Swell, by Mateusz Sarello, the story of a failure !

It is never easy to begin a book review, I could have posted some pictures, and just have said : this book is great, but it is not the way I have choosen and I must find some arguments to support my thoughts.

Well, shall I start by telling you that I was raised beside the sea, and the ocean was a kind of playground for me. This is probably why the sea has always exerted an attraction for me. But enough with my own story. Mateusz Sarello is a Polish photographer, born in Warsaw in 1978. He recently published « Swell », a beautiful handmade hardcover book in an edition of 350 copies. The book size is around 17 x 20 cm, 88 pages and 42 photos. Here are the facts.


The reason why I like this book is that it tells us the story of a failure and, with a high sense of cleverness, it reappropriates this failure.

The book begins with small color pictures of the Baltic Sea made on Fuji Instant Films, the colors have a beautiful desaturation, typical of those films (they remind me some colorist photographers like Luigi Ghirri or Harry Gruyaert). They constitutes the first part of the project : the reason why Mateusz and his girlfriend went to the sea to achieve their photo project which purpose was « to bring out the nautical poetics of the Baltic Sea, inspired by… », well, the kind of common subject related to seashores. While working at the sea, the couple break out and they separated and put an end to the project. It was hard times for Mateusz who overcame this failure by going back, again and again, to the sea, maybe to find some hidden explanations to the failure. And for that he brought his camera and did a new series of photographs as a catharsis. The smartness of the book is that it tells us the full story, and we enter to the very privacy of the photographer.

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The conception of the book strengthens the spiritual perception of the story. Someone whom I showed the book, told me : « Oh, it’s broken, but I swear it was before me, it is not my fault ! ».  So yes, the metaphor of the failure is transposed by a break in the book. A first booklet is made by the seashore photographs, attached to the front cover, and a second booklet, attached to the back cover, constitutes the second part of the series. The transition is aesthetically built by the succession of a photo of birds at night on instant film to a grainy black & white view of birds flying, protected by a thin and fragile glassine paper.


The second part is about loneliness and the memory of a loss ! No colors anymore, life is made of grey shades. A blurry scarified portrait as a memory, Mateusz went back to the sea with his camera and a flash. The flash has its own importance as he uses it to keep him awake, shooting instinctively portraits of people he met, to witness that he is still alive. Those portraits alternate with double pages of full framed photos of the sea. We don’t really know, everyone can interpretes what he chooses, if those photos are emphasizing the temptation of a physical loss (which could be called a suicide) by its magnetism, or just a fascination for the neverending loop of the tide which symbolises the renewal of life. Both options are available, it is the photographer’s choice to overcome or not… And well, of course, finally, he did, turning this failure into a beautiful, touching, new story ! And, of course, why I am so overwhelmed, is because that story may not be complete foreign to me.

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The book has already been acclaimed and won numerous prizes. Mateusz will be signing his book in Paris on Saturday 16th at « L’ascenseur Végétal » booth during the Photobook Fest.

More info on Mateusz’ site : http://mateuszsarello.com/book

A video of the book : http://vimeo.com/78348169

All images copyright Mateusz Sarello.

5 Comments on “Swell, by Mateusz Sarello, the story of a failure !”

  1. Reblogueó esto en gabrielacendoyay comentado:
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  2. […] As I have already said here about this book, this is the story of a failure. The sea as a cure. Mateusz exposes himself and dissects his pain, then combines photography and a return to the sea, to overcome it. An incredibly well organised book to serve the narration. read more here. […]

  3. […] Mateusz Sarello y su libro ‘Swell’. Es una historia sobre la soledad y la ruptura de una relación en el entorno del mar Báltico. El concepto y el diseño refuerza la propia narrativa que plantea el libro. El libro está dividido en dos partes. En la primera encontramos fotografías en color hechas con película Fuji Instant, que destilan un aire cándido y positivo. Estás primeras páginas están unidas a la portada de la cubierta a modo de cuadernillo. A continuación se produce un corte o separación, mediante un papel vegetal muy delicado. En la segunda parte, con otro cuadernillo unido a la contra portada de la cubierta, aparecen una serie de fotos en blanco y negro, con mucho contraste, donde predomina la oscuridad y los personajes un tanto siniestros. Este libro ha tenido una gran acogida y ha recibido varios premios. Puedes leer una interesante crítica de este libro en el blog de Christer Ek. […]

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