New Latitudes: An Interview with Colin Snapp
By SPENCER EVERETT, APR. 2017
Colin Snapp is a videographer and photographer currently based in Berlin. Snapp’s work offers up something like an alien eye that documents the strangeness of our outdoor pastimes—and their attendant media—as they assimilate into the camera’s frame and calcify into ritual.
His new show in Berlin, Latitudes (Alexander Levy, Feb. 25-Apr. 15) is interested in how spectacular landscapes—specifically the dramatic vistas and rugged trailheads of the American west—are processed and re-purposed into pathways, plaques, staircases and infographs. Bereft of their touristic majesty, sites like the Hoover Dam or Yellowstone National Park become, through Snapp’s eye, reflections of our common will toward comprehension and ease. And yet the territory remains quietly unstable and mysterious.
Part fine art photographer, part forensic anthropologist, Snapp composes a record of the cultural histories we create until, devoid of iconicity, our routinized playgrounds become unfamiliar. Seeing Snapp’s photography in Latitudes, I’m reminded of one of Chris Marker’s closing remarks in Sans Soleil: “I’ve been around the world several times, and now only banality still interests me.”
Spencer Everett: Of course the road trip isn’t unique to the U.S., but its associations to the American idiom are strong nonetheless. Did you go on a lot of road trips, growing up off the coast of Washington State? What do you feel is your work’s relationship to their promise—fulfilled or not—of adventure and individual liberty?
Colin Snapp: 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. These experiences had a large influence on the way I learned to associate with what "America" means to me, in both a rural and civic sense. This became apparent once I started spending time in the more "iconic" parks of the west. The infrastructure that's been constructed within many national parks is very methodical, almost abrasive amongst these supposed settings of "nature". Parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite are considered remote and even wild yet at this point in time they mirror an amusement park rather than something pure or natural. This example of mediated or rather dictated experience has always fascinated me and definitely impacted the artwork I create.
SE: To my knowledge, this is the second of your recent shows to employ a line of long, tinted bus windows that sort of bifurcate the gallery (Setra 215). I feel they not only provide a view from the tour bus, so to speak, but also operate as a filter, in reference to the photographic medium. Would you discuss their return in the new show? Are they a cordon? A threshold? A viewer’s functional guide through the space?
CS: Yeah, you’re right, these sculptures are very much connected to the assemblages I construct using camera lens filters. However, I’m also envisioning them as a commentary on tourism and modern travel in general, as well as in line with many of the minimal earth works from the 60s. And perhaps in a formal sense the work of Donald Judd or Dan Graham: a sculpture (ie contextualized object) that seems very basic in principle but reveals the complexity of both the concept and material when seen close up close. I’m currently working on several new sculptures and performances/interventions that address what "nature" means to the American public at this point in time, and how our relationship to it is constantly evolving.
SE: Your photography in the past has captured still shots from video. Is that practice continued here?
CS: I’m thinking of photography as a way to sketch rather than a means to an end. Film, video, performance and even sculpture have always been my primary interest. I still work with video stills as objects/prints. In both a historic and aesthetic sense there is a definitive difference between printing a still from a video or film and printing a photograph. I like working within this line. I tend to shoot my own images yet I don’t have an issue working with appropriation or collage. I’ve always felt that the idea is the most valuable aspect. The tools, materials, and process tend to be secondary. The conversation between analogue vs digital / film vs video seems so antiquated to me—and this notion certainly translates to the prints I produce.
SE: Elsewhere, you’ve described the “condensed geography” of Europe as something at odds with your work. In contrast, can you describe your work’s attraction to the American western expanse? What interests you about civic life as patterned across such sparse terrain?
CS: I was born and raised in the US, it’s the country I'm most familiar with. The sparseness, the banality, framing the mundane as ritualistic… The gradient of the American populous. A shopping mall can exist as a church just as easily as a landscape for consumption. The contradictions that define America fascinate me. It’s a dying empire yet in a representational manner it’s as powerful as ever. In terms of Europe: it’s very intriguing to me in many regards yet artistically I don’t feel much inspiration there. It makes too much sense to me, it’s too quaint. That said, I’m sure this could change if I just spent more time working and investigating the continent. The US is what I know though, it’s a country that I feel comfortable in yet simultaneously very disconnected from. I believe this familiar disconnection can be the perfect recipe for my vision and the projects I’m working to achieve. WM
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Spencer Everett is a poet and writer based in Brooklyn. He was a 2014 resident at the Millay Colony for the Arts and a recipient of a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation grant. He teaches composition and poetry at Brooklyn College.