About M.SAWYER PHOTOGRAPHY


background:

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionately interested in the practice and study of various forms of art and music. I spent much of my childhood relentlessly studying and performing classical and modern piano music and delving deeply into ceramics in high school. However I must admit that early on, I viewed photography as some kind of lesser art form (I had also written off photorealistic painting in a similar way). To me it seemed to be a relatively mindless or banal documentation compared to say, Van Gogh's work with which I was enamored while studying art history in college. My artistic values were skewed towards forms and artists who dared wildly to distort reality with expressionistic renderings or dissonant and epic musical overtures.

It was a few years after college that one of the catalysts for my appreciation of photography sparked when I met my very creative wife Amy in 2001. She had a sort of personal collection of old photographs from vintage stores, clippings from books and catalogs, and collages she'd constructed with many types of photographs. She also liked to take time to hike through parks and meadows to take photos only for her own personal enjoyment. I wanted to impress her and so I tagged along and began to attempt to photograph things for the first time (not including obligatory holiday snapshots that everyone has endured at one time or another). For me, to really appreciate an art form or medium, one must spend time participating in it and at least giving it an assiduous effort. This slowly happened to me by accident in the process of spending time with Amy.

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 that this 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 was one of my most significant steps towards falling in love with photography.

Over the next couple of years I began to slowly teach myself the technical aspects of photography, everything from aperture and depth of field to digital post-production. My friend Sam Stanton introduced me to the world of film, especially medium format film and vintage cameras from decades ago. It was through experimenting with film that the shutterbug had finally and incurably bitten me.

It may be that I’m very stubborn or just slow, but I realize now how my former assessment of photography was somewhat naive. 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. This also happens in the 3rd dimension where the photographer -- using the tools of light, glass, and film -- chooses a perspective of field and depth of field and further subtracts elements from our perception.

 

on photography as an art form:

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 invoked 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.

 

on current work:

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 values and motivations is that of 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 don’t see myself living in a place like that again anytime soon, I do want to maintain a connection to wide open spaces and memories of my childhood.