Grid Free ©Scott Sener
Congratulations to Scott Sener, one of three Best in Show winners of APA LA's Off the Clock 2021, juried by Rebecca Morse. Based in Los Angeles, Sener is both a musician and a street photographer. His winning image, Grid Free was a direct personal response to having solar panels installed on his home and the 2020 California Wildfires. Sener has worked on sets in Hollywood since 1994 and played in bands, his love for photography began at home with a spy camera and a polaroid. He describes his passion for music and photography simultaneously, "When my work resonates with an audience, I feel such gratitude. Reaching people is everything."
How did you find your path into photography from a career as a musician and actor? Which of those artistic endeavors is more satisfying to you at this moment?
SS: Good questions; I've always worked at them all, in front of and behind the camera. At times they overlap. When I worked with Kevin Smith as an Assistant Prop-master on Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, it was so inspirational. He wrote, directed, acted, edited, produced, and even gave me a small part with Tracy Morgan: A Crack Dealer, forever typecast!!! Working in Hollywood since 1994, I learned to survive with multiple skill sets and Union Cards. The pandemic turned entertainment (along with most everything else) off like a light switch. I went from set to substitute teacher/dad in a heartbeat—soul searching, revisiting shelved projects, and ultimately returning to things that could be accomplished solo. Raising my lens to irony, wonder, disbelief, beauty, and whatever juxtapositions unfold in my path helped me cope. Releasing my Bowie Tribute Single, The Bewlay Brothers on Apple Music, Spotify, and most Digital Streams felt like I achieved something like in the before times. And yes, I shot the cover!!!
Off World Sunset ©Scott Sener
You talk about how the timing is similar between music and street photography. However, in music you are observed, and as a photographer, you are the observer. Does that feel like a natural progression of the creative process to you?
SS: Interesting, I'm quite used to being observed and observing. I think it works both ways, and my creative process is circular by nature. Some days it's 4:30 PM sharp, others it's well after midnight; aka Off the Clock photographically, I observe, process, and present, hoping to be observed, such as this great honor. Musically I observe moments when songs arrive, work at them, and perform to be observed. It's about what you do with your photo or your song. The pics you take won't find their audience and be given a chance to be observed unless you chose to present them. Same with music. Gigs and gallery openings are so similar, presenting your work and hoping there's an audience!!! Oh, how I've missed social events… For example, in terms of timing, catching someone walking with just the right posture, a head turns into the light, or hoping they step into that shadow. Instinctually knowing a great picture is about to happen. Waiting for that elusive precise moment, the right beat, so close, hold that frame, almost there - waiting, waiting, and then my shutter snaps, Victory! I find being sensitive to the rhythms and cadence of life, knowing where you are and where you are going in that timeline/song essential.
Now Serving Notice ©Scott Sener
Can you discuss how often you hit the streets with the camera and what draws you in to make a picture? Do you feel invisible on the streets, or do you prefer the subjects notice you?
SS: Yes, it's true, I always leave the house with a camera. Sometimes it's just the phone, but a camera is within reach. Most of my photographs present themselves when least expected, so I try to be prepared as best as possible. Sometimes, I'm interested in an event, and much like a photojournalist, I'll sniff out a story/pic. If I find a particular subject that captures my eye, such as my image Now Serving Notice, I'll study the scene and ask: I wonder what time of day the sun will shine perfectly between those buildings? More research is required. In this case, color similarities stood out most. The photograph is a warning sign for a COVID high-risk area juxtaposed against a Mcdonald's sign and a woman walking her baby. Maybe it would look better when it's overcast? I never found out as they took down the sign - moments, fleeting moments. As far as visibility, sometimes I've found hiding in plain sight works well. Others more discretion is required. Others still, a brief introduction shows respect to the subject and gives story info to me. Generally speaking, as they say in Time Travel Si-Fi, do not disturb the timeLine. After all, it's not my close up.
What was the deciding factor in your decision to enter APA LA's Off The Clock? Had you ever entered a competition of this magnitude?
SS: My decision to enter APA LA's Off the Clock was fueled by the desire to connect. In this past Year Like No Other, I've chosen to search for the light, accept the fluid nature of our shared event and ride it like a wave. I'm so grateful to APA LA for having an event to enter; it gave me hope of better days to come. Off the Clock is certainly the largest competition I've ever entered. I think it was like 1100 entries, and I pulled a Best In Show. I can't thank you enough for this honor.
Word on the Street ©Scott Sener
Can you give us more insight into your award-winning image Grid Free?
SS: Creating Grid Free began with my frustration of trying to have solar panels installed on my house. The installers did not like my roof plans. It turns out they can only be installed on a finished roof, my future skylight? Forget it.
I felt like they were more into keeping me chained to the DWP. Then, cut to last September with all the Wildfires. The sky was no longer blue. Instead, a red-brown haze took its place. Heading west on York, I was in disbelief of what's in the sky and thinking sarcastically, anything else? At 40 miles an hour, it appeared: the sun was tangled in power lines. Immediately parking and reaching for the trusty Canon G3X, I set out to find my frame. Shooting wide and tight, moving the camera as much as possible, I saw it was about to line up perfectly inside the vertical bits of the pole. I waited until - lo and behold, the moment arrived. Grid Free became the perfect photographic representation of my frustration of being hopelessly entangled in our power grid. The sun is right there, yet my solar dreams are in a quagmire of wires.
Were you surprised that you won a Best in Show award? Will that help leverage your career as a street photographer?
I was blown away, really, so grateful!!! Connection, validation, pride, and a great desire to work harder all at once. In terms of career leverage, the honor of this milestone will hopefully generate interest in my work. Check back in a year!!!
Who have been your influences in photography?
SS: Most of my influences and sources of inspiration are cinematic, people I've worked with. I jumped at the chance to PA on The Devils Own in '96. Having the opportunity to watch Cinematographer Gordon Willis paint with light was magical. That same project introduced me to Ken Regan. I assisted him a few times and was truly floored. That man was a photographic machine. In the archive room of C5's Midtown office, pull any file cabinet drawer and gaze at his pics of almost any major event of the last 40 years. Incredible. Clint Eastwood is another. I'll never forget on American Sniper, everything was set to simulate a bronco ride on a process trailer, and he asked for a Black Magic camera to run behind and see if there was another angle to be had. In a horse corral, 83 years old at the time. So inspiring. Standing in for Johnny Depp on the first 4 Pirates of the Caribbean Movies gave me the opportunity to work with Dariusz Wolski and his team for years. I learned so much about how to shoot beautifully in so many different environments. I mean shooting a battle between The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman, with so many practical elements, in an aircraft hanger in Palmdale is truly a thing of wonder. I have such gratitude for my experiences and have always paid attention to and learned from the frame.
What have you learned from the experience of entering a competition and winning?
SS: One of the biggest takeaways has been the need for a good publicist!!! It has underscored the importance of that old adage never to give up. Get up in the morning and figure out what you can do with what you have. Everyone has a story; dare to share and see what happens! I'm so grateful to APA LA's Off the Clock for this great honor.