BPP 244: Scott Strazzante - Long Term Photo Projects

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Scott Strazzate is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist with more than 30 years of experience shooting for publications like the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. Scotts Book “Common Ground” is a 2 decades-long exploration of a piece of land that transitioned from Homestead Farm to Sprawling Suburbs. Today we talk about the long-term project, what to look out for, and ideas for you to start your own long-term project.

Key Takeaways:
  • Scott narrates his experience starting in photography, from his interest in childhood till he took up photography as a full-time job, rather than staying in the family business.

  • Not having to face criticism in the early stages of his career was an advantage in a way, as Scott notes it may have discouraged him from pressing forward. On the other hand, less knowledgeable people appreciating his work kept him going.

  • Studying the photography of other professionals also played a major role in keeping him motivated and inspired.

  • The brightest spot of an image is usually where your eye goes first, and you can learn to control in a split second, how to compose an image that is pleasing to look at.

  • Scott describes the importance of focusing on creating images after gaining in-depth knowledge about your gear, rather than always trying to get new gear hoping to become a better photographer.

  • Having to overcome the fear of interacting with people became paramount, as this was a challenge that came with expanding from sports photography.

  • Scott narrates in detail, events leading up to his "Common Ground" photography project, with no initial plan to create it, as well as the emotion and serendipity surrounding the project. He notes that to date, it is the major work he is known for, and was a personal project rather than a product of affiliation with any paper.

  • I tell photographers that if they want to do a book that people would enjoy, they should take photographs of one block or storefronts, make prints of these, and put them away for years, when these come out later, they will be greatly appreciated.

  • Repetition is something that I always look for in photography, I think it's fascinating, and a good way to make a compelling image. If you can have one of something, two is better.

  • Three acts in a photo story: A beginning, a middle, and an end. When doing a photo story you want this: a cat climbs up a tree, someone shakes the tree, the cat gets out of the tree.

  • Scott describes a major challenge with photojournalism being having to leave people's lives when the story is over especially because you may not be able to continue to just hang around, even if they would want you to.

Resources: Standout Quotes:
  • "I learned that the brightest spot of an image is usually where your eye goes first" - [Scott]

  • "I don't like getting a new camera because I think the key for anyone as a photographer is you have to learn your camera well enough that you forget it... and just concentrate on making images" - [Scott]

  • "So it's like time really has a way of improving old photographs" - [Scott]

  • "Follow your own voice, follow what interests you because if it excites you, it will excite other people... but you have to be very organized with it" - [Scott]

  • "That's the struggle sometimes too, you get so used to your surroundings that they don't seem interesting anymore, and that has been something that's been a challenge with the pandemic" - [Scott]

  • "I think turning the camera on your family is the easiest place to start" - [Scott]

  • "I can always go make a good photograph but it's going to take something that happens out of my control to elevate it to a great photograph" - [Scott]

  • "There's two types of photography, there's Taking photographs and Making photographs" - [Scott]

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