Me And The Two Of Them Michael Ernest Sweet Ultrashop

More about Michael Ernest Sweet

How did you choose your means of expression?

I have always been an artist of sorts. I also paint and write creatively. In fact, I teach English literature and creative writing by profession. Photography was always in the mix too. I began photographing when I was a teenager with my aunt’s Pentax K1000. My aunt, Susan, went to art school and she had a darkroom in our family home. Photography kind of just stuck with me from there.

What material do you use and why?

I use very simple cameras. I am not too interested in all the technical elements of photography, I am most concerned about the subject and how that subject is portrayed in my frame. I am a point and shoot photographer. For a long time, I used the Ricoh GRD IV as my main camera. Now, I use an iPhone most of the time. I’m not a gear head kind of guy.

Can you explain to me how your work has evolved since starting out?

My work evolved quickly into the style that I became known for, which is up close, gritty, fragments of things. Their look was instantly recognizable and I felt that I should stick with it, as a visual signature is a hard thing to develop. In the years since many have copied my style and even my subject matter (odd-looking people on the beach, for example). I don’t really photograph that stuff anymore as a result. I’m now working on a new body of work that is very different, but I have not shown any of this work publicly yet.


Do your origins and culture play a role in the works that you produce?

I think the fact that I grew up on a horse farm in the middle of nowhere helped me to see better here in NYC. This was not my native ground and therefore I saw with a foreigner’s eye, which I think helped tremendously. I’m still a country kind of guy. I own 200 acres of land in the middle of nowhere in Canada and I love visiting that land. Here in New York City I am forever in a strange land. It will never be home for me.

Which events have influenced you most?

I think people have influenced me the most. I have had a good relationship with both Mark Cohen and Joel Meyerowitz. Both have influenced my work and have provided me with great advice and direction over the years.

Are there any anecdotes that enable the genesis of your work to be understood?

My work does not need to be taken too seriously. My photos are not meant to be inspected with a magnifying glass. My work is just simple and, I think, poignant in that it is raw and unrefined.

Are current events taken into account in your production or on the contrary do you distance yourself from them?

I think my work is timeless in a lot of ways. I don’t really photograph current events. For example, I have not taken a single photo since the outbreak of Covid19, as I do not want to photograph people in masks. This is just not my thing. I think a good photo is a photo that could have been taken anywhere and at any time.


Are your works more of a dialogue, a trace or a denunciation?

My work is a dialogue with other photographers that have come before me. In particular, I am speaking to Robert Frank, Mark Cohen, and, to some extent, Bruce Gilden.

Do you wish to make viewers wonder or do you prefer to question them?

I don’t even assume that I have viewers.

How do you view human beings, and consequently your work?

People are complex and beautiful and dumb and vulnerable. My work only captures people, as they are, in their natural habitat. I don’t layer on any expectations.


Do you have anything else to add? I’ll let you have the last word…

I think one of the worst things an artist can do is to look at too much art by other people. This is why so much street photography looks alike. Good artists see for themselves and are arrogant and self-absorbed just enough to be able to ignore what other artists are doing. No one will ever copy someone else’s work better than that person, but a few might, if they ignore the noise around them, produce something unique, something that outlives them. The number of people who accomplish this in any generation can be counted on two hands. Given that fact, it’s a wonder that any of us still carry on with this nonsense.