With sweet droplets of wisdom, Matt Szczygielski is no typical nineteen year old. After uncovering his sphere of self exploration on Instagram, Editor-in-Chief Cecilie Harris captured him in an intimate fine art photography series for Issue 11 'Imagined Songs'. With trees overhead and flowers under-foot, they travelled to a place where silence and bare skin meet the earthy soil. Honesty washes over his presence, as he dissects his flesh and bones into a tale of perseverance.
The human form is his poetry. It translates into all that he does; he is a boy who refuses to compromise who he is or what he values. Discussing his ethos, he describes living with a vigour of worth that is separate from his exterior - that way you enter a new sphere of authenticity. Opening up about his artwork, which is also featured in his story, Matt speaks with gratitude about simply being alive. His paintings stem from a connection to our lungs, in a steam of abstract strokes and outlines. In the digital age, unrealistic beauty standards can morph into ghosts that haunt your mind. Alienating his body parts before the lens took him on a therapeutic journey towards acceptance. On that unpredictable brink of manhood he knows that every day is a battle with the mind, but at least he’s trying. From normal teenage boy stuff; like his mum’s confusion at his expressive nudity, to falling in love and finding himself, Matt rises up into the kaleidoscope of the differences that make us all unique. That’s a pretty brave feat.
This is Matt, he is in my pictures in Issue 11. Let’s talk about our shoot and your artwork that was featured in issue 11. Perhaps start by sharing a bit about the kind of photography you do yourself.
Basically, my self portraits started because I didn’t have anyone else to take pictures of and I was left there with myself. It all started a year ago, when I took my first self portraits.
Was it because you had an interest in photography?
Yes. Before I moved to England I was taking pictures of models and my friends, and when I came here I didn’t know anybody. I was like; “okay, why not take pictures of myself”, so I did and it evolved from there. Before I started doing this with the first pictures I was really insecure about myself. I was such a hidden person. After a while I somehow started liking to take pictures of other parts of my body, like my hands and whatnot. Like my whole body, and it evolved. It kind of made me really self-aware. Before this process I was so insecure and when I started I was dealing with my body, you know what I mean. It led me to accept myself, and right now I love my body. I don’t feel bad in it, it’s everything I have actually. Taking photos of myself helped me to know myself and discover myself, and realise that nobody is supposed to tell you that you’re not beautiful, because we are. Ourselves is all that we have - this is something we all are born with and all die with. So I switched from taking photos of other people, and I now focus mostly on self-portraits.
I stumbled on your pictures on Instagram, and nobody else had photographed you at that point.
Not really. Not in any professional way. It was so surprising when you reached out, I didn't expect it. I was really excited, as I had followed you for such a long time and I love your magazine, but I never imagined me being there. It was so great! Like when you said you loved my photos, even though I already had that confidence it gave me...
Re-affirmed confidence? When other people say it, you know, then you believe it's ok to feel that way. How you found our shoot?
It wasn’t that different from what I do myself. The main difference was seeing myself through someone elses camera, seeing parts of myself in a different way than before. At first, it was like a strange feeling… It was such a new thing for me, but as we got into the shoot, we connected with each other and you started to know me, as well as me be able to know what you wanted.
I think it was really really exciting for me as well, because you talked about you getting to know your body through your wown photography. I think I know the male quite well, because I’ve been shooting guys for 7 years, but a lot of the time its more focused on the fashion or the documentary side of things. The male body is something I have been shying away from, as I didn't know how to capture it properly.
And this was just again the art. Honestly, in such an honest way without any distractions, it was just a body. Everything so clear.
I was really happy in the end. We met before the shoot, so we knew we wanted to achieve the same thing. I had seen your pictures and I liked them. I liked the way that you captured yourself and your body very poetically, we talked about that, and that inspired me, because I had been looking for a way to capture the male body in a way that I felt comfortable with. Your vision was so similar to that. It is the most true form of photography, as you can't hide behind anything.
You have to just embrace yourself. Feel yourself.
Let’s talk a little bit about youth and bodies; how people feel about them.
It’s so sad actually. I feel especially for anyone a little bit plus sized who might hear that their body is not as good as someone elses body. This is really bad. We all are beautiful and nobody should tell you that. Fashion in particular a lot of the time only wants one particular shape, colour of body and whatever, and everything else is seen as bad, its completely not like that at all.
So tell me about your journey, what made you feel insecure in the first place?
Throughout the process of taking pictures of myself, every time I took pictures I had to go through all of them. I had to look at myself from all possible angles and all parts of my body; I’d never looked at myself from that point of view before. When you see yourself through a camera and in photos, it’s like you feel like you see someone else, like it's not you. It’s actually your body, but you just don’t know yourself that much. And throughout the process of taking the photos of myself, I got to know myself step by step. In the beginning I was like; “oh my god, no that’s so ugly”, and then I realised that it’s just my body. That’s who I am, that’s what I am.
Why did you decide to take pictures of yourself stripped back and not with clothes?
I like the honesty and not hiding behind things. I just started to show myself as who I actually am, not as someone hiding behind tonnes of clothes. No matter how much I love some clothes, it’s not me - it’s just a part of me.
That’s a really nice way to see it.
Throwing it all out and being left with just yourself, you start to slowly be more confident and you start to love yourself. I’m really happy with who I am right now, how I’ve changed throughout that year, and I feel like I’m really happy about myself. I love it, and I think that everybody should find some way to start loving themselves. Don’t let anything tell that you that it’s not true. You’re beautiful; we all are.
Maybe our pictures we together can do that for somebody else? At least start that process.
That would be amazing if we inspired somebody to do what I started doing; taking pictures of themselves. That would be super cool.
Obviously when you’re sitting at home in your room, you were comfortable stripping yourself bare. For the issue we were outside in public. How did you find that?
It’s just like doing the photoshoot amongst nature was part of the process to connect yourself back with what you are. After all, we are part of nature and doing that photoshoot in those woods felt very natural in the end. It was like the next step of my journey in getting to know myself and coming back to where I like came from.
Were you nervous about having two people there watching you (myself and my assistant)?
I was nervous, of course I was nervous, but after some time you get used to it, you get comfortable. There was nothing to be scared about or to be afraid of. It was amazing.
And we also brought your art into it, let’s talk about that.
It’s all about getting all my feelings out of myself and putting them on the paper. I wanted to connect it all to nature, it’s the most honest thing in the world. There’s nothing more honest and pure than nature itself, so when I started doing the artwork for the feature, I knew from the start that I wanted to be in some way connected to what surrounds us. I had this vase of flowers on my desk and it just looked kind of powerful. The idea just came from nowhere, I just thought - okay, so if I want to bring all that back to nature, why don’t I do that with nature itself? So I took those flowers to the ink and started doing stuff with that.
And it turned out really beautiful didn’t it?
I love them so much! So unpredictable. The things that you cant predict are sometimes the most beautiful.
I’ve been talking to a lot of boys recently about feelings and emotions, so it would be interesting to talk to you about that, what you’ve been going through and how you’ve been able to get through things.
When I have strong feelings in myself, I always have to do something like either paint, draw or take photos, because if I just keep those feelings inside it accumulates. It makes me feel really terrible actually, mentally and even physically, and I always have to do something with them.
Do you have a lot of feelings?
I do. I have all sorts of weird feelings all the time. If I don’t express them, or don’t bring them out of myself I feel so bad.
Where do those feelings come from?
Everywhere. Right now I think there’s lots of sad things happening in the world, that somehow influence and impact on me. There’s a lot of different things. I feel like I have to do things all the time. Especially when those are the bad feelings, instead of keeping those bad feelings inside me I just put them out on paper or a memory card or whatever and just let them go. I free myself from them.
Let's also talk about your tattoos as well, which is another way you are expressing yourself.
I love tattoos so much. People have been doing tattoos for so many thousands of years. And what I have, the third eye. I think that tattoos are also a beautiful way to express yourself. When somebody does your tattoos they have to build the same connection there was between me and you when you were photographing me.
Some sort of trust.
Well, at least when I take a picture of you, that can be erased, which is harder to do with a permanent tattoo.
It is, but there’s something so beautiful that I can’t even explain. There’s lots of people who treat tattoos like a way to hide themselves. For me, tattoos are one of the best ways to further express myself and be myself.
What are those three dots there?
They come out from my feelings, I have to express myself. I don’t know, I just wanted to do it, so I did it. This is more of an abstract one.
What does your mum think about your nude self portraits?
She didn’t know that much about them… I never really showed her my Instagram, as I didn’t think I was ready. But at some point she went onto my Instagram and then one day I was just laying in bed and I got a message: Matt, is this on your Instagram?
Why are you naked to the world on Instagram? (laughs)
Literally, that is exactly what she said. At first she was really shocked about it, you know me stripping from everything and getting myself out there. We had a few talks about it all, but I think that she had that shock at the first moment. We talked a lot about expressing yourself and being honest with yourself. After all those photos, why would I be scared of myself? Why would I be afraid of myself? I should be happy with myself, and she went through that process of realising that it’s just me and there shouldn’t be anything shocking about it. It’s not a thing that should make you feel bad or shocked, now I think she’s okay with that and has accepted it. The process of creating these images has had a big impact on my life and how I am right now.
What do you imagine for your life as you go further into it?
It’s really hard, because as we talked before, sometimes you plan stuff and then something you wouldn’t expect happens, and it might turn everything around and change everything. So it’s really hard to plan, even if I plan something in general it ends up being completely different from what it was at the beginning. So it’s really hard for me to plan what I’ll be doing in the future and what will happen. I just want to let myself live in the moment, whatever comes I’ll just turn it into something great. If it’s a bad thing try not to get depressed or you know, just try to process it. You just have to look at things from another perspective and take a lesson from that - learn something new.
What kind of man do you think that you might become?
I have no idea… I’m 19, so definitely at the age where I’m going from being a boy to a man. I still feel like a child deep inside, even though I’m becoming a man on the outside. How I see myself as a man; when I’m 30 I just want to be happy. I want to live a happy life, and that’s all.
I can’t see myself without with my photography, writing, drawing or painting, they’re just things I couldn’t live without and feel like they're a part of me.
What brings you happiness?
I think…that’s such a hard question. I love to be surrounded by nature. What makes me happy is when I see other people happy. Especially when I see that the people closest to me are happy.
Have you been in love yet?
I have, yes. I have. Even though I’m so young and it’s so hard to say what love is exactly. You can’t really say love is this and this and this, love is so many different things, and so many different things that are making this one thing, love. But yes, I think I have been in love.
Interview and Photography by Cecilie Harris.
Above Introduction by Matthew Regan.