Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 in Matthew Leifheit | No Comments

Photograph by Matthew Leifheit for CCNY

Ilona Szwarc

Born 1984 Warsaw, Poland


In the summer of 2010 I was introduced to Ilona Szwarc. Then an intern at Mary-Ellen Mark’s studio, her work seemed to further the cannon of social documentary photography, bringing a fresh eye and a proclivity for vibrant color to the disappearing field. Armed with a background in the film industry, Szwarc was in the midst of photographing her first series entitled “Anna” which focused on her mother-in-law. We collaborated on a MATTE Magazine featuring these pictures.


Szwarc’s next series entitled “American Girls” again pictured women. Due in part to its levity and in full to Szwarc’s unique eye, this series has garnered much exposure including a solo show in Paris at Galerie Claude Samuel and a feature on the New York Times Lensblog. To make these pictures Swarc adopted a 4×5 camera, initially approaching young women with American Girl dolls on the street asking to photograph them in their homes, eventually posting ads on American Girl Doll fan pages looking for subjects. This series is a humorous and sometimes unnerving look at how young girls in America construct their femininity against the backdrop of the places they come from.

Chloe, NJ

 Gillian, NY
 Jenna, MA
Kayla, MA

“One of the interactions that I remember particularly was with Jade, whom I photographed in Long Island. She described herself as a tomboy and she explained that she didn’t really have anything to choose from at the American Girl Place that would reflect her own style and personality. She had a very strong feminine side, but didn’t want to fit in the American Girl scenario,” said Swarc to MATTE. “She shared with me that in order to get matching clothes for her dolls she would go to different toy stores, like Build-a-Bear Workshop, where toy outfits were more gender neutral.”

Jade, NY

A native of Poland, Szwarc’s formative experiences in the United States occurred when she was an exchange student in high School studying in a small town called Canadian in the Texas panhandle. In 2012 she returned to TX, and noticed something new about the rodeo culture she knew from high school.  “I knew about the rodeo culture from back when I lived there, but I wasn’t aware that young girls were doing it,” says Szwarc.

“After working on my series American Girls and getting to know so many girls of that age, it was fascinating for me to discover a group of girls who had a totally different idea about their femininity. They also had a different idea about gender roles. They were engaged in activities that traditionally were reserved for men. They worked hard, they are physically strong and dominant.”

Szwarc is interested in photographing girls because she sees herself in them. “As a woman of course I relate to other women. Through photographing them I isolate and explore different aspects of my experience of being a woman. It is a way of self-portraiture, but enriched by the experience of others,” says Szwarc. As her series progresses I notice an increased taste for the surreal. The moments and situations Szwarc captures are gradually more enigmatic. Her pictures have also become more formalistically experimental, opting for the odd frame over the classically composed documentary image. She engineers these new photos to draw out strangeness in the situations depicted, leading to unsettling yet otherworldly beauty. This new work includes depictions of both men and women.

These pictures are presented naked, unaltered from the world we live in. Still they confront the viewer with supernatural realities of American existence that could only be realized by an artist with an outside perspective. “As a foreigner, I cannot separate myself from this powerful experience of living in America. I am constantly looking at this world and analyzing it,” Says Szwarc. Her pictures belie straightforward admiration of American culture and they thrive on our most sublime moments. —MATTE Magazine for CCNY

Posted by on Jan 16, 2013 in Matthew Leifheit | No Comments

Photograph by Matthew Leifheit for CCNY

Elizabeth Renstrom

Born 1990 Hartford, CT


Elizabeth Renstrom keeps a diary. Out in public she’s always writing things down or sketching in a small black notebook. She fills these books with ideas. Every new photograph or series Renstrom comes up with in her mind she physically maps out every possibility for the work on paper in order to realize her vision. As Renstrom said to MATTE Magazine, “It just helps me work out the notion that maybe I’m not crazy because if it is on paper it most certainly can be created in real life too”.

“Face Time” 2012

elizabeth renstrom

Sketch for “Face Time” 2012


Renstrom typically works within one series of photos at a time, constructing environments in-studio to be photographed.  “Much of my work is about an obsessive control over the components I’m building even if it looks like a complete mess. Working in the studio allows me the time and space I need to have ‘sculptures’ or scenarios come to fruition then documented in a formal way,” says Renstrom.

“Mermaid” 2012

“Sticker Book” 2011

“Mermaid” 2012

Set of “Alien Resurrectionz” 2012

“Cursed” 2011


Renstrom’s newest series entitled “Waxy Chunks” was recently featured in Vice Magazine’s photography issue. It’s a spooky shamanistic take on 1990s nostalgia complete with instructions for a séance. As Renstrom puts it, “I guess you could say I’m about as nostalgic as anyone my age for those defining years, but mostly I’m interested in the AMOUNT of nostalgia I see on the internet and elsewhere for that time period”. She recognized a thirst on the internet for a specific time period, and used the demand of the audience to shape the process of her art-making. “When I began ‘Waxy Chunks’ my main goal was to make photos that looked very tumble-able. What is appealing on blogs? What images do people continually curate and proliferate online? A huge answer was the ’90s”.

“Death of Slime” 2012

“Spellz” 2012

“SBURNS” 2012

“Annoint” 2012

“Hero Worship” 2012

Renstrom finds our generation’s wistfulness for the ’90s to be premature. “It’s like we didn’t have the decency as a generation to reflect and look back on it in 20 years, we had to commemorate and relive our youth 5 years after it happened”.

“Charismatic Pussy” 2013

In these pictures there is both straightforward appreciation of junior high and the wariness of its regurgitation. Renstrom’s work views the ’90s through the filter of now and indulges our want for then. —MATTE Magazine for CCNY

The Camera Club of New York presents: MATTE Magazine

Posted by on Jan 6, 2013 in Matthew Leifheit | No Comments

Photograph by Matthew Leifheit for CCNY

Matthew Leifheit

Born 1988, Chicago, IL

Photographer, publisher, designer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. I am honored to be the current guest blogger for CCNY. Hello!

Early in 2011 I began producing a journal called MATTE Magazine, which features one artist per issue. It’s called MATTE because my name is Matthew, and because the paper on which it is printed is not very glossy. I studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, and this project became my thesis. I envision the magazine to be a platform for new ideas made for artists by artists. I make a portrait of the featured photographer for the cover and work closely with them on the content. Some issues include interviews, some contain essays or manifestos, and some are purely visual. I primarily focus on emerging photographers, but the magazine also functions as a repository for the lesser seen or early work of more established practitioners.

MATTE Magazine issues 1-10

 Apart from the cover and masthead every issue of the magazine is different, the result of a unique collaboration with the featured artist, the design and format tailored to best showcase their photographs. MATTE is printed in full color, saddle-stitched, and contains no advertisements. I have released ten issues to date, and they are available in these collections. Issues 11-20 are currently in production, and will be released over the coming months.

Selected spreads from MATTE Magazine:

MATTE Magazine is not for profit, and is sold at the cost of printing exclusively at Printed Matter in NYC.

Design by Oona Brangam-Snell for MATTE

I will use my time as guest blogger for CCNY as an extension of my magazine. I will lead each post with a portrait of the featured artist, and follow it with a portfolio of their work accompanied by my words. It is my intention to use this stint guest blogger to create a consistent online space to view exciting new photography and to shed some light on the motivations of each featured artist.

The Camera Club of New York presents: MATTE Magazine

Titles by Sonya Dissin for MATTE