Scott Strazzante: Shooting from the Hip

  • SCOTT STRAZZANTE

By Jim Colton

Scott Strazzante by Tamara BellA native Chicagoan, Scott Strazzante’s journey into photography started at an early age when he would borrow his father’s camera to shoot Chicago White Sox baseball games. His early newspaper stints included The Daily Calumet (Lansing, Ill) 1986, The Daily Southtown (Chicago, Ill) 1987 and the Joliet Herald-News in 1998. It was there that Strazzante won the Newspaper Photographer of the Year award by the Missouri School of Journalism and the NPPA in the 58th Pictures of the Year contest in 2001. That same year, he joined the staff at the Chicago Tribune and in 2007, as part of the newspaper’s team, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for a series about faulty government regulation of dangerously defective toys, cribs and car seats. A 10-time Illinois Photographer of the Year, Strazzante has covered everything from the Super Bowl to the Olympics, but he says, “The small but universal stories set in middle class America are the ones that are most important to me.”

Jim Colton: How did the idea of "Shooting from the Hip," come to fruition?

Scott Strazzante: I started my “Shooting from the Hip” blog in May of 2008. At that time, the blog was independent from the Chicago Tribune. I wrote in my first post that the blog sprung from “the need to have an extra outlet for some of the huge amount of images that I create on a daily basis that are unseen.”

The images that I shared back then were a mix of published images from the Chicago Tribune, personal photos from my family life and diptychs from my “Common Ground” project. Even though I currently do street photography using the “shooting from the hip” method, I named my blog “shooting from the hip” not as a literal interpretation of my style, but, figuratively as a loose, free-flowing, informal way of communicating through images. Two years after the start of my blog, it migrated to the Chicago Tribune site and has resided there ever since.

JC: Can you tell our readers a little about the process involved in publishing those photos...from concept to completion? 

SS: Over the past year or so, my blog has become a landing spot for my iPhone street photography. The majority of my posts now stem from that, however, I still post content from daily assignments, photo stories and occasionally, when I need to share an insight or an opinion on photojournalism at large.

Most of my posts are of the “best of” variety. The best of a street photography walk, the best from a Chicago Bulls’ game or the best of a photo story.

I tend to lean more towards inspiring others instead of instructing them.

JC: What do you look for when trying to find that perfect picture? What kinds of pictures excite you?

SS: For me, it is all about eliciting an emotional response.  I no longer seek perfection; in fact, I embrace the flaws in mine and others’ photography. I seek out subtle images that allow me to linger and discover small surprises as I soak in an image’s content.  However, as a daily newspaper photographer, I can’t get too caught up in my “art.” I strive to make images that are unique and creative but also accessible to all who view them. 

JC: Can you cite one particular example of published work that you are particularly fond of...and why? 

SS: I love all my work when I first create it. Then I go through a phase where I hate it all. Finally, after months away from it, I can go back and have some sort of perspective of what works and what doesn’t. Because of this, I tend to put too many photos on my blog on a daily basis and I am working on being a more judicious editor during the honeymoon phase I have with my photos. 

I am still ga ga over street photography, so any of that work excites me, but when push comes to shove I am most proud of my long term work. My “Common Ground” project is my all-time favorite, but each year I strive to work on at least one intimate story that sheds light on something important in my community. 

In 2012, I teamed with investigative reporters David Jackson and Gary Marx on a comprehensive look at elementary school truancy in Illinois. It was a difficult story, but incredibly rewarding when we finally gained access into the world of a handful of troubled students and were able to watch as they made progress towards getting their life headed in the right direction.

I, also, followed high school swimmer Mary Kate Callahan, a determined young woman, who sued the Illinois High School Association, so that she and her fellow disabled athletes could compete in the state swim meet.

However, my most favorite recent work centered on 6-year-old Addison Blanchette, who spent the entire year dealing with the loss of her father, Cory.  Addison’s mother, Alisa, allowed me to spend copious amounts of time hanging with her family in good times and bad. I even got to spend Halloween with them at Disney World. These small but universal stories set in middle class America are the ones that are most important to me. 

JC: Our industry is going through major changes regarding how images are published, in print and on line. Do you feel there are advantages/disadvantages to either?

SS: Back in 1986, when I started my career at The Daily Calumet on the southeast side of Chicago, there were only two ways someone could see my photography. One was to pick up a copy of the 17k circulation daily, while the other was for me to physically show them my photos.

Today, I walk down Michigan Avenue, make a street photo, immediately send off the image on Instagram, which is linked to my Facebook page and Twitter account, and it potentially can be seen by almost anyone in the world within seconds. Insane!

This democratization of image sharing is a wonderful thing; however it also means that there is a lot of noise out there. When everyone is a photographer and everyone is a publisher, the challenge is getting your work noticed.

I am very grateful to Chicago Tribune AME of Photography/Video Robin Daughtridge and Director of Photography/Video Todd Panagopoulos who give me that platform to share my daily and personal work with the cyber world.

JC: What advice can you give to young photojournalists who are looking for new ways of getting their material seen by a broader audience? 

SS: The first and most important thing is to concentrate on the work. Make images that offer insight into the human condition and show how you see the world.  

Secondly, embrace the social part of social media. Be part of web-based photography discussions, join online photo communities like aphotoaday.org and sportsshooter.com, and then get off line and go to photo conferences, gallery shows and informal gatherings to establish personal relationships with kindred souls.

I was recently part of “The Image, Deconstructed” workshop put on by Ross Taylor and Logan Mock-Bunting in North Carolina. It was an amazing, intense, thought-provoking weekend where I got to know and become familiar with not only the work of about 75 photo students, but also, who they were as human beings. I was incredibly impressed by their passion and skill level. I guarantee that if I can ever give any of these young shooters a step up, I will. 

JC: Could you tell us how the recent layoff of the entire photography staff at the Chicago Sun-Times has affected you, both personally and professionally?

SS: Photojournalists being laid off has sadly become a common occurrence over the past decade or so.
However, May 30th's firing of nearly thirty photojournalists, who worked for the Chicago Sun-Times and their suburban papers, essentially wiping out the entire photography staff, was stunning.

As a newspaper photographer, it is hard to take the clear message that is being sent by the owners of the Sun-Times. That message being: You are not only replaceable, you are unnecessary.
To make a horrible situation worse, the Sun-Times treated John H. White, one of the greatest photojournalists and people that I have had the honor to know, like a piece of garbage.

I feel that the Sun-Times will come to regret their decision and this type of action will not become an industry trend, but that doesn't give any solace to Mr. White and all the hard-working journalists, who have given decades of faithful service to the Sun-Times. They now are forced to scramble to not only find work in an oversaturated market, but purchase computers and camera equipment.

Personally, I am heart sick over the tough days ahead for this group of photographers, many that I consider dear friends. I selfishly will miss working the streets with them and enjoying their company while on assignment. I am still optimistic about the future of photojournalism, but not as much as I was two days ago.

JC: Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers or exciting things on the horizon that you are at liberty to share with us?

SS: As for exciting things upcoming, besides the NHL playoffs, I am thrilled to be getting the wheels in motion on getting my “Common Ground” project into book form. Keep an eye out for a crowd sourcing opportunity to support this endeavor.

I would also just like to say thank you to the entire photo community for all that you give to me on a daily basis. It is an honor to do what I do and I hope that I am an asset to the community as a whole.

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Part 2: Alex Garcia: Assignment Chicago