Scott Tansey has been taking photos for over 40 years. In the mid-1980s he was submitting panoramic images to a stock agency and his photos have been published in a wide range of media including Consumer Reports and Audubon Magazine. In the mid-1990s he switched careers and attended law school. Although he still loves and practices law, his passion for photography has steadily increased as has his confidence, and his ability to create memorable images that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. We previously spoke with Scott about his photographs of rocks on the iconic rocky coast of Maine taken with the Leica S-System. He continued the series with these images taken at Point Lobos State Reserve, south of Carmel, California, over the course of three trips in December 2014, April 2015, and July 2015.
Q: What camera equipment did you use to shoot this portfolio?
A: On two of the trips I used my now five-year-old Leica S2-P and on one trip I used a later series Leica S (Typ 006). The S-System is just amazing. The quality of the images match and most likely exceed the images I took with my 6×17 cm film cameras. All images were captured with the 24 mm (19 mm equivalent) lens. I wanted to get close to the subject and have less of a compressed perspective. The lens has little to no wide-angle distortion and one could not tell immediately that I used a super wide-angle lens.
Q: Why do you favor using the 24 mm ultra-wide-angle lens for your work, and what are some of the reasons you present most of your images in a wide-aspect-ratio panoramic format that’s typically used to capture expansive vistas?
A: I have noticed that many images are created either by shooting wide vistas with wide-angle lenses or by isolating specific elements with medium telephoto lenses. Experimenting, I discovered that the Leica S 24 mm lens had little or no distortion, so I decided to take advantage of my equipment to do something different: get really close and capture images that would be different than the ones I’ve seen. I was happy with the results and I decided to use this method to capture images both in Maine and Point Lobos. I like that the viewer has to scan the image from side to side. When I took a photo workshop with Philip Hyde and John Sexton, I learned that the panoramic format works well with intimate panoramas.
Q: Did you have a definitive goal for these images?
A: I wanted to continue along the path of taking intimate landscapes near the shoreline. I hoped to make images that show my growth as a photographer. I also wanted to show the amazing variety of intimate coastline images that are possible, and I do think I accomplished my goals.
Q: What were some of the ways that shooting in Point Lobos differed from shooting your intimate landscapes in a similar style on the East Coast and other locations? Also, how do you think shooting these images at smaller apertures to obtain greater depth of field affected their emotional and expressive aspect?
A: Shooting intimate panoramas in Maine and Point Lobos were similar. I would find an area and explore different image possibilities. I had to reject many of my Maine images because some parts of the image were unintentionally out of focus. In Maine, I learned that I had to use smaller apertures to obtain a greater depth of field in order to have the entire image in focus. So, when I went to Point Lobos, using a smaller aperture allowed me to keep a much higher percentage of my images. In short, the smaller apertures allowed me to achieve my goal of making intimate landscapes. It did not really affect the Point Lobos’ emotional and expressive aspect – it just made the images work technically.
Q: What are some of the other things you learned in the course of your visits to Point Lobos that have helped you to become better and more effective in creating images of this kind? And what about this location has motivated you?
A: The most important aspect that I learned from my Point Lobos images is that multiple visits really helped to capture the magic of the location. I went there three times, compared to my one time going to Maine, which provided me with three completely different lighting conditions (after a huge storm in December, clear weather in April, and cloudy and foggy weather in July) and the tides were at different levels during each visit. Point Lobos is so special it has been called the “greatest meeting of land and sea.” There are so many different rock formations along the coastline as well as interesting views of the trees and vegetation. Then there are vistas of rocks, sea, and the forest. All of these amazing landscapes can be seen within a few miles of one another. I remember the amazing photographs taken by Edward Weston and Cole Weston, which inspired me to find my own inspiration in this unique place.
Q: What do you think you accomplished in creating this portfolio?
A: I believe that I created a portfolio that worked within the four corners of the image. That’s a phrase I learned from Robert Glenn Ketchum. One could not tell directly that I was at Point Lobos. Also, I wanted to create images of Point Lobos that were not copies of images that were created by others.
Q: Many photographers strive to convey a sense of place in their images, but you were actually striving for the opposite. Why was it so important to you to create images of Point Lobos that transcended the concept of place?
A: At the present time I want to make something personal and different. I want to capture images that go beyond postcards. I do take some postcard shots during the visits, but my real goal is to capture something different from what others have captured. I do not want be an inferior Edward Weston or Brett Weston, but rather to be the best me I can be. I want to create images that stood on their own rather than being just more typical images of Point Lobos. This was a different goal from my Los Angeles Panoramas that you highlighted in the last blog. There I wanted images that really conveyed the sense of the immensity of Los Angeles. After working on the Los Angeles Panoramas, I moved in a different direction where my images were a personal reflection of me.
Q: Taking “intimate landscapes near the shoreline” seems to be your passion and you want to continue along that path. What are those special visual or emotional elements that inevitably draw you to the shoreline?
A: As an old advertisement said, “it’s the water.” I grew up in Los Angeles in a home with a pool, and I still love being in the water. I still live in Los Angeles, and one of the great attractions is the beach. Later on, my mom had a weekend mobile home at Newport Beach. I loved swimming and kayaking in Newport Bay and body surfing along the ocean side at Newport Beach. Then there is the combination of land and water. I do like contrasts. Although water does not appear in all of my shoreline images, the results of water are in every image because water creates such amazing landforms. Several of these images show my attraction to water.
Q: Overall there seems to be a greater variety of variegated shapes, subtle colors and different textures in the images in this portfolio compared to those in you took in Maine. Do you agree, and if so, do you think this is primarily due to the different location, your evolving visual and artistic approach, or perhaps a bit of both?
A: I do agree that my last two visits to Point Lobos in April and July show a greater variety of variegated shapes, subtle colors and different textures than my images from Maine. However, when I went to Point Lobos in December, I thought those images did not have as wide a variety of color as the Maine images. My July trip showed the greatest variety of subtle colors of all my Point Lobos trips. I believe that the clouds and the fog allowed the different colors to emerge. So, location and timing do make a significant difference. As I have become more experienced with capturing seashore intimate panoramas, I believe that my approach has evolved and I instinctively see more image possibilities.
Q: Here is a gorgeous composition in terms of form, color, and texture and it’s incredible to realize it was created by the forces of nature. How do you feel when you come upon something like this? Is there any kind of methodology other than artistic intuition that helps you to frame the shot?
A: I am always excited when I arrive on location. Then I have to calm down and be in the moment to explore and see potential images I want to take. I work in digital and I do not have the limitations of film, such as having only 36 images with 35 mm or four images with 6×17 cm cameras. That allows me to experiment and move around to find images I want to capture. I tend to stay in a location finding different images.
Q: What I like most about this image is that it’s a tableau or tapestry with a flowing form that suggests the shoreline and the presence of water but one remains uncertain whether the greyish area that dominates the left-hand part of the image is liquid or solid. This fascinatingly enigmatic character really draws the viewer in. Were you aware of these aspects when you composed the picture, and what does this image say to you personally?
A: I do not know that I was consciously aware of the enigmatic character when I was taking this image. However, I did notice that there was an enticing meeting of land and water. I was also attracted to this image because I was able to see clearly the rock forms under water. Then, the overcast daylight and the incoming fog allowed me to see underwater without too many reflections. When I was there three months before the tide was out, so it was impossible to take this type of image.
Q: Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with our readers?
A: I’m traveling to Svalbard at the end of August. I hope to create a whole new series of images that reflect my growth as a photographer from Patagonia and the intimate landscapes.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when you travel to Svalbard and what kind of intimate landscapes do you expect to find there. By the way, do you research new locations before you journey there or pretty much take it as it comes?
A: I do research new locations beforehand because I need to have some idea of what images I want to take. However, once I get to a new location I take it as it comes. For example, when I went to Maine I thought I would be concentrating on the fall colors. Instead, I concentrated on intimate coastal rock images. On my trip to Svalbard, I hope to find amazing ice in many forms. However, I will be open to amazing landscapes and wildlife and I could even take long panoramas as I did for my Leica Gallery show.
Thank you for your time, Scott!
– Leica Internet Team
To see more of Scott’s work, check out his website.