About the artist
is a photographer. He lives near Los Angeles, California, a land where American myths are deeply rooted, and where they have slowly turned to dust under the watchful eye of many photographers. An America of rampant urbanization, of “non-places”, extensively portrayed by American photography in the 1970s. Mark Swope’s work, although dating from the 1990’s and 2000’s, is very much in line with the investigations of photographers displayed together at the now-famous New Topographics exhibition, hosted in 1975 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, featuring artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, Nicholas Nixon, Robert Adams… The exhibition was a turning point in the history of photography in that it witnessed, in a deliberately documentary style, changes in the contemporary landscape. All of Swope’s work reflects the same interest in places dominated by artefact. Nature, when it does appear in the image frame, has been geometrically “pruned”. The artefact itself - whether work of architecture or billboard - is depicted as an obsolete relic of a bygone age, where all that remains intact is the palm-tree lining of the city’s broad avenues.
Could you tell us about your background? How did you get into photography?
The house that I grew up in was full of black & white photographs as my father, John Swope, was a photographer throughout his life. My background and education was in painting and installations although I used photography throughout these processes. In the mid 90’s, I started to archive my father’s photographic collection and while doing so I moved away from painting and into photography as my full time endeavour.
What is your relationship towards American photography of the 1970's, specifically that of California, which dealt with the exploration of contemporary landscapes at a time of ever-expanding urbanization, and its collateral effects?
I was introduced in the early 90’s to the work of Robert Adams along with John Gossage and Frank Gohlke. I was much intrigued by the quiet subject matter that created a tension of wanting to go deeper into the image as well as the environmental concerns they carried. You live in Santa Monica, most of your photographs are taken in California. One often says that working with one’s own close environment is the most difficult subject for the photographer's eye. How would you define this territory? And why does it inspire you?
I remember being in downtown Los Angeles and staring in wonderment at the old buildings, our history in architecture, and how quickly it can disappear in our ever-changing landscape. I realized that being a native of Los Angeles, I knew so little of my surroundings, and then started out on random treks around the city, discovering and rediscovering a place my father documented in the 1930’s.In Sign Structures you deal with a mythical symbol of the American landscape: the ad sign. How did you approach it?
I was fortunate to gain access to the rooftops of some of the old historic signs in LA while working with the Museum of Neon Art. As we now carry so much information at our fingertips with computers, phones, etc. these massive signs have been rendered useless for their original purpose of communication and setting landmarks. The idea of photographing them from above was to show the signs’ vantage point and their perch above the city.Foliage and Structures is the most graphic series you have done. The architectural elements, as well as the natural, once shaped by man and somehow turned into an artefact because of its stylization, function as signs.
series seemed a very straightforward decision/direction for me. It’s very intuitive and not to sound too simplistic, it comes down to walking around and being able to see what there is to be seen.
Limited edition, numbered and signed.
Selected shows and awards
Foliage, Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 2012
The Los Angeles River, Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 2010
Paint & Memory - Photographs of New Orleans 2003-2005, Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 2006
Elysian Fields, Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 2005
Foliage, VeniceArts Gallery, Venice, CA, 2004
Selected Work, Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, 2003
L.A. Sign Structures, Museum of Neon Art, Los Angeles, CA, 2003
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
N.R.D.C., Santa Monica, CA