Carl Zimmerman on SNAP! 2016

I recently interviewed photographer Carl Zimmerman about his involvement with SNAP! 2016, an upcoming charity auction to benefit the AIDS Committee of Toronto.


ABOVE: Carl Zimmerman, Interior with Sky, 2013, pigment print on archival paper (edition: 1 of 5), 28.5 x 24 inches, courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery (Lot. 9, donated by the artist, estimate: $2,400)

Last week, I was asked if I’d be interested in writing about the AIDS Committee of Toronto and SNAP! 2016. I quickly agreed.

First, a little bit about the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT):

Founded in 1983, ACT works with gay men, women and young people to increase their knowledge, skills and resilience in the face of HIV/AIDS. ACT also provides services for people living with HIV through programs such as counselling, information provision, and social support activities.

And now, a little bit about SNAP!:

SNAP! is ACT’s annual photographic fundraiser featuring a live auction of art, a silent auction, and a photo competition. Now in it’s 15th year, the event provides a great opportunity for both established and emerging artists to showcase their work.

In preparing this post, I was given the opportunity to interview Carl Zimmerman about ACT, SNAP!, and the piece he has graciously donated. Below, is a brief Q&A I had with him this week:

How did you come to be involved with the AIDS Committee of Toronto and SNAP!?

I was asked to contribute something this year by Sarah Burtscher who works at Stephen Bulger Gallery and I believe is involved with the organization of this year’s SNAP.

Has your involvement with organizations such as SNAP! shaped your artistic practice, or any of the relationships you have within the arts community?

I live in rural Cape Breton, so I really don’t have the same exposure to arts organizations or arts events on an everyday sort of level that I might have if I were working in an urban area. I certainly think its a worthy cause and am glad to contribute to events like these and other similar events, but I often don’t get the opportunity to know the people behind the events. It’s great to be included though and a nice venue to showcase one’s work.

Your photograph, Interior with Sky comes from your Cold City series which was inspired by images of former Soviet ‘closed cities’. Can you tell us a little more about the piece?

I build small models usually, photograph these, and then combine them with various supplementary shots. The whole thing starts as a sketch and most of the conceptual parts are figured out at this time. The other various parts are added in and photo-shopped, sometimes over a fairly lengthy period.

The title “Cold City” is an amalgamation of “cold war” and “closed city”, terms that conjure up similar ideas, but inspired, if that’s the right word, by the closed city of Norilsk in the Siberian arctic. I just happened to come across some photos on Google Earth maybe 5 or 6 years ago and really just had this feeling that industrialization had crossed some line of no return. It reminded me of something almost medieval, without beginning or end. The only other time I felt that same sort of unreality was during the Cuban Missile crisis at the height of the Cold war.

The location of my fictional city is somewhat metaphorical. I wanted to suggest the north, or tundra, or perhaps the Soviet north, so the backgrounds in a number of the photos are borrowed from similar landscapes taken on trip to the northern tip of Newfoundland. However, in some photos , I used the images of East German leaders and in this photo “Interior with Sky”  the lettering on the wall indicates the German language rather than Russian. The Soviets when controlling eastern Europe established closed cities throughout the East Germany and I thought the German reference would make my city seem more familiar.

The function of the building was left unclear, but it plays off other gigantic architectural images associated with Germany during the 2nd world war.

You often depict buildings on their own instead of in groupings. In addition to the themes of isolation and abandonment, what do you seek to convey with your work?

This series is somewhat similar to previous series that envisioned a kind of abandoned utopia. My intention was to suggest an initial sense of awe, a sense of ambition, but there is a simultaneous awareness of the past and obsolescence and time. But there are also some signs of current activity that possibly suggests some sort or re-purposing or appropriation. The scary thing about Norilsk for instance, is that, while the city is an environmental and physical ruin in many respects, it continues to function seemingly undisturbed.

The idea of the closed city originated with Stalin’s desire to move industrial and military production to areas out of the range of enemy bombers, so sites in the north or Siberia were perfect. But after the war, a closed city could simply be a secret facility or factory that could be located anywhere.

How often have you come across similar sites in real life? 

I grew up in Hamilton and back then it wasn’t uncommon to see large buildings seemingly isolated against the background, like the old CNR building for example. In and around Niagara and the the Welland Canal it similar, large damns, grain elevators. In Cape Breton it is not uncommon to see a power plant or paper mill, oil storage depot seemingly spring out of the wilderness.

Many of your photograph’s include people or objects to show scale. How big would this building be in relation to others in the physical world?

The scale I imagined would be larger than anything that I’ve come across in real life, but there are precedents, e.g. some of Germany’s WWII submarine bases and Albert Speer’s plans for redesigning Berlin. The Great Hall for instance, would have been 900 ft.high.

What’s next? Projects? Solo or group shows?

I’m doing a show in Halifax of the Cold City work in May at Studio 21. and I’ve been working on a new series that continues some of the themes in “Cold City”, that I’m calling “Land without Time.” It generally takes me a long time to put together a series, so no plans to show that yet.

SNAP! 2016 takes place on March 31, 2016 at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library (doors open at 6pm / auction begins at 7pm). You can purchase tickets to the event here.