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matt sawyer

I had never actually owned a camera until 2003 when I was preparing to take a two week trip to Japan. My love for photography had not completely taken hold yet. Yet I knew my trip might be a once in a lifetime event, and that I should at least attempt to document it. This was around the time that small digital cameras were becoming very cheap. So I picked up a tiny cheap digital camera and went to Japan. Hiking throughout Osaka and taking in its culture, architecture, and atmosphere helped plant a seed my in mind for what photography could be.

In the following years I attempted to learn everything I could about the technical aspects of photography. My friend Sam Stanton introduced me to the world of analog photography with medium format film and vintage cameras from decades ago. It was by experimenting with film that the shutterbug had finally and incurably bitten me.

on photography as an art form

Early in life I often dismissed photography as a less inventive art form while elevating painting and musical composition onto a pedestal much higher. However I think photography is less analogous to painting that it previously seemed to me, and no less valid. I now think of the process of photography -- at least in its landscape and street forms -- as more like sculpture than painting. Instead of adding a composition to a blank canvas, the photographer’s environment is a block of material, waiting to be subtracted from and focused down to a coherent piece.

I think that experiencing an image frozen in time is not simply one less dimension, but fundamentally a different kind of thing than experiencing the sensation of sight or watching a video or movie. As we look into the world around us, we are being flooded with sensory information from almost 180 degrees in front of us. This information is correlated also to what we’re hearing, smelling, touching. By carving out a small fraction of that information into a photograph, freezing it in time, and detaching it from other sensory experiences, I think that it allows a strong sense of memory to be evoked as our minds attempt to grasp it and make sense of it. It’s almost as if your mind is tracking forward in time until the photograph is viewed; it is then arrested and sometimes reels backwards into memory or nostalgia as the photograph is taken in.

I try to make photographs that take some time to sink into, and then make you feel something unexpected, something tangential to the immediate reaction. I think subtle and even mixed messages that you work to get at are often more powerful than something that’s clearly handed to you.

These days I most enjoy photographing landscapes, not excluding urban scenes, but specifically rural environments. The reasons for this are probably many. One of my strongest core motivations is the sense of exploration. I have a constant yearning to travel and experience locations that are unfamiliar to me. Another reason is likely that I grew up on a farm in a small town in Oklahoma. Though I always felt somewhat alien living there, I still want to maintain a connection to wide open spaces and memories of my childhood.

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