Interview: Photographer Sebastian Meltz-Collazo
Lit Riot Press Interviews: Sebastian Meltz-Collazo
Sebastián Meltz-Collazo is a multidisciplinary artist who was born and raised in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. He works through observation & investigation to create original images, and is currently pursuing an MFA at Ithaca College with a focus on the intersection of writing and photography. Through projects he explores notions of place & identity, analyzing their atmospheres, narratives, and embedded vocabularies as evident texts of societies. He is interested in creating new and original visual experiences creating interactions between historical and personal narratives with the purpose of raising questions about visual culture, representation, and curatorial practices. El Golpe del Río (The Coup of the River) is now available. Lit Riot Press interviewed Paul on writing as a part of daily life, authors and books, and the role of the writer in society.
Photos from the El Golpe del Río (The Coup of the River)
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
My work draws from the circumstances and human experiences of people occurring around me. I tend to get hooked on a specific topic and thought process through it in an investigative mindset. I try to see how the information I analyze can be viewed differently as a means to create experiences with readers.
How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
Kind of like a staring contest with the landscape, I try to comprehend all the the emotions the landscape might convey go me. While I was in Ponce (Puerto Rico) I shot on a film camera for print. After I developed the first couple of rolls I realized I was interested in the interactions between Puerto Rican and American culture through architecture, urban design, language, and objects.
Around the same time, my grandmother was sharing stories about her childhood, how she lived with two families under one roof, her experiences in Puerto Rico. Hearing and looking at these two components, I saw a connection between the past and present. Both her life and the city of Ponce are subjects of an ongoing storm that has been affecting the land and the lives of people for a long time.
What do you like to read in your free time?
Current news, opinion pieces, history, depends on what I might be researching. I’m currently reading an anthology of Puerto Rican political essays my good friend Edoardo gave me before I left the island, as well as Labrynth by Olaf Nicolai and Jan Wenzel.
Do you keep notebooks?
Always. I need to write down my thoughts or else I’ll lose it and get frustrated.
Do you listen to music when you write? When you shoot?
As a musician I listen to all kinds of stuff, but as an artist I tend to listen more when I’m designing or editing a book. I try to lock down on the rhythms and tones I’d like to translate onto the page.
Do you share your writing and photographs while you are still writing or wait until you have a draft?
I like to share my work in progress with artists/friends that are close to me throughout the whole process. It helps me to work through the different Ideas on the table, and having that constant feedback assists in adjusting or expanding my perspective, through the lens, logically, and conceptually.
What about ideas for books? Do they percolate for years before you write or shoot, or do you work it out as your write and shoot?
Some basic ideas might float around in my head for a long time, others might be more spontaneous. In the case of “The Coup of the River” it was a balance of both, and I think that’s the most effective mode I create in. There’s a sense of curiosity and analysis through the photographs and the use of handwritten text in my book. It’s that mindset of shooting and writing that interests me, a kind of self-realizing, how the work speaks to me and what I want the work to say to readers.
What cultural value do you see in writing, reading and storytelling?
I see my own experience reflected in my research, how I photograph what I care about, and the message I want to convey through each project; even though my work might not be directly portraying my own life. The landscape I photograph encompasses the emotions and psychological space I’m in. So I guess you could say that I attempt to create a self-portrait in this case I’m little by little trying to figure out what’s worth sharing about my own life. I’m interested in the collective experience of people and how those experiences are represented in the world. Having people question the visual queues that might trigger their emotions, their memories and thoughts about their land in hope of re-evaluating relationship to the spaces around them are important to me. So writing and photography, for me, has the ability to express culture through a new lens.
LRP: Do you have a favorite author? A favorite Photographer?
Authors, right now to name a few, I’d have to say Junot Díaz, Ulises Carrión, and Luigi Ghirri. Photographers, Rose Marie Cromwell, Mariela Sancari, Ron Jude, Richard Misrach.
What does it mean to be a writer and photographer in troubled times?
Being a Puerto Rican in these times, it means I have the opportunity of switching peoples’ focus and attention on the things I feel are either overlooked or not thought about at all, with hopes of making a difference.
How is your book connected to present day events?
Using apophenia as a tool, the writings and the subjects I photograph, and how I capture them, are parallel to the constant struggles at hand in the island. I myself am probably a result of this juxtaposition between different cultures, and that speaks on behalf of my own experience as a person in today’s Puerto Rico.
If you wrote a book about the future — the way you imagine it will be — what kind of book would you write?
Since my work presents elements from the past and the present as to raise questions on how to deal with the future, outside of the framework of a book, I don’t think my work could involve that train of thought. The way I imagine how the future will be versus how I want it to look are very different, which is why I’d rather pose these questions through conversations with viewers after having seen my work.
I guess if I was to write about the future it would have to do with my experiences as a white, latino citizen and the dynamics of racial inequality (or equality) with relation to the spaces around us.
What do you like about Reading? Photography?
The connection to books that forms as a result of physically interacting with the pages. I enjoy having a conversation with myself as I read and analyze what’s on the page. I like photography, it can express similar ideas in different languages. And as an author, I strive to connect new narratives and known histories.
What projects are you working on at the present?
Personally, I’m currently working on a thesis body of work for my master’s program at Image Text Ithaca. There’s some other ideas in the pipeline but all comes in due time. I’m also working on some other artist books and creating an ongoing anthology of contemporary Puerto Rican photography.
"What do your plans for future projects include?"
Writings, Photography, Video installation, maybe some painting and performance. But I’m always thinking in book format as well. I’m currently doing research on the roots of the national anthem.
If you could express one thought to all your readers what would it be?
In this island I call home, there isn’t a sure future in sight when it comes to many aspects of life. And little by little we forget our beginnings: where we come from, who we are. Evidently, this uncertainty of our past determines our doubts towards the times to come. Only the now is left. So what can I do? It is up to me, and rest of us facing these struggles, to create the stories that our history does not offer us, and to synthesize these stories so that those in the future won’t have to recreate a true, or even desired past from thin air. This is at the core of my work, so that they can build upon this secure future that we, ourselves cannot see yet in the now, having faith that it is yet to be discovered.