Apartment Therapy Interviews: Scott Frances

Apartment Therapy Interviews: Scott Frances

Storyteller. Architect. Painter. Journalist. Romantic. Teacher. When architecture and interiors photographer Scott Frances speaks about his images, his creative process, and his new book MonoVisioN, you’d think this man were all of the above. In a conversation generous both in time and content, Scott shows he’s definitely all those, and more.

While Scott’s images have filled the pages of luxurious coffee table books for the likes of Mariette Himes Gomez, Alexa Hampton and Million Dollar Decorator Martyn Lawrence-Bullard, in a career spanning 25 years and including 18 years with Architectural Digest (which took him, among other places, into the homes of Jennifer Aniston and Steve Jobs), MonoVisioN is Scott’s very first volume documenting his own journey behind the lens.

And boy, this is one book that really can’t be judged by its cover. Inside the understated gray linen lies a rich array of images that reward, teach, and tantalize. It’s also a who’s who of architects, designers, iconic buildings, exotic locales and fleeting moments. If you believe Scott’s life-changing mantra “You are what you shoot,” he’s made quite a definition for, and of, himself.

Scott has been photographer of choice to minimalists like Steven Harris and maximalists like Mario Buatta. “At first glance, it seems a disparate group, but they’ve been very successful marriages,” Scott notes. What makes these marriages work? Scott finds the decorative in the architectural, and the structured amid the decorative. Stark architecture is softened with light and people, color play and natural pattern, while ornate interiors are shot with order (often head-on symmetry) and precise geometry. “My eye errs towards organizing and simplifying and making an easy journey for the viewer. And I think that really helps, in a room like Mario’s,” says Scott. “Conversely, with the work of Richard Meier, it can look very antiseptic if it’s photographed in a cooler more detached way.”

Scott’s ability to warm up modernism has made a convert even of hard-edged Meier (an account he inherited from legendary mentor Ezra Stoller) through a fog that settled in on a shoot day. Instead of postponing until Meier’s signature bright blues, blinding whites and grass greens could be coaxed from sunnier skies, Scott saw the fog as a way of humanizing and romanticizing the residence. The image has proven to be a favorite of Meier’s. “It’s changed the way he sees his own work, and the way he wants his work to be seen. I think he’s come to realize that it should be warm and accessible...” He adds, emphatically, “Modernism can be romantic,” and that fog-cloaked building provides a compelling illustration.

In addition to bridging Meier’s shift in thinking, Scott’s career has spanned the industry’s shift from film rolls to pixels. He speaks fondly of the migration, not with a geek’s fascination, but a painter’s reverence. “Digital is, counter-intuitively, a way for photography to merge back into the old arts, the drawing and the painting.”

It’s also, according to Scott, a more accurate way to capture in an image what the eye naturally sees. “When we walk into a room, we can see that the room is lit, even a large room, by one candle. It may be very dim, but our eyes can adjust and see it. A film camera could never do that.”

“With digital, I can expose for the candle, I can expose for the table near that candle, I can expose even more, on another exposure, for the far corners of the room, and then I combine these three or four files together into one great file. I’m actually able to capture the real essence and spirit and atmosphere of a room now.”

Working digitally has also created shoots that are more about subtraction than addition to Scott. “I no longer ‘light,’ but I do eliminate light in photos. I travel with large sheets of black plastic, (the) ground cover to keep weeds down in the garden. It comes on 10 x 25 foot rolls, very inexpensive, extremely low tech,” he chuckles.