PhotoFinish: Sylvia de Swaan

by David J. Carol

Sylvia de Swaan

"The Wedding Guests, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 1994"

December 10, 2012

Sylvia de Swaan’s images instantly moved me in a way that is usually reserved for music and prose. My first exposure to the Romanian-born photographer’s pictures was a project called “Return.”  

De Swaan explained the project on her profile: “In early 1990, I ventured on the first of a series of train journeys through post communist Eastern Europe, retracing routes my family traversed as Holocaust survivors at the end of the Second World War.” I would compare these emotionally-packed “vignettes” to a visual time capsule filled with memories of pain and loss, but also with enlightenment and hope. We never know what others are feeling or thinking when taking photos, but these beautiful photographs touch me deeply and inspire my own memories. It’s a rare photographer whose photos speak of the human condition so subtly, delicately and with total honesty. De Swaan is that rare artist who can create a beautiful photographic work of art and inspire a visceral reaction in the viewer. Take your time looking at her images; like a fine wine you must pause and savor every drop.

“The War Game, Szczecin, Poland, 1994”

Each month David Carol highlights work from a photographer who shoots for love, passion and personal experience.               

David J. Carol is the director of photography at CBS Outdoor. His images and award-winning books are in the collections of major museums and institutions throughout the U.S. He serves as a portfolio reviewer for several organizations around the country. Contact him at or visit his website,

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