Topher Scott is a commercial photographer with a background in fashion, advertising, lifestyle and motion. Thanks to our NYC event, I had the chance to meet Topher in person. After seeing his work, I hope we’re able to have him photograph an upcoming event! Check out his website and Instagram account and you’ll see why. Read on to learn about what first drew him into photography and how the LGBT community has been a source of inspiration for him.
What was your first camera? What first drew you into photography?
My earliest camera was a polaroid instant camera. It was sort of the beginning of instant gratification for me; and it’s funny, because now it’s everywhere you look, camera phones are ubiquitous, as are selfies and instant gratification. Looking back on that, I think it’s one of the primary reasons why I fell in the love with the medium. I’m also a documentary filmmaker, and in general, I love the immediacy of creating in these mediums — it’s different than painting, drawing or sculpting. When we think of those processes, they’re additive. For me, photography is the other way around: it’s about what we don’t show, what we remove from the frame in order to draw attention back to the primary subject matter.
How do you draw from you experience as a member of the LGBT community when you are photographing subjects?
The LGBT community has always been a source of inspiration for me — I’m part of the community as an openly gay artist and entrepreneur, but I’m still so intrigued. There’s so much diversity, but yet I think it’s still very easy to stereotype and classify people based on very superficial qualities; for me, therein lies the inspiration. I’m constantly transforming initial reactions and assumptions into questions and curiosity. I like to debunk the presumptuous approach that most of us inherently have in connecting with each other. I like to bring people closer together, and I think photography, if created thoughtfully, can do that. In my particular case, photography brings me closer to my participants. I get to spend time, in a fairly intimate way, and ask questions that might otherwise be unusual in any other setting — it’s always a learning experience for me. I’m always seeking out the common ground.
How has the climate around LGBT issues changed since gay marriage was legalized in the US?
Looking at all of the visuals surrounding the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, it’s truly remarkable and awe-inspiring. Thinking on all of the minds and voices behind this movement, and how it has all culminated, it makes me so happy that there are thousands, if not millions, of photo documents that have been captured over the years by LGBT community members and interested on-lookers, too.
Thinking on the cultural climate regarding present-day and future LGBT issues, it seems like some people are thinking ‘ok, marriage equality is done — so now it’s all over’. But of course, it’s not over — far from it, there’s so much more work to be done. Marriage equality is, in some ways, just the beginning. That said, I think the challenge is set for the LGBT community to really come to terms with its own issues, too. There’s a lot of judgement within the community, and it’s something we’ve all got to work on.
We also have to be mindful of how the marriage ruling might impact gay youths. Teen and young adult LGBT-ers need to know that while marriage is an option, it doesn’t mean we should feel pressured to seek it out. Heterosexual women have been dealing with that struggle for too long for us to ignore the negative outcomes; and we should learn from those lessons, and remind ourselves that there’s nothing wrong with opting out of marriage, too. Relationships are what we make of them — if the situation is healthy and consensual, I say explore it.
What’s your favorite part about being a photographer?
Given that I’m a total technophile, one of my favorite things about being a photographer is the technological landscape. It’s always changing, every few months, there’s an unveiling of something totally revolutionary. For me, it means there’s always a new tool; and I get to think creatively on how I might implement that tool, and how that tool might make a previously technically complicated task into one that’s more streamlined and achievable. Ultimately, less time spent on logistical questions means more time that I get to be creative and curate content.
That aside, I equally love the social component. It’s all about connecting with people — and my portraits aim for authenticity, not forced smiles and artifice. I like to engage my participants and spend time with them — the photos are the evidence that we connected and got creative together. The real craft of a commercial photographer is not as reductive as ‘pushing a button’, it’s about personality, taste level, art direction, technical choices, composition, lighting design and team leadership. And those are the things that make me love my work.
How has the LGBTQ community in NY impacted you? How would you like to impact it?
Coming originally from New Orleans, and subsequently San Francisco, The LGBTQ community in New York is truly unique. Because the size and voice of the community here is so strong, it feels hard to imagine a New York without it. The community is so diverse and leaves space for experimentation — it has definitely reframed my boundaries, making me a more thoughtful and conscientious ‘gay’.
New York has a way of making you see things clearly — for example, I don’t think I was as aware of the racial inequalities within our own community until I moved here 5 years ago. I also don’t think I was as accepting of open relationships and polyamory prior to New York.
Looking at the community today, there are still lots of judgements and expectations even here in New York. I think that’s something I’d like to work on — through still photography and documentary filmmaking. Education is key to overcoming differences and alleviating fear of the unknown.
What have you learned through starting your own commercial photography agency?
Operating as a photo and creative entrepreneur, I’ve learned a tremendous lot. For one, business is an art unto itself. It’s always a practice of refinement and improvement. When I first started nearly 10 years ago, my business practices were rudimentary, I didn’t understand the value of my work, and therefore, I was unable to price it effectively. Also, I had great technical and creative skills, but at the time, my portfolio was overly varied with no particular concentration. So, I pursued graduate school to become a master of my craft (and my business), and ultimately it changed my entire approach — it gave me the opportunity to re-boot and brand myself according to my strengths and interests.
Adding to that, years of in-the-field practice have taught me the value of communication and overcoming. These days, I like to see challenges and resistance as an opportunity to grow.