Canadian Geographic Photo Club - Interview with Remy Scalza

Interview with Remy Scalza


Remy Scalza's first experience abroad was in his third year of university, when he spent a semester in Australia. After that, the Vancouverite couldn't get enough of traveling. He spent nearly a decade in South America and Spain, teaching English as a Second Language and getting to know various cultures. He lists the Atlantic coast of Brazil and Cappadocia - a region in central Turkey where the Grand Canyon-type landscape captivates many a photographer, among his most memorable experiences. In his latest Canadian Geographic assignment, captured the colours, faces and history of the now hundred-year-old Calgary Stampede.

Remy Scalza

Remy Scalza is a writer and photographer based out of Vancouver, B.C. He began his career teaching English as a Second Language in Spain and South America. After nearly a decade abroad, he went back to school and got his master's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michael Jordan_s university he chuckles, where he immersed himself in writing and photography. Today, most of the photos that accompany his writing are his own.

Q What was covering the Calgary Stampede like?

AIt was a pretty unique assignment. [Canadian Geographic] sent me to the Calgary Stampede to cover the 100th anniversary. I was given the liberty to tackle the story any way I wanted. The unique part was that I was doing both the writing and photography.

The Stampede is an overwhelming sensory experience. For a photographer, it's kind of a dream because you have so much motion and colour. But for me it was a huge challenge as well, because I was there for a week. In that time, I had to get enough material for the story and get enough photos as well.

I try to start with a strict plan, like on Day One, I'll get all the photos, on Day Two I'll do interviews, and so on. But when you're in the situation, it doesn't work out that way. Suddenly in the middle of an interview, you'll see a beautiful chance for a picture. On the other hand, you may be taking photos while the action is unfolding and you have to put away the camera and take notes. It was a challenge for me, because there was so much to see and take in visually, and there was so much action happening.

Q What inspired you to pursue this career?

AThere's enormous satisfaction in capturing a beautiful image. Part of what appeals to me is that it's a completely different side of the brain you're using. In fact, sometimes on the spur of the moment, it's hard to switch back and forth between thinking as a writer and thinking as a photographer. The writer side is hyper-rational, thinking out every detail. Photography has more intuitive elements. It's more immediate and emotional. Any photographer will say that when you're contemplating a shot, there is a lot of thinking involved.

QDoes photographing the story help you write it?

AAbsolutely. Even when I'm not the photographer on the assignment, I'll take along a point and shoot camera. There's so much information captured in a single image that's really invaluable. Instead of sitting there scribbling away for five minutes, I can take a shot and refer to that when writing.

Another similar trick is to keep my voice recorder going for audio background, which comes in handy when you're writing the story. You can get the sound of clods of mud hitting the side of the Grandstand, for example.

QDon't you wish there were a way to record scent?

AYes. But at least I can take large amounts of video now. Suddenly, you have a big chunk of the experience captured and you can go back and recreate it without having to scribble everything down.

QWhat goal did you set out with when you covered the Calgary Stampede?

AWhat I wanted to do was show a bit more of the complexity of an event like the Calgary Stampede, because it is usually portrayed simply as a kind of joyous, celebratory fair, which it is. But there's a lot more going on behind the surface. For some people, it's work. It's their livelihood. You have people involved in the rodeo itself who are literally risking their lives. There are these socio-economic complexities involved. You get people from all walks of life coming together.

A lot of portrayals of the Stampede seem kind of sanitized in a way. It is obviously a happy occasion, but there's depth and subtlety there.

QYou've traveled around the world, from Tijuana, Mexico, to Kuwait, on photography assignments. What is it like photographing in these different areas?

AThe Stampede was not a difficult environment in terms of taking photos, because everyone's taking photos. It's an atmosphere where it's not uncommon to see a camera, which makes things a lot easier. Having said that, I think one of the perks of being a foreigner in a different place doing travel photography is that you do get a lot of license because you are the outsider or foreigner. So if you're acting strange or eccentric, that goes with the territory.

I think of course the other thing is and this is not unique to travel photography, you have to have thick skin, especially when you're photographing people. In some cases, it's better to shoot first and ask permission later. If not, you lose the spontaneity of the moment. In other cases, it's pivotal to ask permission first and then shoot. The better photographers out there have found a balance between the two.



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