Searching for the Timeless | An interview with Christopher Scott
We fell in love with Christopher’s work while scrolling through instagram–his gorgeous photographs focusing on the American West capture the beauty + occasional emptiness of the varied landscapes. We chatted with Chris about his photographic process and what sparks him to travel.
Introduce yourself–name, profession,where you live.
Currently in Kalamazoo, MI, the town in which I grew up.
When did you start taking photos? Why do you shoot? What camera equipment do you use?
I bought my first DSLR in 2009. I found a heavily used Canon 20D, and two zoom lenses on Craigslist. That began my foray into photography, starting with a love of learning the mechanics of the tools, and a love of researching gear. Thankfully that has now transitioned into a true love of making photographs.
There are moments when shooting–sometimes it’s while looking through the camera, and other times it’s while editing on my computer–that something happens. Some aesthetic comes together that excites me. Maybe it’s better than I ever envisioned, or maybe it’s exactly like I envisioned. But it’s always a product of a camera: meaning it’s not how I (my eyes) saw a scene, but how the I used the camera to see it. Maybe I pushed all shadows to full black to focus on the highlights. Maybe I split toned the image to control mood. My style of photography isn’t about replicating a human experience. It’s about making something new based on something existing. When it clicks, an automatic “aw yeah” pours from my mouth. I’ve said for a while now that I seem happiest when I’m photographing. It gives me purpose in a moment. It will transform banality into an exquisite gradient of light, shadow and color. Photography elevates things closer to my idealistic view of the world.
I’m currently using a Fuji X-T2 and an X-Pro 1. I use a 14mm f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4, a 56mm f/1.4, and a 50-140mm f/2.8. For studio stuff, I use Paul C. Buff lighting gear.
What do you look for when you are taking photos?
It’s almost all a personal aesthetic that I hunt for, often cued by unusual light—either in shape, pattern or quality. Oftentimes this will mean some small portion of a scene (like a face, or even just an eye, or maybe an artifact on a table) is illuminated while everything surrounding is in shadow. But I think my gut feels things before my mind knows what I’m after. Meaning I’ll be walking along and my body stops as I see something, and automatically I’m bringing my camera to my eye. But in that one or two seconds of stopping and looking through the camera my mind is beginning to talk to me, saying “Oh yeah. Look at the way her sleeve hangs down. There’s a photo there.” It’s catching me up to what was already perceived at a subconscious level.
I also look for things that seem timeless or unchanging, which are two different things. A living room decorated in the 80’s may remain unchanged, but that doesn’t make it timeless. A woman’s fashion might be of the times, but also timeless. I seem to be attracted to both.
Lastly, I hope to be able to move into more documentary photography, which has its own requisites for what to look for and how to represent it.
Tell us about a special moment from your travels.
While staying in the Alvord Desert, I reached out to a near-by cattle ranch to see if I could come photograph there. They obliged, and I was treated to the opportunity to document a calf branding and stay a night at Roaring Springs Ranch, just to observe a bit of ranch and cowboy life. It is every bit as romantic, and grand, and timeless, and challenging as you’d think, as well as boring, hard, dirty and unglamorous. Hospitality abounds at that ranch, and I hope to return again.
What draws you to photographing the outdoors?
I have a fascination with being somewhere for the first time. And while that can be in an urban setting, I typically seek new things in the outdoors and away from lots of people (if I can help it). I take pleasure heading for some specific destination—like a waterfall—knowing that I’ll be able to make shots all along the way there of things that I couldn’t predict. I seem to require a path and a loose timeline. And I love the unpredictability of light outside (though I realize this isn’t exclusive to the outdoors). A storm, a cloudy day, fog, a sunrise or a sunset; they change everything! Beyond that, I’ve found people in my life are most excited by my photographs of the outdoors. It’s as close as I can come to sharing these places with those who can’t be there. Lastly, I often seem to meet God when I’m alone and outside, and it’s regenerating.
You’ve done quite a bit of travel in the American West. What do you love about the West, in particular? What’s an underrated spot you’d recommend checking out?
I grew up in the Midwest, and though it has its own beauty I wasn’t content to stay there. I think it’s really just a love of majestic landscapes that caused me to leave. Certain forms and colors stir me, and they’re often found in mountains, moss covered trees, oceanside cliffs, redwoods, deserts, and vast expanses. But I’ll admit there is just a mystery to the West also. Maybe it’s because it’s different from what I grew up in. I’m unsure I want to figure it out. I’m just content to wander in it when I get the chance. I try to ask myself “If I want to visit there, why not live there instead?”
I recommend driving Highway 1 along the coastline of Mendocino County, California. I’m not sure if it’s underrated, but I hadn’t heard anyone talk about it before visiting. I stayed there about eight days and had fantastic weather, including temperate, sunny days with predictable shifts to cool fog. There are huge cliffs with easy views. My view every night from my truck (where I slept) was of crashing waves glinting red in the setting sun. I saw beautiful, aquamarine water from headlands colored yellow by wildflowers. I walked around charming small towns (Mendocino and Elk) with no hustle or bustle. And while not lightly visited, in contrast to the Bay area one hundred miles south, it’s a getaway for sure.
thanks for chatting with us, Chris! Know a stellar photographer + traveler [or are you one?] who should be featured? email us firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @atlas_addict