Koplin Del Rio
Jul 8, 2020 9:19PM

In the Studio with Kristin Capp

Can you tell us a little about how you came to photography, and the focus of your work?

I discovered a passion for photography, almost by accident, while studying French and Russian at McGill University in Montreal. When I returned to my hometown of Seattle after six years in Montreal, I began a journey of learning about photography and taught myself darkroom practice in Suquamish, a small town on the Olympic Peninsula, where I lived for several years before moving to New York City in 1994.

I was greatly influenced by the exhibition “Old World/New World”, which highlighted the work of three Hispanic women photographers and was curated by Rod Slemmons, then curator of prints and photographs at the Seattle Art Museum. During my 16 years in New York, I assisted several fine-art photographers, learned darkroom techniques, and became mesmerized by the photo book as a way to present and contextualize my own work. While based in New York, I worked on long-term projects and published several books before turning my lens towards Brazil. For about eight years, I photographed in Brazil with a Rolleiflex medium format camera and produced a body of work that was eventually published in 2016 by Damiani.

Kristin Capp, Under Niemeyer, Niteroi, Brazil, 2004, archival pigment print, 2/10, 21" x 23"

You have been based in Windhoek, Namibia since 2011, where you direct the New Media Design Program at the College of the Arts. Namibia gained its independence from South Africa just over 30 years ago, in 1990. Has the proximity of the struggle for independence, as well as the formal end of Apartheid in South Africa, created any special interest amongst your students in the current movement for racial justice in the United States?

I traveled to Namibia on a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011 and have been based in Windhoek ever since. Teaching photography at the College of the Arts allows me to work on community-based, multi-disciplinary projects that engage my students through the combining of text, image and video to reflect on Namibia’s brutal colonial past. I am currently collaborating with my students on a project called Okomboni, which is the Oshiwambo word for “hostel”. The College building where I teach is a former worker’s compound that once housed male contract workers under South Africa’s Apartheid regime. The space itself signifies a harsh site where laborers were controlled and isolated from their families for many months.

The Okomboni photography project engages students with community through archival and new photographs, and through interviews of the survivors and their stories. My sense is that recent political events in the United States are followed closely by my students, and resonate with them in a local context. That said, long before the current movement for racial justice in the United States gained traction, there have been platforms by which Namibian youth have engaged in similar kinds of activism. One such artist collective in Namibia is called “Decolonising Space”. The group’s focus is around issues of unfinished decolonization, stemming from a past of both German colonial rule and later South African Apartheid occupation, with the aim of creating a platform for society to seriously look at deep-rooted socio-economic inequality and youths’ experienced exclusion from political decision-making. I see a parallel narrative unfolding in the United States, but the narrative of decolonization and struggle for economic equality and racial justice for young Namibians has been in motion already for a long time. After speaking to my students, I don’t feel that recent events in the United States have had a significant impact on their lives.

What has changed for you in light of the self-isolation over the last several months?

The self-isolation over the last few months has been a mixed bag. It is painful to be far from family in Seattle with no hopes of traveling anytime soon, but it has also been a time of deeper reflection on my photographic practice and has opened me up to new ideas for future projects and publications. I have spent hours online attending zoom events, and have learned by listening and watching other artists, educators, writers and others talk about their work and their challenges. In general it’s been a very productive and innovative period for me.

What is the art & cultural space like where you live in Namibia? Any artists that you've been following lately whose work we should know?

Although the art scene in Windhoek is small, I feel encouraged and optimistic about initiatives taking place in cultural and creative spaces in Namibia. In 2019, for example, I attended a conference in Windhoek called ‘Museum Conversations’, which connected professionals in the museum industry, academics and artists in various disciplines for dialogues on issues around restitution and the future of museums in Africa. The conversation was shaped by the notion that the past isn’t a closed chapter, but instead an historic obligation for the future. There are numerous other interesting projects from the private art sector such as ‘home galleries’ that exhibit local artists, and similar collaborative art exhibitions that now exist online.

Can you describe your favorite work of art in your home?

One of my favorite artists working in Windhoek at the moment is Tuli Mekondjo. Tuli is a self-taught Namibian artist who invents a new vocabulary around post-traumatic experiences that come from internal and physical displacement. I’m compelled by her use of oral and historical research in her material, and love having her recent painting hanging on my studio wall. The energy it conveys is complex, palpable and mysterious.

Tuli Mekondjo, Okaana ko nata (child of clay), 2019, paint and mixed media

Koplin Del Rio