“I’m an art school dropout…this is what it looks like,” Priscilla Scott said to me over drinks last September. We had been talking for a while about her teenage years and early adulthood, when she first started taking pictures. It was in high school in San Jose, California that she began taking pictures on assignment — specifically, she was on the yearbook staff, an experience she didn’t care for. “[The faculty leader] expected so much from a creative-artistic view,” she said, but he didn’t offer much mentorship. He would complain that the staff’s photographs were insufficiently candid, that they were just posed pictures of people’s friends. For better or for worse, though, yearbook was where Scott learned about taking unposed pictures of people.
She finished high school in Fresno, and after graduating, she moved with her high school boyfriend to Los Angeles, where he was due to start college at California State University, Northridge. “I hated living in Fresno, and I just wanted to get out of a small town,” she told me. “There wasn’t anything there.” That was twelve years ago, and today she says she considers Los Angeles home.
Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights 15th Anniversary Tour
When she got there at first, she thought about acting; she had done lots of theatre in high school. In order to do that, she had to get headshots taken, an experience she particularly enjoyed because the photographer let her direct the shoot and how she wanted to pose. A short while later, at which point she had already ended things with her boyfriend, she realized she wasn’t as interested in acting as she thought. She bought an Olympus DSLR and decided to start photographing again.
Scott started reaching out to local bands whose music she liked and asking permission to photograph their shows as a portfolio building exercise. Failing that, she would sneak into venues, something she admitted to often doing early in her career. Her familiarity with the bands gave her an edge, since she knew the songs well, but she suggested that this familiarity was a double-edged sword. “I wanted to be in the moment and enjoy the show,” she said, and she found it hard to focus on her photography and the band’s music simultaneously. Still, her concert photography has continued ever since.
Her concert photography has continued ever since. She eventually married a musician, Failure drummer Kellii Scott (pictured above); she photographed their 2014 reunion tour extensively and her work has been featured on some of their recent album covers. During the day, she worked at ABC Family as a schedule coordinator in their post-production department, and held that job for ten years until she was laid off in December 2016, just after she had gotten back from a vacation to Vienna that she found quite artistically inspiring. (It was during her time at ABC Family that she attended the Art Institute of California – Hollywood.) “I’ve worked pretty consistently since I was eighteen,” Scott said, and it felt “weird” to be unemployed. Her husband encouraged her to take 2017 off and focus completely on photography. It was this turn of events that led her to start learning studio lighting and shooting more posed portraits. (Many of them are self-portraits, in part because, as she admits, “I’m the most available.”) She learned nearly everything she knows about lighting on the Internet, and got some general help from Failure’s singer, whom Scott mentioned knew a lot about editing and camera equipment.
Increasing restriction on photography at live-music venues also influenced her turn towards portraiture. “Some of the live stuff has become un-fun for me,” she said, and mentioned one specific venue, which will remain nameless, whose staff yelled at her for shooting from a balcony, even though she had a special pass. While she mentioned having good recent experiences at venues like the Santa Barbara Bowl, where she had a pass to shoot a Garbage concert, she has noticed that, on the whole, “you’re treated like a troublemaker” if you’re taking photographs with a dedicated camera. (People shooting lengthy videos on their phones, she said, rarely, if ever, get hassled.)
Perfume Genius at the El Rey.
Towards the end of the interview, I asked her, as I typically do, the most important thing about herself or her work that she hadn’t yet said. She mentioned two things, the first being photography’s universality. “The idea that an image can be shown anywhere to anyone is cool,” she said; “there’s no specific language for images; it’s universal.” She then started to talk about the deleterious effects of comparison and perceived competition: “I know I live in a city full of talented photographers,” she said, and added that many people who’ve had similar realizations tend to want to withdraw from photography altogether, thinking everything’s been done before, and better.
“I would say, ‘fuck that,'” she said.
All photographs copyright Priscilla Scott and used with her permission. You can find more of her work on her website and her Instagram. Many thanks to Priscilla for taking the time to meet and talk with me.
This article has been edited to clarify where Scott was from.