Colleen Woolpert


Artist Statement

Growing up as a twin, I often “performed” an identity to distinguish myself from my sister, and although our similar appearance belied our different personalities, we provoked public staring. As a consequence, I developed a sensitivity to being seen and a curiosity about how we interpret visual information. An innate suspicion of images was further reinforced when, at age ten, I learned that my twin lacked binocular vision, the ability to see in three dimensions. Until then, I had naively assumed we experienced the same world, but in an instant I profoundly felt our uniqueness and desired to look out from anothers eyes.

These formative sensibilities motivate me to investigate issues of identity, vision, the cognitive mechanisms of perception, and the “morality of viewing”. Formally trained in photography, I use the camera to extend, supplant, and at times deceive the eye, revealing a disquieting and sometimes uncanny thread as the visual field is shaken up. Through recent dialogue and collaboration with people who are blind and low vision, I’m led to further discoveries about the inconstancy of sight. Besides photography, I also create video, interactive objects, installations, and sound pieces.

I’ve long been enamored with early 3D photography (stereographs) because these double images present nearly identical yet distinct views that illustrate the principle of binocular vision. Other pre-cinematic tools that question how we think of vision also interest me, in particular the Mutoscope (1894). A coin-operated “flip-book,” the Mutoscope (which happened to be invented in the Near Westside!) is comprised of still photographs mounted on a wheel that users turn by hand to create the illusion of motion. These analog devices replicate and transform the photographic image in a way that helps us comprehend the body’s relationship with space and time through our own participation.

At the SALTQuarters, I will bring the above ideas to bear on the creation of new work for exhibition during a series of public events called Persistence of Vision (Blink, Slide and Drift ), with each event having a related participatory component. In my work, I hope to utilize as many of the material and human resources of the Near Westside as possible. As my interests cross boundaries between art, science and history, I look forward to sharing work and ideas with school groups and welcome other opportunities for community exchange that may develop organically during my residency.


Raised in West Michigan and based in Seattle, Colleen received her MFA in Transmedia (Art Photography) from Syracuse University in 2011. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Seattle where she is on faculty at the Photographic Center Northwest and works with artists who are blind or low vision through Vision Loss Connections. Recent awards include a Seattle Storefronts Residency, a public art commission for the City of Syracuse, and an Emerging Artist of Central New York Award. She has exhibited in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Syracuse, New York, and in many other US cities. Since 2012, a longtime fascination with stereographs (3D photography from 1850-1930) has led Colleen toward curatorial, consulting, and public art projects related to this format, and to design a new form of stereoscopic viewer called the TwinScope. Colleen works with museums, libraries and other cultural institutions to increase awareness and appreciation of this important yet little-known chapter of photographic history.

Formerly a full-time professional photographer, Colleen’s publication credits include The New York Times, Martha Stewart Weddings, Bicycling, San Francisco Magazine, and Detroit News.  From 2001-07 she specialized in event photography and was recommended by Modern Bride, Jane, GQ, New-York Historical Society, and Soho House—and was a Photo District News Top Knots award winner. Her thoughts on assignment photography can be found in the latest edition of the ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography.

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