Colin Snapp

Throughout his particular artistic approach used for his different projects, Colin Snapp works as would a researcher. His work confronts the evolving relationship between travel and perception. The publishing of a book around his series Vista (TC studies) seemed for us a great opportunity to collaborate. Our common idea was to create a statement art book, an artwork in itself.

I spent a few days in LA for the book signing and installation at the Family bookstore. During the same time Snapp opened a show with the British gallery Ibid Projects, in a temporary space in the city, and was also working on a group sculpture show at 356 S. Mission Rd.

Colin Snapp would say that the itinerate aspect of his working process is what he treasures most.  The following interview is the result of a couple of conversations that will help understand his work and the character behind it.

Your work clearly derives from your art making practice that mostly takes place outside. How do you re-construct this process, when you bring your work into the interior sphere, such as your studio or a gallery? How important are these interior spaces for you? How do you organize your time between these contrasting environments?

I don’t necessarily need a studio and in a certain regard I prefer the freedom of not having one. For the most part my artistic process is based on the trips I take. The reason I keep one is to have a consistent space to show work and to maintain a sense of structure. The open ended nature within my practice can be daunting at times so a structured space is helpful. Yet in terms of planning for an exhibition a studio isn’t crucial as it’s essential for me to create a show that takes into account the unique aspects of each venue.

For me, some of your work that includes human’s presence is related to movement or slow shifting bodies. How we as humans cohabit with each other? Are you at all interested in dancing or the human movement in general?

In a broad sense I’m interested in dance, yet specifically I would say I’m interested by certain subtleties within human movement, especially on a more subconscious level. That being said this fascination has developed over time and grew out of an interest in Landscape cinematography. Early on I realized that in order for me to create accessible content I needed to include humans or at least elements of human presence. This is partly why I’m so responsive to create video work that blurs the line between documentary and performance art.

When we drove together in LA, we mostly listened to Top 40 radio, you said it was working perfectly with the landscape. How do you select or make sound for your videos? And what is your interest in music?

I grew up playing the guitar and piano and this has had an impact on the way I construct and relate to my films and videos, so it’s always been an important factor for me. Recently I have been driving a lot and this has changed the way I relate to music. Tuning into the most popular local radio station helps me integrate into a certain environment…in LA this happens to be the top 40…and yes it seems to make sense here, yet in another city or environment I might be listening to something else. In terms of my video work, the soundtrack is a very important aspect and often I spend more time on the audio than the video. I’m always making recordings and over the years I’ve created an extensive audio archive. While editing the footage I sort through this archive and decide what audio will fit best where.  It’s a very basic approach yet the more minimal the soundtracks become the more symbiotic they are.

You first started by making videos, and more recently photography. How do you combine or separate these practices. Is your approach different? How would you decide if a location could work in a picture or in moving images

Yes, I spent over a decade working with film and video before I started thinking about still imagery as a viable medium for me to work with. This interest in photography came with the realization that my work belonged in an art gallery not at a film festival. Over time my videos became shorter and shorter and naturally a still image is the shortest length for a video. My video work is very specific and can at times go months without filming anything. Photography is a way for me to sketch, to stay active. I’m still not comfortable thinking of myself as a photographer though…yet if it’s under the pretense that I’m deconstructing aspects within the film making process it seems to make more sense to me.

I would say that there is something very cinematographic in your photographs, do you agree with that?

Yes, definitely.

I read about the idea of the “photographic eye,” do you look more with your intellect or with your aesthetic senses? And how do you think this adds different perspectives?

I look with both equally. It’s a constant back and forth. For instance everyday I see things I would like to film or photograph yet I restrain myself. This restraint is the first form of post production/editing. I always question why I would like to capture certain images.. if I wouldn’t then I would end up with an over abundance of material. I often think about what gives my content value and part of this is to shoot less and revisit the material more.

Optic filter, lenses, noise effects, screens obscurations and light projectors are recurring elements in your work, what interests you in using these?

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’ve never deviated from. Whether it’s shooting through tinted bus windows or camera LCD screens I’m always working within the distortions of layering.

Why do you often obstruct the camera lens when you are shooting photography or video?

The average person spends a significant of time each day looking through screens or filters, whether it’s a windshield, a computer screen or sunglasses all of these have an impact on the way we perceive and this impact is more often than not overlooked.  I’m interested in producing recreations of the modern vision and to not address the layered abstractions within this vision doesn’t seem honest or even relevant for that matter.

Furthermore, I am fascinated by the idea of using what I have learned from after effects programs such as Photoshop or Premier to inform the actual taking of a photograph or filming of a video. There is a lot that can be done with in-camera editing / lens obtrusion or, filter experimentation and this aspect of production seems to be neglected. The reason for this is a dependency on after effects. I’m not denouncing Photoshop. However, the idea of using it as a resource rather than a tool seems more relevant now than ever.

Something peaceful, quiet or meditative mixed with a form of hidden violence emerges from your work, is it a reaction to the number of images produced nowadays and the possible aggression that can emerge from it?

This aggression stems from a reluctance to adhere to the perfection that technology strives for. The organic nature of painting and sculpture has always fascinated me, but the bulk of my practice is locational and logistically these mediums never made sense. The sheer precision of today’s digital cameras is amazing yet for me it’s always been important to intervene and create work that is both technologically progressive yet simultaneously flawed. I don’t believe this is a question of nature vs technology or digital vs analog but a question of how these ideas can coincide. The arguments of whether a certain format is better or whether a certain medium is better than another one are gone. These discussions are arbitrary at this point. It all comes down to how good of an editor you are and this pertains to all mediums.

People asking about the role of the artist, or the artist questioning himself about his ultimate goal. Do you often think about this and do you have any answers? Do you have a personal goal that you would want to achieve?

Yes I think about this a lot and I do feel a sense of duty. I realize that much of my effect as an artist comes from the way in which I live my life and maybe has less to do with the actual work. Ultimately I hope that my work is individualistic and will help to bring about new ways of seeing and thinking. However because things are becoming so interconnected the notion of individual has become extremely complex. The idea that as an individual artist you can reinvent the wheel almost seems absurd. The collective influence is the new individual influence, and at times this can be frustrating.

You are working on a series based on the environmental aspect of corporate logos, signs and advertisements. What is your favorite logo?

It’s difficult to pick just one but among my favorites are Wesfalia, NBC, Sheraton, Kodak and Rolex.

Observing the observer, photographing the photographer, placing into abyss is an important aspect in your work, your position is somewhere in between the surveillance camera that is just there to archive time and the observer, who analyses facts and acts? Is that how you consider your position?

I was raised on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest and as a child I would rarely leave the island. So naturally I have always felt an aversion to society. This has not always been easy, and because of this I have always felt more at home as an observer and not a participant. This perception has instilled in my practice a strong objectivity that at times can feel more akin to anthropology than art. Although at this point in time the definition of an artist is so loose so to consider my position as an artist almost seems irrelevant.

Can you more specifically talk about the Vista series, which we published this year?

Last summer I was commissioned by Vienna Fair to produce a video project based on the US national park system. I chose to implement Yellowstone National Park with a mapped surveillance system. The majority of the material ended up being of park visitors taking photographs. Through the influence of observing this surveillance footage I came up with the idea to re photograph nature imagery off of various video camera LCD screens. Vista is a collection of these photographs.

Modern tourism, bus tours, groups, what does your practice reveal about the actual world and the time we live in?

I’m 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 to become more apparent, it’s one thing to see a tour group within an urban setting and it’s another to see this within 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 Forrest it becomes much more profound. To use nature as a blank slate to focus on these modern gestures and ways of observing.

Do you ever want to pursue the work of certain artists? You told me you were mostly interested in Land Art. What about Ed Ruscha, Robert Frank, Jeff Wall or Andreas Gursky to just name a few?

A certain influence seems inescapable and I can relate to Ed Ruscha indexical approach and to a certain extent Robert Franks’ book The Americans. Yet photography/the history of photography is something I’ve never been concerned with. Land Art, and sculpture are mediums I’m more consumed by. In part because I primarily work amongst natural landscapes but also because of the vastness within land art that’s always seemed to contain a limitless potential.

Do you feel close to an American art tradition or is there also a European influence in your work?

I do feel close to an American art tradition and actually feel very lucky to be working as an American artist today. I can’t say I feel much of a European influence.

You recently moved from NY to LA, what does LA have to offer that NY doesn’t?

It offers me access to a wider range of environments.

We talked about the fact that working with exterior spaces is primordial; again you are confronted with the notion of space when you show your work in a gallery. How do you translate outdoor space to print, video or sculpture and then ultimately to the exhibition space? What would be the perfect installation environment?

That’s a good question and I’m not sure I can give an exact answer. This idea is something artists seem to have struggled with for a long time. The earth works of the 1960s brought this discussion into the limelight where it’s remained ever since. I think about this often, specifically how I can progress these notions through my own practice. In an obvious manner this can be done with the subject matter of an image or object but ultimately a photograph or a sculpture is not enough. With time based work it’s a more of a seamless transition just by the multi-sensory nature of the medium. Ultimately though, I’ve always been most drawn to artists who address actual experience as the work its self. I’m thinking of people like Richard Long and Tehching Hsieh. In regards to the perfect installation space I’m not sure there is one. To a degree Jericho Ditch has been ideal.

For many years you worked in collaboration with Daniel Turner under the name Jules Marquis, together you opened Jericho Ditch, a white cube gallery in a barn in Virginia, where you curated shows. Can you tell me more about this relationship, and what this allowed you to do that you might not have been able to do on your own?

I started collaborating with Daniel in 2001 while we were attending the San Francisco Art Institute. These works were presented under the name Jules Marquis and were a way for us to make art that didn’t deal with the same regulations we opposed upon our own practices. This collaboration has given me a lot of freedom and helped inform my own practice. Jericho Ditch was similar in the sense that it allowed me to experience what it’s like to run a gallery. These collaborative experiences have helped me realize the importance of working spontaneously and ultimately helped me create a more well-rounded practice. Collaboration is an essential part of being an artist, as is knowing when to compromise or not. Learning this distinction is invaluable.

You are working on a 90 minute feature that focuses on a fixed shot of tourists traversing a terraced walkway at the Hoover Dam, Nevada. Can you explain the work process you had to go through and the idea behind this video?

Yes, NV Regional. The video documents visitors as they ascend and descend the switch backs of a handicap ramp on the backside of the Hoover Dam. The ramp is cut into the hill side in such a way that it recalls the switchbacks of a mineral mine or the terraced slopes of an Aztec form. The relationship between tourism and industry or work and leisure is at the core of this video and the repetitive nature of the piece acts to highlight this idea. From afar these visitors look as if they are part of a factory assembly line however with closer inspection one can tell these are tourist from within America’s middle class. The soundtrack is sourced from electrical currents. These recordings were taken at one of the Hoover dams’ many power stations. The video consist of a 90 minute fixed shot and contains no edits. I’ve been using industry standard cameras and anamorphic lenses in order to create a more traditionally cinematic feel. I haven’t finished the project yet as there have been so many obstacles with the location..from high winds to legal issues it’s been a tricky location. At the same time the challenges keep this project interesting, I believe it will be a place I will always return to.

You have filmed in Middle Eastern countries and in the US, how opposed are these two regions culturally and in an environmental sense? How are you putting these two places in a dialogue? You like to travel, what is the importance of culture and countries?

Culturally the two regions are extremely different…however the tourism industry is quite similar. The main reason for this the popularity of the guided tour largely popularized by the Chinese as a result of government regulated travel. I’m not so interested in the specifics of a given country or its relationship with another..I’m more concerned with the ways in which travel industries dictate experience and perception. For instance while working in North Africa I filmed entirely from the inside of tour buses. These thick tinted windows became the ideal screen for me to convey a sense of separation that has become so pervasive.

Regarding the specific matters it reveals, your work has a strong intellectual engagement. Would you also say that your work is politically engaged? Is it poetry or politics? Or both?

I would say both. I do feel an obligation as an artist to be politically aware and actually the idea of working as a Journalist has always fascinated me. Yet in a traditional sense it’s always felt direct a form. I believe I can be more too honest to myself and ultimately more effective if I present my recordings in a less conclusive and more abstract sense.

Any travel plans or upcoming exhibitions for the next few months?

Washington State for the next month and then late October I’ll be in New York working on my upcoming show at The Journal Gallery and then to Europe for several exhibitions, and then back to Nevada where I’ll be spending the Winter.

Conversation with Colin Snapp, Los Angeles, August 2013. Photography by Études Studio