance and isolation that I live with. Objectivity has always made sense to me and this becomes obvious when viewing my work.
WAN Related to this theme of landscape, much of your work also recalls, for us, the themes and promises of the great American road trip. Do you have a preferred mode of travel in this sense, and how does the way you travel affect the work you produce?
CS I did go on road trips as a child, yet because I grew up on an island I spent more time on sailing trips. Also, the Cascade mountain range was adjacent to the islands so I spent a lot of time hiking as well, often for weeks at a time. I remember seeing no other hikers on these trips. It was always such a strange experience when you came across another human. In terms of a preferred mode of travel I would have to say walking. Going on long walks has inspired my artistic sensibilities more than any other mode of transit.
WAN How do you decide on destinations to travel to and how do you prepare yourself for a new destination?
CS I decide on the locations I travel to in two ways. One is spontaneously coming across subject matter in my everyday life or travels that speak to me to the point that I feel compelled to make work about a certain location or phenomenon. The other is a more planned approach, in which I will take months to research a project or gain clearance to a site of interest. In terms of preparation for a trip, I have no set routine to create a work. It's something that needs to happen naturally and can't be forced. Also, every project is always such a different experience from the previous one. Over the years, I have learned to be more patient and not to have expectations or assumptions about how things are going to go.
WAN As you travel so much for work, we are curious, do you also travel for pleasure? And if so, where and how? Do you ever travel without your camera?
CS I rarely travel for pleasure and I always have a camera of some sort on me.
What type of camera does not matter to me. It can be an iPhone or a VHS camcorder or a disposable camera. The technology is irrelevant. It's hilarious to me how caught up people get on the technology of it all and the type of camera, or filter or brand of lens. I have made some of my best work on the most random equipment. As long as I have something to document with, I am fine. I suppose this is what separates an artist from a technician.
WAN A large theme in your work also seems to be the mediation of experience, be it through the (video)camera itself or via installation (a line of bus windows bifurcating the gallery in some of your recent shows). The tourism industry, with its pointed, specific view of individual destinations, can also be seen as a tool to mediate experience. How do you think about tourism and modern travel in your work?
CS I am interested in revealing how we see and experience at this point in time and how these notions are constantly evolving. I choose to focus on the banality of the Modern Travel experience and in particular guided forms of travel within nature. Working within a more pastoral backdrop/setting allows for subtleties. It’s one thing to see a tour group within an urban setting and it’s another to see this within a national park. For instance, when I witness someone taking a photograph in Times Square - it’s not interesting to me, however when I witness this same action happen in the forest - it becomes much more profound. To use nature as a blank slate to focus on these modern gestures and ways of observing.
In some facet or another, ritualism is at the core of all my work. The ritualistic nature of travel is particularly interesting to me. I choose to focus on locations that act to highlight this. My film Nv Regional is perhaps the most straightforward example. It’s a 90-minute film portraying a mass of tourists ascending and descending a hillside on the backside of the hoover dam. These tourists are walking to a viewpoint to see the dam, yet the actual dam is never revealed. The viewer only sees a steady stream of tourists who seem to be on some form of pilgrimage. In a sense, it could be filmed anywhere. By not revealing signs or known landmarks my work focuses on processes and movements, rather than on actual locations. My work is about looking at something that is considered banal or mundane and reframing it to create a new meaning. I consider the basic act of taking a photograph as one of the most ritualistic things humans do.
WAN Cameras themselves are also often visible in your photos; and in today’s culture of selfies, visitors often photograph themselves in front of the art at exhibitions and publish it on social media. What is your view on this endless cycle of photos within photos?
CS I just finished a film I shot in Rome that addresses exactly that… endless cycle. The notion of taking a picture of someone else taking a picture is normal in today's visual lexicon, yet even a few years ago it could have been considered conceptual or an intellectual action.
Instagram changed everything in the way we visually relate to each other. It's made text and literature seem almost irrelevant. More than ever people are starting to realise that a picture is worth a thousand words but if you are repeatedly bombarded with that same picture it will mean absolutely nothing in barely anytime at all. Instagram is dead. It is a post-Instagram world… I am so thankful I have never participated in any social media. It has pushed my creativity in alternative ways to stay relevant and to have an audience for my work. This being said, I don't condone social media, as obviously it's helped millions of people. I just hope that people will wake up a bit and realise its effect. Just like anything it's important to be aware of your actions, especially if you are an artist.
WAN Photography (and especially travel photography) is closely linked to memory. How do you think the people you depict would react if they discovered themselves in your work?
CS I like that question a lot. I think they would be confused at first and then excited and then confused again. I mean I’m so objective in the manner that I film. It is like I am invisible, these people have no idea they are being filmed. But the intent and treatment of the footage is not making someone look bad or good, it is just showing things how they are.
It is important for me to make artwork that does not come across as condescending. What I do is simple. It's just about taking a different viewpoint on things people do not notice, yet experience daily. My hope is that the frame of view I am presenting will help create a new type of awareness as well as openness.
WAN The figures you depict are often in the distance where the sharpness of the image decreases. How do you play with the idea of blurriness in your work?
CS Video stills were the first still images I started printing. I would re-photograph these stills to be able to print them at a larger size. This layering aspect is something that I have never deviated from. Whether it’s shooting through tinted bus windows or camera LCD screens, I am always working within the distortions of layering. The individual has never been my main focus. It is the collective human experience that interests me. I prefer not to show things that are crystal clear. I like the idea of not knowing if something is digital or analogue or if it was shot in 1996 or 2020. I have a certain visual sensitivity that allows me to do this. It is important that I take great care to keep certain things vague.
By limiting reference points I am able to steer people’s eyes towards things that are simultaneously familiar and new to them.
WAN Could you imagine showing your work on-site where it was taken instead of in exhibition rooms?
CS Most certainly, the white cube is just a foundation to build a visual language. Ideally to the point that this artistic language is so defined and incorporated by all it can be presented almost anywhere in any medium and continue to be understood as well as built upon.
WAN What are you working on right now and when and where can we see your next exhibitions?
CS I am working on quite a few projects at the moment. Most notably a book titled National Charter. It is based on a photo index of corporate logos and emblems throughout the United States. I’ve been working on it for over a decade and it’s become a very personal anthropological survey at this point. I am really excited to finally conclude this project.
Additionally, I am shooting a series of short videos that focus on the relationship between iconic LA gang signs and the similarities these gestures have to the way iPhones and cameras are positioned and held, especially when used to take a picture. Lastly, I am halfway through directing a feature-length film based on ritualism within the malls of Southern California. The next exhibitions, I'm working on, are both in June. One of the exhibitions is heavily audio-based and is taking place inside a number of historic glass greenhouses. These greenhouses are part of an ancient botanical garden in Siena, Italy. The other project next year will take place in Serbia as part of the Belgrade biennial.