Scott Conarroe: Dawn Treader

Early riser Scott Conarroe: “After I’ve been out for a couple of hours, I might go back to bed.” (Photo: Eva Geilinger)

Photographer Scott Conarroe (MFA 2005) sets off in search of inspiration while most people are still tucked in their beds. His landscape photos are taken when the light is soft and kissed with the colors of dawn. His technique involves exposing large-format film for several minutes in subdued light, which has the effect of making rail yards, apartment blocks and highways look rather romantic and serene.

But he says there’s another reason why he gets up so early.

“It takes me awhile to set up the camera, so it makes me feel conspicuous and awkward in public—who’s that man with the cloth over his head?” says Scott with a laugh, on the phone from Toronto. “So it’s just as well that there aren’t any witnesses.”

While at NSCAD University to do his master’s degree, Scott became smitten with Halifax and photographed the harbor bathed in shades of pink and gold in the early morning light, deserted parking lots and old working-class neighborhoods with porch lights aglow. Although from Toronto, he came to be seen as an Atlantic Canadian artist.

But moving on to South Western Ontario after graduation, he had a similar response there; folks looking at his work thought he got them.

“I think it’s because I portrayed these scenes that they relate to realistically and tenderly,” he remarks. “There’s a certain amount of grittiness, a so-called realism, but it’s presented in a beautiful way.”

Over the past few years, he’s been on the move constantly, which is reflected in the titles of his most recent series By Sea and By Rail. By Rail, a survey of North America’s rail infrastructure, is the result of an eight-month trip in his Chevy Van. By Sea took him from Newfoundland down to Key West, Florida, around the Gulf Coast and up the west coast to Alaska—and it’s still not finished. He’s been desperately trying to stretch his budget to get to the Arctic.

And which is why news that he received the Duke and Duchess of York Prize, worth $8,000, was so welcome. According to the Canada Council for the Arts, it’s awarded annually to “the most outstanding visual artist working in photography, as selected from among all those awarded a Canada Council visual arts project grant.”

“It’s a real honor,” says Scott, who’s just waiting for an invite from the royals so he can put on his good suit. “It turns a lean-but-doable year into something more civilized. It’s a real luxury to work on my projects without worrying about paying for the groceries.”

Scott Conarroe, Shacks Island, Pipers Lagoon BC, 2010.