Photographer of the Month: Matthew Sawatzky
You often see people on vacation with their camera glued to their face. When we travel to new places our eyes light up with awe at all of the new and unfamiliar sights. This is a normal response to travel and exploration. Much more difficult is honing one's eye and technique to see the wonder and potential that lurks in a hometown or homecity. Amongst the 'everyday' of life we tend to fall into similar patterns and most find it hard to see 'photo worthy' sights on their block, on the walk to the bustop, on a trip to the store. Matthew Sawatzky has been in love and relationship with his lenses for many years and he has a love for the cities he finds himself in. He can see and captures images lurking in plain sight, and it is my pleasure to feature him this month as Wandering Educators' Photographer of the Month!
Winnipeg Folk Fest (above and below)
How did you get interested in photography?
My interest in photography started when my family would spend evenings looking at slides my father took on his trip to Alaska. I remembered being captivated by the huge bright projections of those Velvia and Kodachrome slides. It wasn’t until after high school, when my parents bought me a point and shoot camera to take to Guatemala with me on a trip, that I first started taking photos of my own. I started getting my prints back from the lab and I was hooked. Soon after, I bought my first SLR and started spending lots of money on film and developing.
New Zealand - Coromandel Islands
Stony Bay Tree, New Zealand
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve been photographing since 2001.
What is your favorite place to photograph? Or subject?
While I enjoy nature photography, I would say my favorite place to photograph is the city. It can almost be any city. I’m attracted to the overlooked and ignored spaces that fill in the gaps between the big attention grabbers. Like back alleys, the spaces between buildings. These spaces play a big role in the life of the city but are always ignored because they are not typically all that pretty or well maintained.
I love finding signs of life and human presence in these places, i.e., a well- worn shortcut between two buildings, or wild shrubs and grasses that have taken root in cracks in the concrete. We tend to think of the city as a well- manicured human place separate from nature, but when you look closer, you will always see signs of nature creeping back in.
Winnipeg (above and below)
How can photographers help change/impact the world, while they are traveling?
I think the best way to change/impact the world through their photos is to try and look past the easy/obvious photo. Look past it to see a deeper story and meaning. Some of my own favorite travel photos come from a time when I took the time to get to know someone and learn about their lives and visit their home. When you do this, you are able to see how you and your new friend are very similar people. I often thing of a quote by Sebastiao Salgado when I photograph anywhere in the world.
“If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture.” - Sebastiao Salgado
Are there rules in other countries people need to be aware of about who or what you can or cannot shoot?
I think it all comes down to respect for people’s dignity. Some cultures are more sensitive to foreigners snapping away, and you can really anger some people if you are being an arrogant pushy photographer. I know I’d be upset of some guy shoved a lens in my face without talking to me. You can usually avoid all confrontations with a quick introduction and smile. It's amazing how far a smile can go when photographing people who don't speak your language. In those situations I smile, motion to my camera, and ask permission to shoot just with my body language.
Any photography tips you want to share?
If you want to get better at photography, look for honest critique from an established photographer. Ask them to be brutally honest and be ready for some hard lessons. It might be difficult to hear, but you’ll learn some good lessons...just don't take it personally. Other than that, just fill your mind with good inspiration. Take photo books out from the library; research the great photographers of history and study their photos.
Find Matthew online at:
All photos courtesy and copyright Matthew Sawatzky
Jordan Oram is the Photography Editor for Wandering Educators