Interview with Traer Scott, Photographer
Interview with Traer Scott, Photographer
KATHERINE CARVER: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
TRAER SCOTT: I began working in a darkroom at school in fourth grade. We built pinhole cameras and then developed the prints ourselves. I obtained my first SLR camera for my thirteenth birthday and staged photo shoots at sleepovers, so I guess it all started there. It wasn’t until my junior year of college, after experimenting with a lot of different art forms, that I realized my greatest passion was for photography. I’m in love with the medium itself. It’s wildly unpredictable yet still skill driven.
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you formally study art/photography?
TRAER SCOTT: Yes, however, I did not attend art school. I earned a B.A. in Mass Communications with a minor in film. I took independently offered photography and advanced darkroom classes all through college; and after college graduation, for a six-month practical intensive course, I attended the New England School of Photography located in Boston, Massachusetts. I also studied every summer at the Maine Media Workshops.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you balance your personal work and your commercial work? Does one feed the other? Or does the commercial work support your passion?
TRAER SCOTT: Although there will always be work that “just pays the bills,” there is very little distinction to me anymore between commercial and personal work. I am passionate about absolutely everything I shoot, and I rarely shoot anything that I don’t envision becoming a series or a book. Whether it actually takes root and works is another story, but the intent is always long term and series oriented. The book work is obviously more commercial but some of it, like Shelter Dogs, is intensely personal too. The “personal work” is usually a fine art series that is aimed at exhibition or publication, like Natural History.
True commercial work such as advertising campaigns and the like is not something I do much of, but am certainly not adverse to it. The way I see it, if someone is paying me to make pictures, no matter what they are of, it’s a good day.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin shooting dogs (and other animals)?
TRAER SCOTT: I have always loved to photograph animals simply because I find them beautiful and much more fascinating than people. It was, however, somewhat accidental that animal photography became a professional niche for me. I found out that I have a unique vision to offer when it comes to telling animals’ stories. I can’t necessarily say that about any other genre of photography. My images of animals are by far the most honest and sincere of all my work.
Many of the Shelter Dogs are Pit Bulls which I feel is an important and accurate representation. Shelters all over the country are flooded with this breed. Statistics suggest that in major cities, pit and pit mixes make up at least 20% of the overall shelter dog population. In the city shelter I worked at, 50-80% of our dogs were Pits.
What amazed me most when I began to look back at this series [Shelter Dogs], was the intense emotion, dignity and sometimes humor that I saw in each face despite the circumstances in which they were forced to live. Every photograph was taken while the dog was [impounded] in an animal shelter. Some found good homes, others were euthanized.
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you envision your work with dogs to become published books?
TRAER SCOTT: Once I saw a series begin to take shape, I hoped I could turn the Shelter Dogs’ images into a book, primarily as a means of education and to memorialize the dogs I had lost, but wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly. When people view these images, they are often locking eyes with a captivating being which has been cast aside or abused, often left to die. I used only natural light and an Olympus digital camera with a superb macro lens. Beyond simple lightning, darkening and clean-up, there were no significant digital alterations to any of these images. I usually worked with a volunteer assistant and a large box of dog treats. It would take anywhere from five minutes to over an hour to get the “right” shot of each dog.
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you discuss your personal and ongoing involvement as an animal welfare activist?
TRAER SCOTT: I think at this point, animal welfare and advocacy are a way of life for me, not a cause or conscious effort. Compassionate living embodies what we eat, what we wear, where we travel and so many other choices found in daily life. Volunteering is an extension of that too. I strongly believe that each person should spend at least one hour a week connecting with something bigger than his or her own problems. For me it’s trying to help animals, but maybe for others it’s helping at the food bank or a hospital or just picking up trash at the park. Everyone thinks that the point is to help make a difference and it is – but it’s also about mindfulness and continuity. Stepping outside of your world, even just for a little while, often ushers in much needed perspective.
KATHERINE CARVER: Where do you teach photography?
TRAER SCOTT: I teach animal photography at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
KATHERINE CARVER: Where do you show/exhibit your work?
TRAER SCOTT: My work has been featured in Life, Vogue, O, People, Bark, the Boston Globe and many other national and international publications. Exhibitions include solo exhibits in New York, Providence, North Carolina, and Tokyo.
KATHERINE CARVER: What gear do you use? Are there any favorite lenses you keep on your camera most often?
TRAER SCOTT: I use Nikons, and for the most part, all I use is a mid-range zoom or macro lens. Anyone who thinks that mid-range zooms are worthless pro gear must have a lot more time to change lenses than I do.
KATHERINE CARVER: Looking back on your accomplishments, what are you the most proud of?
TRAER SCOTT: That I somehow managed to thrive in this brutal business! I am extremely fortunate in so many ways. I have an incredible husband whose unwavering faith and support truly made it possible for me to do what I love. I also have an agent who actually believes in me, and who gave me my first break. Life as an artist is incredibly unpredictable, but no matter what happens, I have three books that I can proudly show to my daughter one day as proof that you really can achieve your dreams.
KATHERINE CARVER: What are you working on now?
TRAER SCOTT: I am with Chronicle Books now, and I have a new book coming out in spring 2013. All I can say is that it involves puppies! I also have three other books in the works right now, all animal related in one way or another.
KATHERINE CARVER: What photographer(s) inspire your work?
For further reading, please visit Traer Scott’s website.
All photographs appearing in this blog post were used with the permission of Traer Scott.
You can read additional interviews here.