Interview with documentary photographer Scott Conarroe

Interview with documentary photographer Scott Conarroe

Scott Conarroe has a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design and an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.  His studies of landscape and the built environment evoke romantic pictorial traditions and locate the present within a sweep of history. He’s looked at North America along railways and its coastline perimeter, China against the backdrop of a high speed rail expansion, and the moveable borders Alps nations devised in response to permafrost melting and watershed drift.  Scott has received numerous awards including grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  His “By Rail and By Sea” was among Photo-Eye’s “Best Books of 2016”.  Scott is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery.  He lives in rural western Canada and a small Swiss city.


Glacier Du Tacul, France 2013 © Scott Conarroe

How did you get interested in photography? Do you have an educational artistic background?
I did go to art school; half a semester as a creative writing student, most of my undergrad in printmaking, and the final year of my BFA in Photo. The grad program I did was Conceptually-bent. I think it helped make me less interested in Things and more in description. I didn’t particularly identify as a photographer until some time after that. Now I’m semi-regular faculty at an art school in Vancouver. I teach every second winter or so. I feel part of the school but there’s also time for my own work.

Where do you get your creative inspiration from? Is there any other artis or photographer who inspired your art?
Simon Norfolk’s “Chronotopia” shaped my palette to such a degree that I only recently realized I’ve been calling it “Chromotopia” for years. Ed Burtynksy’s sprawlingness helped give my landscape studies context… Right now I’m more excited by peopled works though. I’m loving Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Stan Douglas.

How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph or series of photographs? Do you have any preferences regarding cameras and format?
My series typically develop out of pictures I make with no particular agenda. If a motif or idea keeps coming up I start looking at it more deliberately.

Until recently I made exclusively large format photos in twilight. Most days were spent scouting locations. My exposures were long so there’d only be time for one or two before dusk was over. My most recent Big Project looked at Alps border glaciers. I was having trouble fitting their grandeur into a standard frame so I stitched a few exposures into panoramas. That was 2013. The next year I began shooting digitally and building multi-row panos. It’d take all afternoon to reach a vantage point, the next morning to get back down, and some hours in post. They were highly premeditated, but I began looking at time and light and work differently. These days I’m less certain about finished images, let alone unifying themes. Photo is kind of a lark again. It feels like I’m working methodically, but shooting is quite casual. That’s something of a departure for me.

I use a Phase One with a P45+ back.

Zmutt G Letscher, Switzerland 2014 © Scott Conarroe

Can you talk a bit about your approach to the work? What did you want your images to capture?
In general I like work that’s a little timeless but also discusses a particular moment or period; romantic somehow but also cerebral. I like room for digression. I’m fine with degrees of contradiction. For me good work functions in photo/art discourses but can also engage people who care about other things.

Where is your photography going? What are you currently working on and do you have any photographic plans for future?
As I said, I’m currently drifting from landscapes. Some street tableaux are cohering as “Historicals”. I recently realized I have a lot of pictures of people by water -glaciers, hot springs, beaches, etc. I’m looking at these scenes more actively now… I also became a dad this year so Family Photos are newly interesting to me. Mine are coming out as rather formal, slightly journalistic, large format snapshots. As for Big Projects, I’m trying to get a grand sweeping look at forests off the ground. That’s what I’d like to work on for the coming few years.

What are your three favourite photography books?
Yup, Simon Norfolk’s “Chronotopia”.
Larry Sultan’s “Pictures From Home”.
Alexander Gronsky’s “Mountains and Waters”.

What do you do besides photography?
I’m pretty into telemark skiing. Walking takes up a lot of my time. So do history podcasts. So does cooking. I’m excited about peach season.

Weisskugelspitz, Austria 2014 © Scott Conarroe

Hot Spring Cove, 2017 © Scott Conarroe

Diver, Jelenica Creek 2017 © Scott Conarroe

Hot Spring Cove, 2017 © Scott Conarroe

Bagni San Filippo, 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Altstadt, Chur 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Grossmunsterplatz, Zurich 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Placa De Sant Just, Barcelona 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Helmhaus, Zurich 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Duomo Di Siena, Siena 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin 2016 © Scott Conarroe

Glacier Du Baoumet, France 2015 © Scott Conarroe

Chaltwasser Gletscher, Switzerland 2014 © Scott Conarroe