Living to Connect Life and Athletics Through Art

Matt Swetel: Athlete... Photographer... Artist

Athletics serve as an outlet for many people.  They are an escape; a way to help cope with the every day stresses that life throws at us.  However, for some people athletics and sports mean more.  They are more than a way to just deal with life.  They are life.  For many, they become not just a part of them, but rather, athletics come to define who they are as individuals.

My friend Matt Swetel is one of those people.  He is an athlete.

It’s who Matt is first and foremost, among other things.  He has dedicated hours of his life to training.  Whether it be for a triathlon, marathon, or the ridiculously insane ultra-marathon, Matt is constantly seeking out his next race or great adventure.  He even manages to talk his friends into taking part in a lot of the races he spends so much time training for.  Trust me, there are pictures of me running the 2008 Cleveland Turkey Trot to prove it.

As it turns out, Matt also has another passion besides being a freakish athlete.  He is also a photographer.

In a weird way it only seems natural that an athlete would develop a passion for photography… or is it a photographer who develops a passion for athletics?  Either way… it makes sense.

Athletes provide photographers with a seemingly unending source of great material, constantly striving to provide that picture perfect moment.  Photographers capture the highest highs and lowest lows in the lives of athletes to be passed on for generations.  Think of how many classic photos this seemingly perfect relationship has produced.  Where would we be if photographers and athletes never decided to get together in the first place.  More importantly…

What does all of this have to do with my buddy Matt?  A lot, as it turns out.

Matt has decided to combine his passions for athletics and photography into a series of athletic portraits he has dubbed “Live To…”  Much like training for a race the project hasn’t been easy, but the end result has been well worth it.  Over a year of painstaking work has gone into developing  “Live To…” and it will all culminate on Friday, June 17th when Matt opens his first solo exhibit at Anderson Creative in Canton, OH.

When I heard he was opening his first solo exhibit I wanted to learn more.  I was curious as to what exactly “Live To…” was and how it came to be.  I was also shocked that he was actually using his degree the way it was intended.  I, like so many of my friends, have used my degree for nothing more than a fancy, highly priced decoration.  Anyways… I reached out to Matt and asked if he would like to have some free publicity, as little as it may be, in exchange for an interview.  Needless to say, he jumped at the opportunity.  So without further hesitation, here is my brief interview with the man, myth, and legend known as Matt Swetel.

1. What exactly is the “Live To…” exhibit?  How did it come about?

– “Live To…” is a series of athletic portraits that I have been working on for a little over a year now.  It came about because of my own interests in fitness.  I really wanted to capture a part of the fitness culture that is rarely seen outside the community.

2. Why athletic portraits?  What was the inspiration for the project?

– I wanted to tell an individuals story with this work so that is why I chose portraiture to portray the subjects story.  I drew inspiration from my own experiences with fitness and athletics and how I got started with fitness, particularly running.

A little over three years ago my mother passed away due to complications of her mental health.  Everything that happened was incredibly difficult for me to handle and I had a hard time trying to overcome her death.  It was hard for me to see that this tragedy was something that I was never going to overcome; I had to learn to live with it. 

Running came into my life about 3 months after her death.  A good friend at the time invited me out to run with her and I’ve never really stopped since that day.  It helped me refocus and find a sense to everything

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3. Who did you photograph?  How did you get them on board?

– I wanted to find people that were dedicated to this lifestyle and willing to let me tell their story.  It was a difficult at first to find people, but since this community is so tight and interconnected one email to a random person turned into six other people.  I have to thank everyone who took time out of their day to come in and pose and then to continue to help me find others.

4. What are you looking to gain from the show?  Exposure?  Self-gratification?  A sense of purpose?  Something else?

– I really wanted to find a connection between my art and running because both of these helped me throughout my life in tremendous ways.   I found a way to use both to comment on one another.  I guess you can say I wanted to find a sense of purpose.

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5. Are you looking to continue with athletic portraits or was this simply a starting point for other different projects?  Can we expect more of the same in the future?

-I am looking to continue and expand this work particularly and find more people to take part in it.  I feel as if I still haven’t covered every facet of the fitness/athletic community.

6. What do you plan/want to do moving forward?

-We’ll see

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For anyone that has found this to be interesting, or is more interested in Matt’s work, here are the details for the show:

“Live To…” Athletic Portraits by Matt Swetel

Anderson Creative: 331 Cleveland Ave NW, Canton, OH

Opening Friday June, 17th 7-9 PM and running through August 6th.

For more info please visit Matt Swetel Photography

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