Wavepool – How does a project begin for you?
Colin Todd – Generally I start researching something I’m interested in. Usually it’s something that I stumble upon randomly and it has stuck itself in my head for a while. If I find myself mulling over it a lot while I’m riding the subway or driving across country, I’ll begin research. After reading about it, or checking out some background info, I just dive in and start shooting, and figure out where it leads me. Usually I get diverted from my original plan and that’s where the fun stuff happens.
Mostly what happens with my work in the South is that one project leads to the next. Some detail of the first project or some story from a person I photograph leads to the next project. It’s all part of the bigger project of the South I’m working on.
Wavepool – How do you know when you’re ready to end one?
Colin Todd – I find that when I work, I try to push every possibility as far as I can. When I realize it’s too much, too busy, or usually too schizophrenic I pull back. Once I find the right balance, that’s when I stop.
Wavepool – You seem to regularly work on documentary projects, including your recent series around the noise, the heat. Can you introduce the body of work and what you would like viewers to take away from it?
Colin Todd – Well, I am constantly working on this huge project that I think will take the rest of my life. It’s about my home town in North Louisiana, the people who live there, and how all the little micro-cultures in that town shift and evolve. What ends up happening, though, is that sometimes facets of that project are demanding enough to stand alone as a body of work. That is what happened with around the noise, the heat.
I’ve been photographing dirt track racing in North Louisiana for a while, and as the images started to build, the project evolved beyond the story of my home town. I feel, in the images, the racing culture down there is analogous to “the human condition”; specifically in regards to the South’s attachment to nostalgia, sports and entertainment, and the cycling economics built around those. Racing in a circle with modified stock cars is such a great metaphor for so many things, I feel it’s incredibly relatable. This type of backwoods racing eventually birthed the giant industry of NASCAR racing as well. The drivers and community in the photographs are all working-class hobbyists that celebrate the idea of the race. There is something pure and poetic about that.
Wavepool – One exception that breaks from the documentary style is 100 Seats. How did the project develop and can you explain the visual that the images take on?
Colin Todd – Well, you caught me at a time in my practice where I’m focusing a lot on economics and time, both in how they relate to photography itself as a medium, and visual economies through time. Specifically on how history is represented or used. For 100 Seats, I chose to use “official” press photos of the current US Senate. These are photographs distributed by senators on their election campaigns, or as part of donation gift packages. These images are carefully crafted to appeal to the voter and constituency of each Senator.
I’ve appropriated these photographs and manipulated them, heavily, in order to remove the identity of the senator and to play with the visual cues of the crafted portrait. This act of manipulation acts, not only as a political comment or critique of the disillusionment felt toward our government, but also as a gesture to subvert the trope of “corporate portraiture” that these photographs take on. I am then mailing these images back to the senators to request autographs. These photographs play with the visual economics within the image and flip the intended purpose of these photographs as objects.
Wavepool – Because some of your work focuses on the American South, I’m curious about how living in New York affects your practice. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?
Colin Todd – Living in New York, I am naturally exposed to a massive amount of inspiration and culture that effects my practice subconsciously and gives me greater access to resources for research on projects I am interested in. There are also many great communities of artists in which to work with, and get feedback from. Those are probably the biggest advantages.
Specifically concerning my work in Louisiana, I find it gives me a distance necessary to view my work from two different perspectives. When I am down there photographing, I see the place from a certain point of view. It’s my home town so there’s a lot of history and relationships with people and places that influence the way I see things. When I get back to New York, I have that distance from the place to separate that influence from my editing and practice. I think that’s a good thing.
The downside is that if I notice something I want to re-shoot or something I missed and need to fill in, I have to wait till the next trip. I end up going down there each time with entire notebooks full of things to shoot and people to go visit and photograph. But that’s kinda the way it works with my process. I go and immerse myself and shoot, shoot, shoot. Then I get back home and edit and sequence until I’m tapped out. Then I head back down there and the cycle starts all over again.
Wavepool – What artists do you think are making the most exciting work today?
Colin Todd – Colin Stetson (musician), Lucas Blalock, Ofer Wolberger, Jason Polan, Jessica Eaton, Trevor Paglen, Erik Kessels, Daniel Shea.
All rock stars!
To see more of Colin’s work, please visit his website.