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Matthew Swarts: Beth
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Matthew Swarts: Beth

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Foto: Matthew Swarts

Constantly seeking for new talents, this week, by luck, I came across the award winning photographer Matthew Swarts, who’s work has been featured in magazines such as The New York Times, WIRED and SLATE, among others. Today on Floret we present his project Beth, an extended visual and psychological portrait of partnership. I sent Matthew a few questions to learn some more.

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Floret: Matthew, before we start talking about Beth. Since Floret is a Scandinavian magazine based out of Malmö, with close connection to Copenhagen and Oslo, you have to tell us quick about another project you did a few years back called ‘Copenhagen To Oslo’. What was that about?

MS: It was about moving through urban space in Copenhagen and Oslo, by foot mainly, after a long and complicated summer. Really, it was about exploring the edges of what photography meant to me. I made pictures in the strangest ways during that trip: hardly looking in the camera, gesturing with my wrist as I pressed the shutter, in all sorts of rain and night conditions. Part of my family is Norwegian, and I’ve always been curious about assimilating into Scandinavian society. That three week photographic adventure was about losing myself in the streets looking deeply at the geometry and visual structures of my relatives and ancestors. It was also about realizing that Nordic design was like food for me.
(Copenhagen To Oslo can be seen here)

Floret: Moving on to Beth, the girl in the portraits, which you also had a relationship with back when the project started. When you’re working with a person who is this close to you, how do you find it different from working with a complete stranger?

MS: The relationship you have to what you photograph always governs something about the process. I’d like to feel that the work I made after separating from Beth was about honoring something that did exist between us, giving a new shape and a visual form to loss.

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Floret: While many photographers look for that ”perfect” shot, with a good exposure, tweaking the colors for hours till their eyes goes numb. you seem to take somewhat of a different approach to photography. This becomes very clear in your Beth series, but also in your other work. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but could you explain a bit about the techniques you are using?

MS: In Photoshop, I weave together disparate downloaded web artifacts into screens that cover my digital images. Then I use selection masks from adjustment layers to delineate shapes in my portraits with patterned information I’ve created in photoshop. I’m essentially replacing photographic information with high resolution scans of graph and architectural papers, optical illusions, children’s drawings, etcetera. I ‘subtract’ out photographic elements of my digital photographs and ‘add in’ other digital information. Then I adjust the push and pull of the background and foreground images with the computer and make very high resolution prints from the resulting files.

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Floret: Picasso and Mattise (some other heroes of mine), could obviously do technically flawless paintings. But instead of following this track of ”perfection”, throughout their lifetime they kept renewing and experimenting with their own styles. You, you have a photography background, you teach photography at university, and I assume you also know how make this ”perfect” shot. But like them, you’re not so interested in that. Is it also a way of renewing yourself and your photography?

MS: It’s simply what I do when I sit in front of a database of images and a computer: rearrange things, collage, cut and paste, blend, distort, and blur. I play with images to settle some kind of nervous curiosity about where the playing could lead me. It’s really about a process. I let the activities of my imagination take over and lead me into new directions all the time.

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Floret: For me, it was exactly those experimental, strange techniques that first caught my eye with Beth, but the thing that fascinated me even more (that I discovered later) was the sudden shift in the project. What started, as almost ”conventional” photographic portrait in 2011-2013, became this surreal, futuristic, ‘almost no portrait left at all’ in 2014. Could you tell us more about this big shift, both in the work and also in your relationship with Beth.

MS: My relationship with Beth ended in 2013. I made the work you are referring to in 2014, while processing the idea and emotion of loss. The project was a way to make visible something about what my internal psychological and perceptual states were working through. I guess instead of writing tired lost love songs, I reworked photographs, but the impulse is much the same.

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Floret: Thanks for taking the time Matthew! Any three final words you like to add?

MS: Takk for alt.

To view the full Beth project and to find out more about Matthew Swarts work, please visit his website here.

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