Stick around New York long enough and you’ll learn to hate winter. Winter in New York isn’t really winter. It’s more slush than snow, more pain than wonder, a season where all of your friends stop coming out of their apartments and you learn how to sync Netflix sessions through Skype. I was struck, however, by Nick Sellek’s portrayal of winter in his series Snowscapes, a collection of animated GIFs created in 2015 and 2016. Existing somewhere between photograph and painting, these GIFs made me wish for a snowstorm that would leave the streets covered in a soft, white blanket, the streets empty except for the shadows of tires long gone.
Over the holidays, I asked Nick a few questions about Snowscapes, architecture, and the art of the animated GIF.
You note in the project description that Snowscapes was born out of another project called Window. Can you explain what Window is and how it led to Snowscapes?
The snowscapes were created as Christmas advent calendar fronts, for a project titled Window, which encompasses my handmade greeting cards and advent calendars. An advent calendar being an English tradition where a door of the calendar is opened every day in December, to reveal a festive image on the run up to Christmas. I had an idea to create a cityscape using photographs I had taken in various cities around the world, and the calendar doors would be the building facades, and windows, cutout and openable to reveal the festive building interiors and a contemporary Christmas narrative. I hadn't intended for them to be seen out of the advent calendar context, but I thought they worked well as a series of photographic collages, and especially as animated GIFs, and they share a similar aesthetic and concept to my other series of work.
Your work plays a lot with re-contextualizing architecture by manipulating photography. How do you feel Snowscapes manifested this idea differently than your past work?
The snowscapes are more literal representations of cities, in their present state, just with a covering of snow and a lot more optimism. My other work uses more extreme examples of architecture, suggesting isolation and an anti-utopian landscape, embracing the contrived structures and unappreciated architectural components that surround us in our over-developed urban environments.
These concepts are still present in Snowscapes, but they are not so closely highlighted. For my advent calendar to work, I wanted to have a cold and quiet cityscape, to contrast with the festive images that appear when opened up, so the initial feeling of isolation and the stark reality of the city was important.
I love the idea of the GIF as a new medium that is neither pure animation nor photography. Consciously or unconsciously, where do you think Snowscapes fits into this new medium?
With the recent emergence of social media and screen-based viewing, I was quite excited to push Snowscapes into the realm of the animated GIF. It's quite a simple animation, literally a change in grain intensity from frame to frame, but I think this animation of the texture brings them to life. Almost like the way glitter acts on a printed surface.