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Photographer Wil Scott on “Red Nude”

Red Nude by Wil Scott, winner of The Art League Best in Show Award

When it came time to select the Best in Show for the December Open Exhibit, juror Robert Yi already had a piece in mind. He had been coming back to one photograph all day, continually drawn to the painterly look and the balance of color.

That photo, Red Nude, represents the start of a new focus for Wil Scott, a photographer and art historian. We asked the best-in-show artist to tell us more about this piece, his photography in general, and the new addition of the human figure into his work:

What was your goal for Red Nude?
Wil Scott: I haven’t photographed nudes until very recently. The room where Red Nude was taken has excellent filtered light, and the down comforters on the bed always catch the light and cast shadows in complicated patterns. The seams of the comforters and the edges add more linear complexity. And, the red pillow and dark wood supply color in restrained notes.

I’ve tried making a still life of the bed, but it lacked vitality. That’s when I realized that I needed to add something more to the composition. And, what better to accomplish that than with the warmth of a nude woman’s body? The warmth of her skin tones and the curves of her body made the photograph. Her red nail polish was an element I hadn’t noted until I saw the image on my monitor. In some ways, the nail polish makes the final work succeed.

Nude in Doorway by Wil Scott (click for larger image)

Is it part of a series? If so, how did the series start, and where is it now?
It is part of a series, now, but wasn’t when I made it. I’ve been able to use the same model a few times. Another shot of her in a doorway was incorporated into a shot of an abandoned farmhouse through Lightroom. This photograph was just juried into the winter member’s show at the Maryland Federation of Art in Annapolis. As long as the model will work with me, I have a number of other ideas I’d like to explore.

Why are you a photographer?
This is the most difficult question for me to answer. I’m going to be blunt about it, because every time I start to flesh it out, it sounds pretentious or boring. I make photographs because I have to. It just seems like a part of me. I see things almost daily that make me want to make a photo. So, I do it.

TJ’s Lunch Counter by Wil Scott (click for larger image)

What is your creative process like? What is your ideal photo shoot?
It’s pretty basic. I carry a camera almost always. I see something interesting, and I start shooting. Sometimes, it’s one shoot. Sometimes, it’s dozens. In front of the computer, most images get a little cropping and/or adjusting of lighting and contrast. More and more, I flip the image into black and white, although I always shoot in color.

My ideal shoot: a camera, a car, and some place I’ve never explored before.

What is the gear you always make sure to pack?
That’s basic, too. I almost always carry a Canon SC710HS (a point-and-shoot with super-telephoto capability). When I go out primarily to make photos, I take a Canon 50d with a 55-250 lens or the 5d III with a 18-105 lens and a tripod.

Mannequins by Wil Scott (click for larger image)

What are your influences as a photographer?
I have a doctorate in the history of American art with a concentration on late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century painting, sculpture, and photography. My mentor was William I. Homer, a world-renowned expert on Alfred Stieglitz and his circle. During my thirty years at the National Gallery of Art, I lectured frequently on photography. I probably know the history of photography more than most photographers. This can’t help but influence what I do in the field, but it’s not something that is conscious when shooting. I frequently don’t notice the influence of some master of the medium until a viewer points it out. I hope that means that I’ve absorbed valuable lessons from others without letting their influence overwhelm or intimidate me.

What are you working on now?
As the Red Nude shows, I’m more interested in people than ever before. That means studio work, like nudes, and street photography. We’ll see where that leads.

I’ve always been fascinated by architecture, patterns, and moody landscapes. I tried to create a body of cloud images, but still haven’t figured out what I can bring to an over-worked subject to make it my own. I haven’t given up on clouds. I think I just need to work through some other things and then go back to the clouds. After all, they’ll always be there.

The December Open Exhibit is on view through Saturday, December 31.

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