Scott Toepfer: Behind-the-Lens


The other day my younger brother started a conversation with a question about American identity and culture, saying that he didn't feel like this country has a solid sense of self, or that it wasn't as apparent as in those cultures that have thousands of years of tradition. We started going a bit back and forth, and it got me thinking about photography, which is pretty common for me these days, and I realized that a large majority of my photographs are America-centric. Maybe it is because of the melting pot effect of American culture, but I've come to embrace certain aspects of our nascent identity that seem to be regionally unique. Our culture is so fluid, and built upon short-lived moments of beauty, that the identity itself is a character in its own right, and changes depending on where you are, and who you are with. Being a photographer at this point in its life, and mine, is extremely inspiring. 

Some guy, probably in an attempt to win my approval while to trying to take my mother on a date, gave me a Canon Ft-b and 5 lenses. I must've been somewhere around 13 years old, an age where the slightest bit of protest would've sent this guy running for the hills, and when he did, I kept the camera. It lived in this vinyl case that came with the outfit, and I would occasionally pull it out, figure out how to take the lenses on and off, and wind and click the shutter, knowing that I would eventually learn how to really use it. High school was a great time to learn, we used only black and white film, digital was a $1000 dollar camera with a disk drive attached, and it was an excuse to leave school for a couple of hours a day to work on my "art." Believe me when I tell you that I took full advantage, and left school early a few days a week to photograph my entire home town and eat chicken fingers from the grocer.

'The road' has always inspired me. I've been moving around this country for the past 4 or 5 years, trying to see what fits in my life, and what doesn't. I live in Los Angeles, but being out in the open spaces has really kept my creativity moving throughout my early work as a photographer. Whether in the car with my beautiful partner in crime, or on a stinking bus with 8's great to wake up in unfamiliar territory. With the latest project, 'It's Better In The Wind,' I tried to take it to another level. I am a small fish in an expanding creative pond, mostly shooting for smaller publications and record labels, and still assisting because it pays the bills. I knew that with moving back to Los Angeles, I was going to have to take on a pretty hefty project to even make it to the radar. Within a couple of months I had an idea, one that would keep me moving on the road, and get me back to my roots and happy. I assembled some friends around a table full of desserts at Cafe 101 (the infamous Waffle Brownie Sundae). I proposed the project to them, knowing that it would push all of us to make a sincere effort at success. Most everybody instantly agreed to have a go at it. The concept was simple: ride as far as we could, bring what you can carry, sleep in the dirt, carry the film in the same bag as my blanket. I'd seen projects involving motorcycle travel before, but they always involve a significant amount of production that dilutes the authenticity of the art that is created. Production vehicles, custom motorcycles, motels...I wasn't interested in any of these things. My intention was to capture what it is like for a handful of the modern youth to really be out on the road and exposed to the elements involved (both physically and emotionally). The economy being what it company with fiscal sense would give us money for gas or food. So, we did it ourselves. Modern conveniences weren't going to deter us from trying to really feel the weight of the rides we were taking. We did 1200 miles in a weekend, called in sick, and in my case, quit my part time job. We ate at diners and over campfires. We did it on our own, the way it is supposed to be.

Photography is beautiful in that it is reflective, and although many people will comment on the look of the photograph, the message has always been more important to me. There are messages throughout photographs...from the moment ("click") to the print to the viewer, there are conversations being held between myself, those I photograph, and those viewing the photographs. To top it off, we (photographers) work to author those messages to our own liking. That is the art. I'm a firm believer in that photographers always include a piece of themselves in a photograph, and I've always tried to accomplish that in my own.

Since taking on photography as my profession, I've come to terms with a lot of my insecurities as an artist. We are constantly surrounded by people telling us we should try this lighting style, or look at another photographer's work, or try this new amazing camera. I've stopped scouring the web for new photographers that I can learn from, but still enjoy stumbling upon a new project by upcoming photographers such as myself. I've really stopped obsessing over what new camera I can get, or how many 'megapickles' it has. Digital or shouldn't matter. Half of my portfolio is film photographs, and I shoot mostly film these days for my personal projects, but I don't think that the tool should determine the final image. Most clients require the speed that digital processing can offer, so I use both depending on who needs what, and when. But, if I have a day that doesn't require a digital camera or a computer, I'll spend it getting my hands wet in my darkroom/workshop. The craft is still the craft, and a camera is still a camera.

Scott G Toepfer Photography

1 comment:

Dianne said...

Great Article!!!!