Charles Swedlund

Charles Swedlund (1935-  )was born and raised in Chicago, and attended Lane Tech High School. He developed an interest in lenses and film after receiving an 8mm movie camera for his 16th birthday, and soon after he acquired a still camera.  Before long he had a basement darkroom.  Swedlund was accepted by the Institute of Design out of high school and began classes in the fall of 1953 after working during the summer in a commercial photography studio.  Swedlund soon embraced the ID as “an incredible awakening” and he acquired both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in photography from the Institute of Design in 1958 and 1961 respectively. His master’s thesis, was “The Search for Form: Photographical Experiments with the Human Figure”.   As a student he had the fortunate timing to not only engage the now fabled Callahan/Siskind teaching team, but to find himself a core member of a small group at the I.D., whose members would go on to prominence as innovative and successful  photographers and teachers, including Ray Metzker and Kenneth Josephson.  Swedlund too, had an ambition to teach, and after receiving his graduate degree, he held a number of part-time teaching positions in Chicago.  Then in 1963, Oscar Bailey brought Swedlund to the State University College in Buffalo, New York.  A highly productive six years followed with the teaching partners encouraging each other professionally and artistically.  In 1969, Swedlund returned to the I.D. to teach for two years.  He also worked in illustrative and advertising photography and was hired to document many art collections in the city.   In 1971, he took a position at Southern Illinois University, where he remained until his retirement in 2000.  A gifted and inspiring teacher, Swedlund also published on the subject.  His 1967 self-published, Guide to Photography, went through several printings and led to his definitive, 1974 textbook, Photography: A Handbook of History, Materials and Processes (Holt, Rinehart and Winston).  Even as Swedlund was preparing this now-classic volume, he was busy creating a variety of other publications, including Charles A. Swedlund Photographs: Multiple Exposures with the Figure, (self-published, 1973).  He created other limited-edition publications or portfolios, some inspired by historical processes, curious perceptual phenomena , or playful vernacular traditions.  He devised a series of photo buttons and designed and produced photo-puzzles, some of which were intended to be dispensed from vending machines.  Swedlund also developed an expertise in color photography, studying and experimenting endlessly with processes and techniques.  Since his student days, Swedlund had experimented obsessively, with film, lenses, paper stock, exposures and chemical processes, as well as subject matter.  (In the year 1955 alone, while a student, he produced several accomplished bodies of work on different subjects, utilizing various techniques, and published later as a three-volume set.)  Over the decades, Swedlund has lectured and exhibited widely, neglecting the pursuit of a career in the fine art market, in favor of dedicating himself almost completely to teaching.   The fine art market eventually found him and his works are in many private collections. His photographs are also in such widespread public collections as the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, the Getty, Los Angeles, and the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art, Japan.   Since the mid-1980s, Swedlund has been absorbed  with a photographic subject, the subterranean world of Mammoth Cave.  Focusing first on natural forms, he soon turned his attention to the thousands of names and drawings that had been inscribed on the walls.  This turned into an official project to document all the historic and prehistoric inscriptions in the cave, and to create a database of names and dates – for the artist, an effort at cultural preservation and reclamation.  Swedlund lives and works in southern Illinois.