under the influence

I was in college pursuing a business major when photojournalism found me.

Up until then, I had only photographed at sporting events (to get photos for my bedroom wall) and at frat parties (to try to pick up girls). The former was successful, the latter, not so much.

My light bulb moment happened in early 1985 at a Ripon College gallery show highlighting the work of then Chicago Tribune shooter Paul Gero.

After seeing Gero’s images, I knew that working at a newspaper was what I wanted to do.

Since Ripon didn’t have photo classes let alone a photo program, I settled for the closest thing- an art major. I studied the work of Caravaggio, John Singer Sargent and, of course Monet. I pursued watercolor painting and saved photography for weekend jaunts around Wisconsin.

After graduation, I lucked into a job at The Daily Calumet, a small community paper covering Chicago’s southeast side.

I learned by making mistakes and by studying the yearly POY books. Back then it was all high impact long lens single layer imagery. If there was anything distracting from the main subject in a photograph, the photographer would mostly likely burn it down beyond recognition.

As my career moved along, I took more and more creative chances. I started using my wide angle lens exclusively and began to admire the work of documentary photographers. I began to understand that there was more to photography than sports and spot news.

By the end of the 1990s, I had stopped using my strobe and was being influenced by the likes of Brian Plonka, Rob Finch, Jon Lowenstein and Todd Heisler, all co-workers at the Copley chain of papers in Northern Illinois.

By 2001, Copley had sold their Chicago papers and we all had gone our separate ways. At that point the internet took over as my place to go for inspiration.

The web broke down all geographical barriers and I started to soak up types of photography that I barely knew existed. 

Around that time I joined aphotoaday.org.

APAD, the brainchild of photo goddess Melissa Lyttle, exposed me to the work of hundreds of college age image makers and young professionals. Almost ten years later, APAD still is my greatest single source of daily inspiration.

The talent on the list humbles me and keeps me striving to evolve and stay relevant.

The above photograph is a direct creative descendant of one of my favorite shooters on APAD- Matt Mallams.

My image is nowhere close to the excellence of Matt’s work but it is the type of photograph that I never would have even thought of taking while I was at the Daily Calumet.

People always tell me that I have  a distinctive style but it really isn’t my style. It’s the combination of every photographers’ work that has ever excited me.

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5 Responses to “under the influence”

  1. I did a betterphoto course with Paul Gero, and it was amazing. I bookmarked his website and showed it to any friend (including a bunch online) who would look, especially his “the vault” section. His teaching was no holds barred excellent, informative, and challenging, and he would often go the extra mile asking to see more images or showing us links he thought would interest/inspire us having seen our images…

    So it’s almost ironic that another of the photographers who really inspires me (that’s you) is listing Paul amongst his inspirations… If I can eventually be 1/100th of the photographer you guys are I will be well pleased… and thanks to both of you for taking the time to put inspiration out there for us.

    OK rant over…

  2. Well put, Strazz, well put.

  3. Cool! Just added APAD to my photoblog favorites…

    This really is part of what makes the internet really exciting for photographers, that inspiration can be found anywhere.

  4. Dear Scott,

    Thanks for sharing your your work and your thoughts on this blog. It is helpful to hear a veteran photojournalist give their insight into the industry.

    More importantly it helps to hear from people whose work I like and find exciting.

    I think Mallams and Lowenstein are fantastic, but I was equally excited to discover your project on mediastorm more recently. I even tried my hand a diptych.

    Best regards. – Charlie

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