VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Copeland, Colette

Colette Copeland
US videomaker


Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background.

CC: I studied fashion merchandising and photography at Pratt Institute in New York City. After graduation, I was the studio manager and marketing agent for two commercial photographers. I realized I did not want to pursue commercial photography, but did not know how I could make a living as an artist. I took a corporate business job and worked for almost ten years before giving up the corporate world for art. I received a full fellowship at Syracuse University in the Transmedia Studies Department to pursue my master’s degree. I studied video, sculpture, photography and performance art. I received my Masters in Fine Arts in 2001 and have been teaching, creating, curating and writing about art ever since.

2. When, how and why did you start filming?

CC: I started making video in graduate school. As an image-maker, I have always been drawn to storytelling. I found photography limiting, because I wanted to include text, voice, and sound into my work. Because of my education, I approach video from a photographic perspective rather than cinematic/filmic perspective. Video is the perfect medium for experimental narrative.

3. What kinds of topics do your films explore?

CC: I am inspired by life. Many of my ideas come from things I’ve read, stories I’ve been told, history, and contemporary culture. I am also drawn to issues surrounding women, injustice, and death. I incorporated all three of these themes into a recent three-year project entitled, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows, where I filmed at the sites that women had been publicly executed in the United States.

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc.?

CC: Do you mean technically or conceptually? I usually begin with research and then develop a storyboard with some ideas about framing and composition. I choose locations and talent. I work with little to no budget and do not work with a production team. Unless I am performing in a video, I will take the role of videographer, director, editor and writer. I have worked extensively with composer William Harper on many projects. He is an amazing talent and intuitively understands my work.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

CC: I work with a canon HD camcorder. It’s a few years old now, but I love the way it records light and color. I would like to upgrade to a camera that has the capacity for selective focus and a macro lens, but for now, it serves my purposes.

6. These days digital technology is dominating also video as a medium. In which way
is the digital aspect entering the creation of your videos, technologically and/or

Since I learned video using analogue technology, I really appreciate the flexibility of the digital medium. I have much more control and it is easy to experiment with a variety of techniques. I find it to be much faster as well. Conceptually I haven’t really addressed technology except in my humorous animation My, which references how the Internet has commodified death into an industry. In a recent series of work exploring the five senses, I explore how we are inundated with images and sounds and how this can affect our ability to engage with the world in a meaningful way.

7. How do you finance your films?

CC: Do you mean there is funding for experimental video art? Please share. Ha Ha. I teach to support my artistic endeavors. I consider my income from writing art reviews to be my “discretionary income” and use that to pay my talent including actors, composers, and videographers. My collaborators do not get paid at a fair wage. Usually it is a fraction of what they are worth. I hate the terms disposable and discretionary income, because it connotes non-essential. For all the artists that I know, there is nothing non-essential about their art making. They HAVE to do it.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

CC: I work both individually and collaboratively. I think video and filmmaking by nature encourage collaboration. I have collaborated extensively with a former student Adam Wesley George. We have made five videos together. In a true collaboration, there is no one director, so as an artist one must be able to give up control and experiment beyond one’s comfort zone. My collaboration with Adam has been just that. We push each other out of our respective boundaries. The work that I’ve made with him wouldn’t have been possible if I was working on my own or hiring talent.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

Tom Sherman—one of my graduate advisors at Syracuse University, video pioneer and amazing writer. He was pivotal in teaching me about the history of video and how/why it’s different from film. I am grateful that I was able to study with him, because he worked with all of the early video artists from the 1970’s, so he made the history come alive.

I am a big fan of Bill Viola, Pipilotti Rist, Shirin Neshat, Doug Aitkin, Marina Abramovic. In terms of filmmakers, I am a die-hard fan of David Lynch, the Quay Brothers and Lars von Trier. I am also in awe of local filmmakers Richard Bailey and Mike Morris whose work is amazing. They tirelessly work to promote video and film in our community.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

CC: My son is one year away from graduating high school. As soon as he is off to college, I would like to pursue some residency opportunities—Iceland and the Scottish Highlands are high on my list.

Can works of yours viewed online besides on the CologneOFF platform? Where?
List some links & resources

CC: Thank you for the kind invitation to participate in the interview. Below is a link to my website and also vimeo page.