Welcome to another episode of the Willoughby Hills podcast!
In today’s episode, I’m joined by Matt Sexton, a landscape and drone photographer who began taking pictures of landmarks around his hometown of Cleveland during the pandemic. He has gained a fast following on social media for the optimistic portrait that he paints of the city as well as for how he looks to other world cities to make Cleveland a better place.
I’ve admired his work for a long time, but was always reluctant to invite him on the podcast, in part because he also happens to be my cousin. Given the roster of guests on the podcast when it was Quarantine Creatives, I worried that people may think it felt like nepotism to include a family member on the show, even if he’s an artist that I greatly admire.
When the podcast and newsletter shifted to Willoughby Hills and began exploring topics related to urbanism and our cities, Matt felt like a more natural fit. For some reason, doing less episodes of the podcast also made me care less about audience reaction and made me choose guests that I wanted to engage with, hoping you’ll appreciate the conversation too. I’m glad I finally took the leap and invited Matt on the show!
Matt has always fascinated me. After attending college at Ohio State in Columbus, he and his then girlfriend (later wife) decided to move to Hong Kong. As we discuss in the interview, it started as a six month trial that ended up lasting for 10 years.
My wife and I visited them in 2011 and immediately understood what they loved about Hong Kong. The city, at the time only a few years removed from being a British colony and also governed separately from China, was a vibrant melting pot of cultures from all over the world. Matt and Annie had friends from England, Australia, and all over Asia that had very different backgrounds but all seemed to connect at a deep level.
After that visit, I had a hard time imagining Matt and Annie ever returning to the States, and I especially didn’t expect them to put down roots back in Ohio, where they both grew up. But in 2017, they did just that, leaving behind the neon lights and hustle and bustle of Hong Kong for the quiet of the Cleveland suburbs.
Matt was inspired to start documenting the Cleveland that he had missed and the Cleveland that he was falling in love with as an adult. He purchased a camera and began to snap amazing photos all over Northeast Ohio on his Instagram, Facebook, and now defunct Twitter accounts (we discuss the reason he dropped the bird app in the episode).
Here’s a sampling of some of his photos. If you’re interested in buying prints of his work, he has them for sale on his website.
I’m very glad that I got over whatever hesitation I was feeling and chatted with Matt. He’s a really amazing artist and somebody whose work continues to inspire me. He also has changed some of my perceptions of my own hometown and made me look for the good there when I visit!
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