My Cultural Life: Mark Scott

The documentary photographer on scooters, Tom Waits and 28mm fun  

How long have you been a photographer?

I’ve been taking pictures since I was at school but my interest faded over a number of years. I came back to photography perhaps about five or six years ago when quality digital SLR cameras became more affordable to ordinary people. Over the past two years I’ve worked on setting up my own photography business, concentrating on portraits, events and weddings.

You took part in Belfast Exposed's Photo Documentary Course, did that help you develop your skills?

When I took part in the Belfast Exposed course I already had a number of years of ‘formal’ photographic training under my belt with relevant qualifications. The course showed me different ways to apply those skills and to use the camera as a tool to help tell a story. It took me away from thinking that the end goal should be a single powerful image to thinking instead along the lines of a series of images that, when viewed together convey the point or tell the tale. The photo-documentary covers a period in time, rather than a moment captured.

What was the most valuable piece of information you learned on the course?

The most valuable piece of information learned has to be the importance of subject access. I found that I probably spent more time on this aspect of the photo-documentary than I did in actually taking pictures. It’s common sense really, no-one’s going to tolerate a photographer turning up wanting to photograph aspects of their life without understanding why or how it’s going to happen.

Your exhibition documents the members of a scooter club, what drew you to that subject?

I was taking pictures around the centre of Belfast on a Saturday afternoon and they all rolled up and parked outside the City Hall. After about half an hour they all rode off again. I just became curious, how did they all know to meet up? Where were they going? I realised that ‘Scooterists’ have been around in various forms since I was at school. For most of them the fashion, music and scooters haven’t changed. This interested me.

Did you ever have a scooter yourself?

I’ve never owned or even ridden a scooter.

Were you tempted to buy a scooter yourself?

I have to admit that I can see the attraction in owning one. I like the lines and shape of them, in particular the Lambrettas. Most of the scooters I was photographing were built in the 50’s and 60’s and require an amount of attention to keep them on the road. Owning one is almost a responsibility and I really don’t think I would have the spare time to do one justice.

What was the most difficult part of the documentary process?

The most difficult part of the process was photographing the subject up close. Not all of the people I was photographing knew what I was doing. It took a while for me to build confidence and I suppose trust. This all comes back to the subject access again. My choice of equipment was a big thing here. I took a decision to shoot with one lens, a 28mm prime lens, along with a Leica digital rangefinder camera. This meant that I wasn’t pointing a large DSLR camera and long zoom lens into anyone’s face and influencing the mood or the expression. With the Leica I could take the shot before the subject realised and not compromise on image quality. I had to physically be up close to do it though.

What part was the most fun?

Being at the ride-outs and club runs. The ‘craic’ was terrific. Most of the shots taken on the Easter Monday run to Bangor, for instance, were taken from the back of a motorbike, which was a bit of a laugh.

Did you learn anything during the shoots that surprised you?

The one big thing that surprised and impressed me was the way the clubs and the members stick together and support each other. In the six or seven months that I spent photographing the scooter clubs, a relatively short period of time, I began to realise that ‘real life’ happens to these people, just as it does to everyone else. They suffer bereavement, illness and the ups and downs of life. The difference is that they deal with it as a group and support each other. This is also reflected in the amount of charity work that the clubs participate in. Every ride-out raises cash for various local charities. More often than not these charities have a special relevance to a particular club member.

Do you have any plans for your next project?

I intend to continue working on a couple of aspects of the scooter scene that I didn’t really touch on with this project. Moving on though, I have an idea that I’m working around. I’m not sure if it can become a feasible project at the minute so I’d rather not elaborate; suffice to say it will be a break in a completely different direction.

Who is your favourite musician?

Tom Waits. I think he has to be the closest thing musically to a documentary photographer. My favourite album being Nighthawks at The Diner.

What is your favourite TV show?

I don’t really watch anything regularly on TV. My kids have it hogged with Miley Cyrus.

If you were going to remake ANY road movie with scooters instead of the original vehicles what would it be and why?

Tough question. I couldn’t really see a remake of Two-Lane Blacktop working with scooters. Route 66 on a Lambretta? There would definitely be potential for a photo-documentary there though!

Are scooters an anachronism or the vehicle of the future?

In this instance the anachronism is what it’s all about. For the scooter club members I met, the scooter screams, to coin a Who lyric, 'Can you see the real me?' For these guys the lifestyle is right, and that’s what matters. It has carried not just them but also a way of life into the 21st century. Let’s face it, the future starts the second you stop reading this, and will the scooters still be there?

The Steady Generation Photography Exhibition By Mark Scott will be at the Waterfront Hall July 5-24

Tammy Moore