Alter Egos – Three Questions with Scott

The hidden talents of our fellow staff members were on display in the Gallery exhibit Alter Egos.

Scott Brackey, Public Services Specialist in Bookmobile, had photographs in the exhibit.

Why did you choose photography as a means of expression?
I struggle to recall when I took an interest in photography (this despite my being present for it). Other common artforms have childhood antecedents in crayons, finger painting, macaroni art, the recorder (who thought that was a good idea?).

Photography is comparatively esoteric. That I am not now talking about my work in, say, oils or pasta is telling: my school arts and crafts did not merit the prestige of the fridge.

One aspect of photography that fascinates me is the interplay between science and art and the historical context in which the medium developed. Photography was the result of applied physics and chemistry and promptly became an invaluable tool in natural history, archaeology, anthropology, etc.

Despite its technical trappings and academic applications, photography possesses a façade of veracity. There was a widespread belief in the nineteenth-century (today?) that photographs captured reality. A perception that this product of science imbued its utilization with scientific objectivity.

Spirit photography may be the most notable example of this misconception, with no less than Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of evolution, citing it as proof of the spirit realm. Pitfalls of photographic manipulation and staged photography aside, the medium’s role in science – and what the medium owes to technological advancements – makes photography unique within the arts.

I do not adhere to a particular art theory and find that even trying to define “art” is something of a snipe hunt. I do, however, contend that we do not always see past that façade of veracity and ultimately deny the photographer some degree of creative interpretation or vision.

A picture is not taken but created. There is a plethora of choices a photographer makes in the acquisition, development, and presentation of an image. This holds true even if she or he intends for an objective reproduction of a subject. A lens/camera is not a human eye and to achieve fidelity some level of manipulation is required. “The picture doesn’t do it justice” speaks to the gulf between what one sees (to say nothing of what one feels) and what a camera without a photographer will reveal. This is not to say that this divide can or should be bridged in all instances, but there is an art to that pursuit.

In practical, rather than academic, terms I enjoy geeking out over the technical gear and gadgetry – it’s just cool…and addictive. Seeing others with big cameras probably sparked my interest when I was younger.

I recall being overzealous with snapping pictures while on vacations. I was and still am a dorky kid. Documenting travel as a means of remembering those experiences/sharing it with others must have always had an appeal. Additionally, photography expands my ability to enjoy nature. My appreciation and sense of awe has only grown in the time I’ve pursued photography.

What’s your favorite art-making tool or material?
I’m terrible at favorites, but even if I wasn’t, there’s so many nifty tools and such that I’d still struggle to pick. To geek out a bit:

Lightroom/Photoshop – indispensable and necessary. Photographers who shoot digital generally do so in a RAW file format. Contrast this with, say, a cellphone, which “bakes in” color profiles, white balance, sharpening, lens correction, etc. and discards what it deems superfluous data. RAW formats preserve all data the sensor captures, allowing one to have creative/corrective control of the final image.

Wide angle lenses – We tend to think of these as mainly for fitting more of an scene into a shot (it’s in the name), but perhaps the true value of wide angle lenses is that they render objects farther apart and more distant than normal. This perspective adds depth and layers to an image, incorporating foreground interests with everything beyond it.

Telephoto lenses – Opposite effect (image foreground and background are compressed). If a wide angle allows me to enjoy a landscape, a tele allows me to experience wildlife. Filling the frame with a bird or other critter is incredibly rewarding and addictive.

Macro lenses and all the gadgetry involved – Macrophotography – generally insects – makes up the bulk of my work. I love discovering the beauty in the miniscule. It takes some specialized equipment and considerations to perform, but it’s great fun.

Lighting equipment for macro or portraiture – having control over lighting makes a world of difference. Fiddling around with getting that just right can be frustrating, but when it works out, shazam.

Astrophotography is something I’ve done a bit of. The sky’s the limit (heh) in terms of the equipment one can employ in capturing the cosmos. Spring lockdown forced me to make bad decisions (I take no responsibility) and I acquired some gadgets for doing this more seriously. Hopefully soon I can put it all to good use and smother some of the flames coming from my wallet. I could go on but I’ve already rambled enough.

If you had an unlimited budget, what’s the first thing you would buy for your art?
A dangerous question. I best not even consider it. I’d hate to give myself any ideas.

Thanks to Scott for sharing his thoughts on his creative process!


7 thoughts on “Alter Egos – Three Questions with Scott

  1. Elizabeth Phelps on said:

    Wonderful photos, Scott – and your hilarious spirit shines through in your narrative … thanks for that! All the staff displays were simply breathtaking, which was awkward since I was highly emotional from the impact of the front half display and wearing a mask. But worth it! We have such talented colleagues.

  2. Dawn Stone on said:

    Scott, I have long contemplated much of what you are talking about here, as one who creates photos, but even more so as one who enjoys them. You see, I love both art and science. And, over the years I have been dazzled by the role technology has played in advancing both. As a child, I had to have echocardiograms done every year to check my heart valves and aorta. I had this done every year until about five years ago, when my cardiologist (who has since passed away) said he believed my heart is stable and I can go 3-5 years between echos. In the 40 years I have been having this done, it has been absolutely mind-blowing to see the difference in what the lab techs are able to show in these tests. They are creating images and recordings to show the cardiologist everything they can see as they push and probe me. Normally, they have the patient face away from the equipment. But, sometime in my early 20s, I asked to face the screen, so I could see. And often, the techs would explain what they were trying to capture in the stills. They have to grab images in a split second of just the right time between heartbeats. I imagine it’s a lot like trying to capture the perfect wing position on a butterfly that just won’t stop opening and closing it’s wings. Now, we have fast cameras, but back in the day there was an art to understanding the delay.

    As I had to tech myself how to photograph my jewelry with no camera experience and no money 12 years ago, I began to understand that the camera definitely doesn’t “see” as the eye sees. And, soon I realized I was going to need to create the photos so the customer could see every detail I can see in order to make an “honest” image. I believe strongly in showing the quality of my craftsmanship, whether that be good or bad. I want the colors of a gemstone to be accurate. Knowing gemstones as I do, I can tell when an artist has pumped up the saturation or added more warmth or coolness to an image to make the gemstone pop more or to make the silver whiter or the gold look higher karat. It’s not honest. Taking the most flattering photo of a piece is not honest either. It should give the customer as much accurate information as possible. If you can also make a beautiful image that is honest, that should always be the goal.

    I believe wildlife photography is an attempt by the artist to create honest images of what he or she is both seeing with the eye and experiencing in the moment. When I see these images, I also feel the experience. It is one of the things I find most inspiring about these photos. I good photographer can take me where they have been, just the way an author can take me on an adventure with his or her words. We are creators sharing a story.

    This has always been a part of my experiential knowledge. As a classical musician our teachers and conductors have taught us how to add texture and color to the the music. We are as much taking our audience on a mental and visual journey as we are a visual one. I always think the best performances are ones where the performer disappears into another place while the picture the audience is creating through their auditory experience takes over. As a performer, it is the highest calling. And when achieved the result is almost spiritual.

    I really appreciate this interview and you sharing your work and experiences with us. Your images have taken me on a journey. Part of the wonderment I have with them is that they are taken locally. I always imagine myself going to those places and seeing what you saw. During the pandemic, I have really been fed by these photos and always appreciate what you share with us.