In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.
As time passed after the end of a painful breakup, Matthew Swarts found himself feeling a kind of distance and disconnect when looking at photographs taken during that time in his life. In order to examine and process better his current feelings about the relationship, he turned to art and began a journey that blended some of the images along with found images he manipulated sometimes through Photoshop, other times through more concrete items including old fax machines and broken printers. The results are trippy, surreal, sometimes confusing and always mesmerizing portraits that are significant because, quite simply, is there another way to describe the emotions that arise both during and after a significant breakup? Swarts discussed his work in two series he began in 2014, “Beth” and “The Alternatives,” both on view at Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles beginning February 28. He also spoke about his fine art career for Crusade for Art. Read the full interview here.
Do you consider yourself to be a fine art photographer? Tell me a bit about that and if that kind of categorizing is important to you.
Yes, of course, as my work has primarily been collected by museums and other fine art institutions and publications, but what I do now is evolving, both for me and for countless others, out of the sphere of what those words once meant. I don’t think about these terms with the same kind of religiosity that some people do, because that’s not really what my life is about. I simply make things. These days it is primarily with electronic cameras and computers, but I began as a social documentarian very much connected to a firmly established tradition. Over time, my practice has become more studio-based and specific to questions surrounding portraiture, copyright, and appropriation, but photography in the largest sense has always been my prime interest. I live and breathe for what photography can sometimes do to my mind and heart. The sub-categorization of my work into “fine-art” is useful only in the sense that that’s where my photography has found acceptance and its largest audiences.
Do you work with galleries? If so, how did you find them and how do you keep up your relationship with them?
Yes, my work is represented by Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles, and Paul Kopeikin reached out to me to establish this relationship after my work had some traction in publishing and museum venues. What has emerged is a kind friendship based upon a shared interest in bringing the work to a larger collector base. Even though we are geographically apart, we communicate regularly to strategize opportunities for pushing the work forward. Paul is somewhat extraordinary in his commitment to artists, and in addition to his regular gallery programming makes quite an international fair circuit with the work. I could not have been luckier in this regard, as with his guidance, support, and networking, collectors have responded very favorably!
Do you feel pressure to keep making work for yourself and/or to keep yourself relevant within the art community?
Not so much pressure as a simple wish to be a relevant part of a conversation I find fascinating. I am constantly cross-pollinated by the work of other artists, many of whom work outside or on the periphery of traditional photographic ideas. At the end of the day, the people I admire most are very hard to pigeon hole into simple categories. They are simply makers and creators because there’s nothing else in the world they’d rather be doing. I am this way, too. What I would like most of all is to continue to make work that has these kinds of multivalent possibilities, and to challenge myself (rather than feeling pressure from any external source) to always make new things. I suppose with new technologies there’s always the feeling that what you’re learning about will somehow be eclipsed within the next fifteen minutes, but this is something you adjust to and learn to grow from, and frankly, so far it’s been a tremendous amount of fun.