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Shooting stories: Multifaceted photographer featured at San Mateo Main Library
December 12, 2013, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal

Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
While searching for an island location shoot near Belize, Matt Swafford came across a pack of dogs edging off a pier in the middle of the Caribbean to say hello.

Matt Swafford started his career as curious 14-year-old with a camera and a roll of film; just 12 shots, so he learned to make them count.

Forty years later and even with advancements in photo editing programs, high-tech equipment and limitless memory cards, he still shoots with the mindset of his youth.

Swafford is a photojournalist and fine art photographer whose work is on exhibit at the San Mateo Main Library. He’s traveled the world, been taken to places few have been and photographed an endless variety of subjects. He still attributes his passion and success to the basic skills he learned at Hillsdale High School’s photography program.

Before the days of memory cards and DSLR cameras, his teachers would give them assignments to successfully cover an event, like a sports game, knowing they only had 12 shots. He developed an eye for body mechanics, how to anticipate movement and to patiently wait until the composition was right. To this day, he doesn’t use special effects, he maximizes the frame and never crops, Swafford said.

“For me, the premise is to shoot it like you’re shooting film. Get the shot right the first time, you don’t want to doctor it. … I don’t want to be married to my computer editing,” Swafford said.

Swafford’s current exhibit titled “the image has a story …” is a combination of his professionally commissioned and personally discovered photographs from the past decade. But instead of providing a caption and description of what the viewer is looking at, he asks the viewer to impose their own story. People connect to art through their own personal experiences, Swafford said.

“It’s the viewer’s interactions and emotions. All I can do is put this in front of the viewer and see if I cause an emotional reaction. It’s sort of fun,” Swafford said.

San Mateo Main Library visitors will see a range of Swafford’s shots. The selection for Swafford’s display is eclectic, from a friendly pack of dogs surrounded by crystal blue water in Belize and the sun-kissed rusted walls of Alcatraz to the force behind the America’s Cup race and folk singer Joan Baez mid-song.

Most of Swafford’s photos are centered on nature or people in movement. The photojournalist in him highlights things that affect society while his fine art photography is aimed at the more curious side, things that one could bump into, Swafford said.

Having shot for magazines and companies that have taken him around the world, he’s learned to appreciate different customs and discovering what goes on outside a location shoot, Swafford said.

“A life with multiple cultures is important to anybody, it keeps you human,” Swafford said.

When he is off shooting without a schedule, he’s looking to step away from the glamor shots and look at different angles, Swafford said.

“If it looks like a postcard, I won’t be shooting it,” Swafford said. “If it looks like the most wonderful sunset, I’m not there.”

A good representation of a subject is one that doesn’t look posed but feels right, Swafford said. When asked about where the photo was taken, he describes what’s outside the parameter of the photo, he has a story. But when he hangs around near his work to talk with visitors, he usually won’t tell it, Swafford said.

“I don’t tell people these stories, I let people tell me what they see,” Swafford said. “Everyone’s got a different story. I don’t project, I let them have their own story.”

For more information on Matt Swafford visit “the image has a story…” runs through Jan. 19 at the Art Gallery of the San Mateo Main Library located at 55 W. Third Ave.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106



Tags: swafford, story, people, swafford, shots, viewer,

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Shooting stories: Multifaceted photographer featured at San Mateo Main Library

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