Born in the U.S. photographer Scott McDermott grew up in Switzerland, backpacked America's wild west and hiked Nepal's Himalayas before committing to a college life spent mostly in a darkroom. After several years as an assistant to a variety of New York City photographers, he struck out on his own, shooting sports figures and extreme activities. Initially focused on action and event coverage, Scott's work shifted toward the athletes and their remarkable abilities, which eventually led to photographing the worlds most creative minds in Hollywood and the music industry. Along with his key photographic art exhibitions, he recently shot a series for Mandela Day, capturing the hands and faces of many who support Nelson Mandela's message. Scott is based in NYC where he brings distinctive style to his extensive editorial and advertising work.
Piano Lessons As An Insurance Policy
If you have a degree in what field is it? I do in fact have a Bachelor of Science in photography and cinematography with a minor in art history from Ithaca College.
What was your strangest assignment? I shot a story on Krav Maga, which is a no nonsense Israeli martial art, for Men’s Fitness mag a couple years back. Developed as a form of unarmed, very aggressive combat in situations where your opponent is armed, Krav Maga is all about neutralizing the other guy as fast and as violently as possible. We did the shoot with an instructor who teaches it at John J College in New York who was a very nice guy and very enthusiastic. He had one of his students with him who he was going to “demonstrate” the moves on for the shoot. Well as it turned out he insisted on doing everything full contact against his poor student as I tried to catch each move in one take out of sympathy and not wanting to say “I missed it. Can you do that one again?.” The shoot lasted probably two hours while the poor student just got the tar beat out of him the whole time. I did get some good shots.....
Which photographer would you like to meet? Probably Albert Watson. I have always admired his work and his black-and-white pictures have been an especially big influence on me.
What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? Albert Einstein. He had such a great face and hair. I bet I could make a cool picture of him. Plus I imagine he would be fun talk to—about anything but physics.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? My eyes. Seriously. I feel pretty confident that I can make something happen with any gear that’s out there. But if I lose my eyes, it’s all over. I have a serious fear of going blind. Maybe I should start taking piano lessons just as an insurance policy.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? Not really. I don’t shoot journalism, so in my world it’s about whatever it takes to make the image look right.
From where do your best ideas originate? Usually little brainstorm sessions with whoever is around.
How do you overcome a creative block? I like to look at as much photography, film and art as I can. I don’t subscribe to the point-of-view that ideas should come out of a pure vacuum of one’s own soul.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? I love to ski... when done properly, it’s quite creative.
What music are you listening to right now? Joe Satriani, “Devil's Slide,” but that’s just because it came up on shuffle. I like it all, with the exception of new country.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I love what I do so it’s really not work. It’s a privilege. Sometimes I’m working and sometimes I’m not. Which I like except that it seems that every time I schedule a vacation away somewhere, a job will come up for those exact dates.
What’s your favorite quote? “There are four stages to a photographers career (from the perspective of an art buyer): 1. Who is Scott McDermott? 2. Get me Scott McDermott! 3. Get me someone like Scott McDermott! 4. Who is Scott McDermott?” I don’t know where I heard that.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Shoot as much as you can—anything. Stick with it and, as hard as it is, try to develop a style. Be a nice person. It’s all about people and the diva era is over but you have to be arrogant enough to believe in yourself and that you can figure it out. It’s not for the timid and no one is going to promote you.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? Going to photo school and actually becoming a working photographer have nothing to do with each other.