Photography as documentary

Representing rural, urban life through photos from trips around the world

Samantha Ledbetter | The Falcon
Capp did street photography in Rio de Janeiro and formulated a book of her work.

It was a coincidence that Kristin Capp was led to pursue photography.

When Capp was a French and Russian studies student at McGill University, she decided to enroll in a photography class simply in order to do something different than her major.

Now, Capp is a photographer who has published three photography books and traveled around the world taking pictures.

“It must have been an intuition,” Capp said.

Capp spoke at Seattle Pacific University on Monday to discuss her bodies of work in her presentation, “From Washington state to Bahia Brazil to the Namib desert.”

Her photographs span a variety of locations, including the United States, Brazil and Namibia.

“Kristin photographs in an impressionistic, social documentary style,” Assistant Professor of Art Zack Bent, who put the talk together, said over email. “Kristin’s work is also in many renowned national and international art collections … Students with interests in global development, publishing and photography will find her work inspiring.”

During her presentation, Capp presented her published work from her books, as well as the photographs she is currently taking at her home in Namibia, where she teaches photography at the University of Namibia.

Capp began the discussion by showing photographs from her 1998 book, “Hutterite: A World of Grace.”

Hutterites are a Christian sect that are connected to the Amish and to the Mennonites. It is estimated that at least 50,000 people make up the Hutterite community.

Capp first met with a group of Hutterites an hour away from her previous home in Soap Lake, Washington. From 1994 to 1998, Capp took photos of the Hutterite community in eastern Washington, where she focused on capturing different aspects of Hutterite life.

“Photography was the passport,” Capp said. “I’m just discovering things in the world.”

Samantha Ledbetter | The Falcon
Capp has done photography projects in Brazil and Nambia.

After publishing “Hutterite,” Capp began an apprenticeship with photographer Ralph Gibson in New York City. While working in her apprenticeship, Capp was also taking photographs of American life on the east and west coasts of the United States.

“I like straight documentary,” Capp said. She describes her work as “depicting reality.”

The photographs she was taking throughout this time period would become “Americana,” her second book, which was published in the spring of 2000.

“I always do the work and then I realize, ‘Oh, I have to do this,’” Capp said, discussing the process she takes when deciding to publish her work. Though she never starts off with that intention, she later finds it almost necessary.

Capp would later be sent to Brazil to photograph capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, in 2002. There she expanded her work, as she did street photography later on in Rio de Janeiro.

Capp describes this collection of images to be “a mix of … urban, rural” shots. She also describes “experimenting” with her photographs during her time in Brazil, which were shot on film on a Rolleiflex camera.

Ultimately, Capp would publish her photographs in her book “Brasil,” which was released in 2016.

Capp is currently living in Namibia. Her latest work is focused on taking photos of the Bondelswart people, who live on the Namibian and South African border and are part of the Nama people. Capp’s recent photographs are products of both digital color cameras, as well as analog black and white cameras.

Capp stresses how “important [it is] to know the history” of the Bondelswarts, as she is interested in giving “more representation of their voice.” Specifically, Capp hopes to photograph the Bondelswart youth as a way to document this group of people.

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