Artist Jet Swan creates uncanny images of strangers in new book

The artist’s first photobook sees her collate three years’ worth of portraits of strangers, while examining today’s uneasy relationship between the public and the private

All images: Material by Jet Swan, courtesy Loose Joints

Yorkshire-born artist Jet Swan works mainly with photography and her work often blurs the lines between documentary photography and classical portraiture. Her debut monograph, Material, published by Loose Joints, gathers together three years’ worth of photographs and portraits of strangers. The book also features a new text from British poet Rachael Allen in response to the images.

Swan’s images were taken in temporary studio spaces across the UK, including an empty shopfront inside a commercial mall in Scarborough, and a repurposed community hall in Ramsgate, where the artist now lives and works. 

For many of the images, rather than go out to find people to photograph, Swan would set up in these neutral spaces, advertise she was shooting portraits nearby and wait for passers-by to turn up. The result is a diverse array of subjects.

Swan’s shots vary in composition and she tends to hone in on one striking detail in each image. Her close-up face portraits are piercing, but in other images she switches to cropped body parts and reclining torsos. The uncertainty of what kind of image you’ll be presented with next gives the images an uneasy quality, almost creating an air of intrusion.

The uncanny mood of the images is further emphasised by the atmosphere conjured in her temporary studio spaces, where she rids the environments of any identifying features. The result is a use of light and shadow to create a tension that provides a brilliant melding of documentary photography with staged portraiture.

Material by Jet Swan, published by Loose Joints is out now; @jet.swan