Matthew Swarts – Appropriation

Images and Text – Matthew Swarts

I think I have always been fascinated by the ways in which photography chases copyright. Lately I’ve been curious about using the socially networked computer as a camera — expanding the metaphor of the camera obscura to include the whole of the Internet as something of a system of overflowing apertures.

The images below are composed (in part) of copyrighted information and socially networked image data. In some of the earliest instances, I outputted small image files culled from basic Internet image searches on different substrates (from paper towels to wrapping paper) using a very cheap inkjet printer. I then made high resolution scans of the cheap inkjet prints, eventually outputting them to mural size, meticulously reproducing the ‘errors’ of the cheap inkjet at size.

Later on, I downloaded copyrighted information in the form of small graphics, which I then restitched into elaborate ‘screens’ in Photoshop. I laid these high-resolution screens over my images and manipulated the relationship between the screen and the image. I was particularly fascinated by what the resulting incredibly high-resolution files looked like when they became printed objects and were mounted to aluminum.

When my grandfather passed away, he left me a large trove of family photographs. In one series of images, I have digitally combined handmade drawings as screens overlaid upon my grandfather’s personal photographs. I’ve become interested in the ways that the drawn screen pushes and pulls the narrative of the image, in one way mimicking the impossibility of memory and echoing what that particular loss has felt like.

The most recent images here are pulled from Facebook user photographs. I’ve begun to rephotograph found images in my networked streams, using either a digital camera or the user interface. I’m curious about my relationship to these new streams of visual data: do I correctly have a right to what I see streaming in front of me in the same sense that I have a right to what I see on the public street or in the library?

Certainly, acts of rephotography like this are well documented since the beginning of that which we call photographic. There’s so much anxiety about appropriation in digital environments. I think it’s a tired argument, something that has to do with people’s uneasiness about the velocity of digital culture within the context of a very old argument about…painting?

It does not bother me that new tools make tasks easier and easier, or more elegant. Nor does it seem like any stretch to say that both the computer and the whole of the Internet are cameras. We are where we are and the ways in which the playing fields collapse and expand are exciting. I’d like my work to ask questions and be formal. Only in consciousness it seems things work the other way around: Is the image speaking to you? Are you drawn to it? What’s its structure? Then: Does it ask questions about photography?