The Image: Matthew Swarts, Untitled (Self-Portrait), Long Beach Island, New Jersey, 2007
I was alone in my aunt's beach house, a few days before my birthday. She has a huge hot tub on the top floor of her house, in a private bedroom. Usually, the tub is off limits but while alone on a rainy day, I took advantage of its dark interior and made some self portraits. My arm is actually extended and holding the camera in the space before the foreground in this image, like I was making a cell phone picture for a social network. This image is of course darker than that on all sorts of levels, but the impulse was the same.
The image is part of my series, AMSTERDAM, which is a kind of self-implicating and self-reflective scopophillic narrative. It's about a dark kind of looking. Not lechery, but an implied descent into sexuality and the body. The work was made in large part during a very turbulent time in my life, and I accelerated how that turbulence was implied by photographing models in addition to myself and close friends. I wanted to attempt to stake something out about the inescapably biological roots of the male gaze. I find the problems surrounding the gaze fascinating, but something about feminist, post-phallocratic-hegemony politics strikes me as equally violent against heterosexual maleness, and wrong, and in my pictures I wanted to find a way to present how it has corrupted my feelings about looking. I used to have a tremendous amount of unresolved guilt in relation to images that sexualize women. On the one hand, I was drawn to them. On the other, because of what I know, I was disgusted and repulsed. That sour dialectic is what the work is about.
Of course, in this image as in others in the series, I am looking at myself and asking the viewer to consider my image with as much moral weight as they might consider the others, perhaps even more. I'm pausing over my own descent and submergence, and (of course) asking questions about my own demise.
It's the first image in the series, too, and I like that. By putting it up front I'm putting myself in the position of both subject and object simultaneously, and I'm inviting my own consumption. It's one way for me to say I'm neither not self aware nor excused. I'm participating, hopefully, in your vision as much as I am in mine.
- Matthew Swarts
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