Friday afternoon, before he has to take off for work, Mathew Scott took a moment away from watching his new born daughter to set us straight on what his photography is all about. We’re at his new apartment where he’s working on editing and uploading some photos from a shoot with Hiero Jeans for XXL magazine.
October 5th, 2007
^^ BACKGROUND ^^
Moments Of Truth ~ Please describe your primary creative endeavors?
Mathew Scott ~ (exhaling a stream of smoke) Take photos.
MOT ~ Has this changed over time?
MS ~ Well, I started out painting graffiti, and got into photography during high school.
MOT ~ Why do you prefer photography versus other mediums?
(He prepares to answer as the roar of jet planes booms through the sky. It’s ‘fleet week’ in San Francisco and those oh so patriotic fly-boys the ‘Blue Angels’ are practicing their routine.)
It’s kind of hard to conversate with the Blue Angels causing all this racquet.
MS ~ I hate these airplanes! Umm, what was the question?
Oh yeah, I like what’s real; take things that are out there and through the eye of my camera, even though it’s real I can still project what I want people to think what’s going on; it could be false or true. Everything interests me, I’ve tried a lot of mediums. That’s the whole point of being here. I chose this photo thing, that’s my path but I’m always going to have other things going on, maybe they’d be called hobbies; other creative outlets.
MOT ~ Where did you grow up?
MS ~ Portland, Oregon.
MOT ~ Do you have a memory when it struck you to get into photography?
MS ~ Well, when I knew I didn’t want to work for someone and knew I would do something for myself; and I knew it would be art related. After that, I mean I’ve always been taking pictures, and I just decided to look more into that and decided that was the way I’d like to express myself and make a living at it at the same time. I knew there was nothing else I’d rather be doing than that.
MOT ~ Do you think the community you grew up in influenced you, the way you do your work and how you express yourself?
MS ~ Well yeah, the people I grew up with, and like having somewhat, well. . . I don’t want to say eccentric parents . . . but having interesting parents both being art related in what they do. My dad was a lot of it, he’d shoot bands back in the day. So I was always around it, and always felt the need to capture what was going on like a visual diary I guess. So I’ve always been doing that anyway, and there’s always been a lot of interesting stuff going on around me; always had the urge to capture that on film.
MOT ~ Have you had any particular mentors that have helped guide you?
MS ~ I wouldn’t say mentors, I’d say peers. People that I’ve gone to school with, shot with, that I hang out with on a daily basis. I tend to think we feed off each other. It’s always good to have people like that around to throw ideas at. And it’s your good friends who’ll be the ones to tell you if you’re on a good path or doing something stupid. Or if you throw out ideas, they’ll be the first to tell you if it’s a good idea or a dumb idea.
So, I wouldn’t say mentors, just advice and influences of friends and people that are creative around me.
^^ INSPIRATION ^^
MOT ~ What do you think it is inside you that leads you to communicate your ideas in a creative way? Taking pictures over and over again, . . . how is it different? What holds your attraction?
MS ~ What inspires me? I’m never satisfied with my latest. If I do something good I always look at it and see a way I can do it better. Or think of ways to explore something else. My mind Is always moving, changing my mind, coming up with new ideas, always over criticizing myself. So that pushes me to continue that need for satisfaction to create something. I might find that satisfying, but it only lasts a minute, I go on to the next thing or else I just feel stagnant and stale.
MOT ~ Any particular influences you’d note, photography, or styles you may emulate in anyway shape or form?
MS ~ That’s a good five part question….
(I break out in a rattle of laughter to that and the annoying roar of the jets flood the sonic spectrum once again)
…. I guess growing up in an urban setting, I’ve always wanted to see what’s out in the middle of no where, I always like to go see what’s outside of the city. As far as urban dwellings go, life in cities, I’m always impressed by what people do to get by. Even more impressed by how simple things are when you’re in a hub of technology, in a setting that’s always on the go. Then you take a road trip out into the middle of nowhere and find people who don’t even use a washer and dryer, they even use a generator instead of paying PG&E. You know, finding those kinds of people and talking to them, I find that interesting.
I guess that’s what I look for in my personal projects. What ties America together between the cities? Where I’m at now, possibly my biggest influence, graffiti. I pay attention to it all the time; that kind of street art. I wouldn’t say much for photographing it, but it’s just this separate form of inspiration. They have this burning drive to go and do stuff like that. I try to push that in my photography, try to go out and never get lazy, fall off, don’t make excuses why I couldn’t do something, because people are always doing. Everyone can have excuses, you just have to go out and do it, always stay busy.
MOT ~ Graffiti is an angst driven visual medium, anti establishment, like art for the people in a way. Do you try to find a way to develop that element in your photography?
MS ~ Of course I want a compelling photograph. That’s what I try to make. One that makes people ask why, or what they’re doing, how they’re there or how I got there. You know, I want images that leave people with questions. So, I guess, yeah, in a way.
My color palette, I definitely work with color. I can’t really tie it in with graffiti art, that’s not what I’m trying to do, it’s just something in the back of my mind. Maybe not so much the art, but more those questions you’re left with when you see it in some location. How did they get there? What did they have to go through to do it. In my work I’m trying to explore that mind. I try to not let things stop me, if I want to get an image I’m going to get it, some way or another.
^^ TECHNICAL ^^
MOT ~ Any photographers whose work really strikes you?
MS ~ Joel Sternfeld (American Prospects (1987) is Sternfeld’s most known book and explores the irony of human-altered landscapes in the United States. To make the book, Sternfeld photographed ordinary things, including unsuccessful towns and barren-looking landscapes.*Wikipedia), Alex , William Eggleston (widely credited with securing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries. … “fearless naturalism—a belief that by looking patiently at what others ignore or look away from, interesting things can be seen.”*Wikipedia). All the people who’ve been around for a while, I really respect what they do, they’re amazing photographers.
MOT ~ How do you translate that into your own work, learning what you can from them and developing that into your own voice?
MS ~ I wouldn’t say I quite have, just that they are people who I admire and leave it at that. I guess you could say they are the ones that started this style of photography, documentary slash, well…. Walking that line where it could be fine art, it could be photography, documentary, editorial, commercial, almost any direction. It all depends on the subject. Their style is distinguished by the way they light, which is natural light, their locations and what not, allows them to be pretty universal. I go for that. The way the lines of all different genres can mesh, thus allowing me to fit wherever I need to.
MOT ~ Can you discuss a little bit about your overall philosophy?
MS ~ I do things instinctually, I try to have a rough idea of what I’m doing, but I never know what I’m really doing until I’m there and doing it. Philosophy, well I guess, everyone can say “Oh, I want to change the world.” It’s kind of bullshit at the same time though, I just want to take good pictures, I like creating things, I like getting my hands dirty, being in the darkroom as well as doing digital.
Essentially, I just want to be happy and make a living off of what I do, and make people notice it, maybe it’s just to stroke my own ego a little bit, whatever! I can’t really go into it and say. . . well, I just don’t really like it when people get all deep on their stuff. I find it pretentious.
MOT ~ Well, to rephrase, how do you approach your ideas, where does it start?
MS ~ Seriously, the idea starts as I’ll have this one little flicker, and I grab my camera and go there. I just go there, shoot, and as I shoot it starts developing. Like I try to go in with a clean slate. Of course I have an idea of that ‘money shot’ in my mind, what I imagine to be the shot, like the hero shot. Other then that, I just let it flow, freestyle it when I go in. I know what I’m going for, even with the idea of a project I’m trying to come across, it unfolds itself as I’m shooting as well as when editing the images later.
MOT ~ Some of your work is personal, and some is for assignments for ad agencies, magazines, or what ever. How much creative freedom do you feel you have in-between those different realms? Do you feel you have to adjust your way of thinking from one to the other?
MS ~ I think the work that I have has led to the assignments that I’ve gotten. Generally, they just send me somewhere and tell me to take pictures. They leave it up to me, and I think that’s because of the work on my site http://www.mathewscott.com. What they see lends itself to that. Everyone I’ve worked with has just trusted me to get the image, and that hasn’t failed me thus far.
Everyone always has this and that, a couple things they want to see, and I just shoot a shit load, send everything to the editor. I’ve never had any complaints, so it’s always been my own creative freedom, ya know. I ask them to at least give me an idea of what they want, a very rough idea I can develop from.
I approach everything differently, but in my same aesthetic though. By always trying to keep my head clear and just not know what I’m going to get. When I over think things I’ll fuck it up. If I don’t over think it, go in calm and cool I’m going to get a good image. So I just trust my instincts, let the lighting and everything else fall into place.
MOT ~ Have you envisioned specific creative goals, past ones you may have achieved, or what you’d like to accomplish for the future?
MS ~ Well, the main goal is to get shows, I don’t care so much where they’re at. Every show is fun. I enjoy doing shows and putting them together, working for magazines on assignments, meeting people like that, going off to weird places meeting random people you never thought you’d meet before. I have more career goals than creative goals right now. Creative goals I’m fine where I’m at. Right now I want to get more work to fund more creative projects. Just knuckle down and focus on that. As time goes, I’ll quit thinking about it for a while, let it reset in my brain and eventually, just the way I think, ideas will pop up, I write them down and will get to them later.
MOT ~ Did you have anything that you’re really proud of achieving? Did you anticipate that it’s evolved the way it has or surprised by it?
MS ~ When I was first starting out, the goal was to get a cover of a magazine and I got that and have just gone from there. A really simple, small goal. From there. . . well, I don’t really dwell on goals, I might just get depressed about them if it doesn’t happen.
MOT ~ Are there any methods you employ to prepare yourself for a photo shoot or to start a mindset from which to develop ideas?
MS ~ Usually I just put my headphones on and go grab a cup of coffee. Just listen to some music, whatever I’m feeling at the time, which definitely varies. So sit for like an hour, headphones, music, cup of coffee, somewhere quiet. I’ll clear my head, jot some notes down and go from there.
MOT ~ Any books, tools or resources, I mean, of course you use a camera, but things you may refer to frequently to do your work, inspire it, etc?
MS ~ (blurting out without any hesitation) The Internet!
Constantly researching people, ideas; if you have a good idea, you have to make sure it hasn’t been done yet. I’d say the Internet is the most indispensable tool, I doubt I could do with out it any more. If I see an image I like, I’ll google their name, check out their website and see their work. It keeps me in touch with what’s going on around me. I mean I can do that by going outside too, but that’s only San Francisco. I like to read a lot of the news, current events, just keep up to date with shit.
MOT ~ How do you acquire the funds to work in this medium? Photography is pretty expensive with the cost of lights, cameras, film, printing, paper, and all that.
MS ~ Still I bartend, one of the quickest and easiest ways to get cash. So I’ll bartend, stack up some cash, and go work on a project. Usually, everywhere I’ve worked at has been really cool, always if I’m like “hey, I need some time off for this” they’ll do it. You work at nights, and have your days to do whatever. Bartending was key when I was first starting out. Now that I’m making more money from my work, which is good too, but the service industry in general is flexible hours, work at night, yeah.
^^ OUTRO ^^
You do what it takes to get things done, that is how you arrive from point A to point Q. Sometimes it may appear like progression happened randomly to arrive at a point that may not have been the intention. Acts of creativity generate spontaneous combustion of the senses at the speed it takes to steal a moment; shutter whirs open and shut. Life is a juxtaposition of illusions. Or is it the illusion of a juxtaposed dichotomy? Definitely take the time to view www.mathewscott.com. Let’s get the ball rolling.
* Check out mscottphoto on Blurb to see his latest books for sale. He has just released “PHOTO GRAPHS… A collection of images by Mathew Scott.”