I had the deep pleasure of returning to Costa Rica after a twelve year absence, if only for a week this month. Much had changed in the years since I lived in Moravia on a Fulbright grant. I am delighted to have had an exquisite walk in the Curi Cancha Private Reserve in Monteverde’s cloud forest. Here are a few images to begin what I hope will be a much more comprehensive project.
“A woman stands against a gray sky, the low light of the sinking sun glints off her glasses. Her hair is in a bun. She is attractive, but not conventionally beautiful. It’s the same person in all the photographs, somehow, but she looks different in each one: soft-faced and girlish in one, sharp-nosed and intelligent in the next. Her face is often turned away or obscured, lost in thought. The colors are muted, but scrubbed clean. The settings are elemental, simple, and still — almost streamlined. This slightly eerie, indeterminate place could be the future. This is Beth.
Beth: It’s the name of a series of photographs that Matthew Swarts — a widely published Somerville, Massachusetts-based photographer trained at Princeton and Mass Art — calls a “portrait of partnership.” Though the name is ordinary, it has a ring to it. And so do these images in their melancholy manner. The photographs have some of the muted intensity of German painter Gerhard Richter’s portraits of his family and the sustained attention that American photographer Harry Callahan focused on Eleanor, his wife of over fifty years.
Swarts explains he and Beth became a couple around the time she became estranged from her parents because of her recent divorce even as Swarts’s own parents were divorcing. He says it added an “unusual weight” to their partnership — that they “became a sort of primary family to each other” and he wanted to express this, somehow, in photographs. It just so happens that Beth is also the word in Hebrew for “house” as in a kind of shelter, but also means family, as in “the house of so and so.”
The photos are not simply somber. They are sexy enough to stop you in your tracks, as you admire Beth’s long muscles and broad swimmer’s shoulders in the photograph where she stands alone and naked on the beach. These mysterious images of love exude a post-coital sadness that speaks intimacy more than desire. When the couple parted ways recently, Swarts, an ever-restless artist, started reworking some of the photographs, layering images of graph paper over the original “straight” photographs to obscure Beth’s face and acknowledge change. The woman we’ve become accustomed to looking at fades from flesh and blood into a kind of diagram, a map, or schema, perhaps, of how Beth is stored in Matthew’s brain. As Beth’s face flattens and whites out, we feel, and sharply, how impossible it is to reconstitute the full experience of love. The word for that is loss.” — Pelle Cass
Curiosity has me experimenting with a book form for BETH:
I have been reworking images from the BETH series. All new images are scalable without a loss in resolution to 40 inches in width. Have a look: http://matthewswarts.com/projects/beth/
A special thanks this Mother’s Day to my Mom, Hope Swarts, who has always been the brightest and most clear light in my life.
And to my Grandmother, Dorothy Schweitzer, whose resilience in life will forever be inspiring:
My Grandmother at 94, talking about life, the afterlife, and more.
Without these two women, I would truly be lost.
Thrilled to be launching FLASHLIGHT PROJECTS, a new photography-for-hire venture based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Please take a moment to survey the new site, and contact or refer me if you need high quality photography for your wedding, family, child, or event!
Very thrilled to be included in Petty Thieves Four: Coast to Coast by the folks at Empty Stretch.
Look for more information soon about the release of this exciting new zine.
I just migrated my teaching materials for BASIC BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY to the main site. Please check them out here: http://matthewswarts.com/teaching/basic-black-white-photography/about/
Delighted to have work in PETTY THIEVES THREE (A one night projection party) sponsored by EMPTY STRETCH + FURTHERMORE: November 8, 2013, 8-11pm @ Petworth Citizen & Reading Room, 829 Upshur St. NW, Washington DC!
Many thanks to Jordan Swartz and Empty Stretch for selecting my work!
I am honored to have work in the CCRI Faculty Exhibition on the Knight Campus in Warwick, Rhode Island.
The show is up until October 31st, 2013. Please stop by if you are in the area!
Special thanks to Ricardo Rivera, for organizing and hanging the show!
Really delighted to discover the discussion about Joerg Colberg’s musings on portraiture (and BETH) continues on APhotoEditor.
Special thanks to Rob Haggart for bouncing this out!
So delighted to have recently been invited by Stuart Pilkington (UK) to participate in his latest exciting curatorial project, ‘The Swap’!
“Here is Beth, photographed by her partner, Matthew Swarts. Of Beth we, meaning everybody except those who know this young woman in person, have a set of photographs and nothing else. What are we going to make of Beth now? What do these photographs tell us about her? What do they tell us about the photographer? What do they tell us about their relationship?
I don’t think there is a simple answer for any of these questions. This is exactly why the photographs are so compelling. In other words, Swarts’ selfishness has paid off. As a matter of fact, the picture at the very top obviously does not look like a straight photograph, and it isn’t. It’s a scan of a photograph emerging from a broken printer. Machines, of course, cannot be selfish (machines are always only stupid). But people using photographs coming out of broken machines can be.
And Beth, the project, shows how this all comes together, albeit in ways that have the process remain a mystery. That’s the other frustrating thing about portraiture: You will never learn it from other people, only from doing it yourself – however much was, is and will be written about it. These pictures show the same woman in a variety of ways that almost make it seem we’re looking at more than one person. Almost.
It is that “almost” that is crucial here, because in that “almost” lies the fact that while photography cannot literally depict someone’s inner state, it can still make a stab at it. Or rather: A photographer can make a stab at showing us her or (in this case) his idea of that other person’s inner state, which he has no direct access to, either (this is what makes life exciting – life on Vulcan must be perfectly boring).
In the end, what we are looking at then is not clear. All that added uncertainty is what defines photography. This is why machines will never be able to produce real art (the relentless hype by today’s tech fetishists notwithstanding): Machines don’t do uncertainty.”
Our sincerest and most kind thanks to Jörg Colberg for this generous feature!
Delighted to have photographs of my mother and grandmother featured in LAM (Light Architect Magazine): The Grandma Issue:
Honored to be included in a survey of work featured on Greg Jones’ In the In-Between as featured on Le Journal de la Photographie:
Delighted to be featured on SFMOMA’s curated tumblr:
Honored to have been selected by Sarah Kennel, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), to be a part of this exciting exhibition at Texas Woman’s University. Love this image of guests in front of Beth, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, 2012!
Truly delighted that my work inspired Hannah Stephenson enough to post this beautiful poem on The Storialist.
Happy to be on Tumblr Open Arts!
My most recent coursework is now accessible on the main site: BASIC DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY