While some dream of photographing a pyjama-clad US president, immortalising Lady Gaga in jeans and a t-shirt or sensationally stilling an aged D.B. Cooper at their local Starbucks, star-spangled photographer, Kristin Capp marvels at the misconceived mundane in America and abroad. Currently living and working in Windhoek as a Fulbright scholar and photography lecturer at the University of Namibia, Capp’s exhibition “From Salt Lake to Sao Paulo”, offers insight into an incisive and adventurous spirit able to still succinct slices of life into unfathomably moving images of ordinary existence lived by ordinary individuals.
Black, white and brilliant at the National Art Gallery of Namibia, “From Salt Lake” is divided into three parts and chronicles of her photographic meanderings in America and Brazil in a troika titled “Americana”, “Hutterite” and “Brasil;” after the locations in which the photographs were captured. Though concerned with travel, fans of travel photography will be hard-pressed to find images that give them a whirlwind tour of faraway hotspots and will be presented instead with the striking banality of varied and vivid lives captured not haughtily from above but decidedly from amongst.
“All the work stems from my own personal investigation into the world around me,” says Capp.
“I try to move with respect and as invisibly as possible, working slowly by returning many times to the same places to shoot again and again until I find what I'm looking for. Even while shooting in very rural places such as the island of Itaparica in Brasil, I worked in the tradition of a street photographer.” Indeed, while viewing the pieces there is a sense of being behind the eyes of the most common member of the pertinent society, with the act of photographing a billiard ball in America, a sky of fishing nets in Brazil and a sea of potatoes in a Hutterite community lending a significance to what, if merely described in words, may seem inappreciable.
Though apple pie, cowboys and seemingly impossible architecture are some immediately identifiable Americana, Capp’s America is one viewed with unapologetic individuality. To be sure, as one views the images – incongruent, independent and immersing as they are - one is forced to inquire as to why such simple things would cause Capp to pause. In as much, the exhibition becomes more than the usual superimposing and unveiling of one’s own experiences but also a search for significance in what is not obviously of consequence. “Puzzle,” a photograph of a puzzle in progress, astride a lamp and beneath a window, seems to speak to just this feeling of mystery and piecemeal understanding and offers a poignant peek into a character that is constantly trying to comprehend the world around her.
“My camera, or one could say, photography is my passport to new ideas and places because it inspires me to open my perception of people and places,” says Capp. “It gives me the platform to ask questions by making images of things I do not understand and wish to learn more about.”
The images in this series form the subject of Capp’s next book following Hutterite: A World of Grace (1998) and Americana (2000) and depict excerpts of existence on the small island of Itaparica on the coast of Brasil. If Capp’s images are to be believed, the essence of the town is its male population who make a living from fishing with large nets, but as man cannot live by bread alone, they also assume the position of bastions of the island’s omnipresent Christian faith.
Unlike the disparate images in Americana, Brasil seems more tightly woven into a narrative in which both men and women grow to be very old after leading simple religious lives that meander through narrow streets looked down upon by a solitary opulent hotel.
Seemingly depicting a long gone epoch where women wore bonnets, baked loaves of bread by the dozen and made cabbage stew from their own produce, Hutterite is all the more startling for presenting an anachronistic, Anabaptist and curious closed community as it existed as little as thirteen years ago. Famously private and insular, Capp’s insight into the Hutterite community and permission to photograph their weddings, harvests and funerals stemmed from a close friendship with one of the Hutterite families.
From Soap Lake by way of a Hutterite community and Brasil, today Capp finds herself in sunny Namibia where she is currently teaching photography at UNAM while doing her own photographic research, which is focused on women in rural areas and on
rural communities in general, particularly in Rehoboth, Karasburg and Warmbad. “I have found Namibia to be an incredibly diverse and fascinating place to work as a photographer,” says Capp.
When not teaching or immersed in her own photograph projects, Capp has been active in developing a new module that will be offered in the Visual and Performing Arts Department of the University of Namibia. “The course is an Introduction to Photography and I will be piloting this new module in January of 2012 and will be teaching it for the academic year,” says Capp enthusiastically. Fascinated and facilitative, Capp certainly hopes to make the most of her two years in the country and if her emotive exhibition is anything to go by we can smile at the thought of our identity and idiosyncrasy being presented in some other curious corner of the world with the same honesty of intrigue and sense of stirring simplicity.
From Salt Lake to Sao Paulo can be viewed at the National Gallery of Namibia until the 31st of October 2011.