Sisters Fine Art Photographer Scott Cordner — The Passion That Drives his Work

(Rhythm by Scott Cordner)

When you ask Scott Cordner what he considers to be his medium, he hesitates before landing on fine art photographer. That is because Cordner’s work moves beyond the large scale, panoramic canvases he is known for, and into his exacting style of woodworking and finished display. The two together — images and woodworking — bring an ethereal complexity to his work.

While the size of his prints may seem exceptional, the typical subject matter of his work is quite ordinary.

Scenes like the West Coast’s mountain landscapes, rivers and forest settings he chooses to shoot are everyday spots. Cordner uses his work to inform and inspire and place the world he sees within the reach of everyone. Perhaps, this is because he is also passionate about the preservation of these natural areas and is a conservation photographer. He has partnered with scientists like herpetologist Roland Knapp, who studies Yosemite National Park’s dwindling Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog population, nonprofits like American Rivers and consumer print outlets like Backcountry magazine in chronicling wild places where non-mechanized access is still the norm.

“My goal in every image I make,” says Cordner, “whether it is for a collection or for conservation is to introduce the viewer to the extraordinary beauty of an ordinary location, and start a dialogue.” For example, one of his more popular prints is a solitary Ironwood Birch tree on the snow-covered slope of

Mount Bakening on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. “There’s something so simple, but at the same time so remarkable about that tree.” And his clients want to know more and learn about that particular landscape.

Cordner came to photography after trading his short-lived career as an electrical engineer for a six- month hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. His interest in the medium prompted him to purchase an SLR camera, which he used to test the boundaries of film, light and subject matter, as he slowly made his way north from Mexico to Canada. That through-hike cemented his love of walking into nature with a camera. It was also his first taste of what monetizing his passion could look like and, when he resumed his life after his trek, he was committed to making photography his work.

Initially, it was his sense of adventure and mountaineering skills that gave him opportunity to document expeditions for magazines and content. His images depicted skiers on the sides of volcanoes, Quechuan caballeros escorting horses over high mountain passes and mountaineers celebrating accomplishments or sizing-up suffering. This led to providing stock and lifestyle imagery to visitors’ bureaus and eventually to conservation.

“The first time I entered the landscape with a scientist, it changed my perspective of what defined beauty,” Cordner reminisces. That day, he followed USGS scientists Adam Backlin and Elizabeth Gallegos into a drainage area above Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Their task was to count and tag the threatened California Red-Legged frog of Mark Twain fame. “It was incredible,” Cordner remembers. “As the two scientists waded in waist-deep water and past graffitied cement embankments, I was still able to capture the simple and the ordinary in a way that preserved that moment in time and told a story.”

This experience led to other assignments studying Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs in Southern California’s fire-ravaged San Gorgonio mountain range. And as he was mastering this style of telling conservation stories, Cordner was also honing his craft as a fine art photographer, creating masterful images of landscapes that he sold in galleries and through art shows in California, Oregon and Washington. It also inspired him to consider making his own frames using hardwoods that would not take away from the print but blend seamlessly with the image.

This gave him a sense of control over his work. “This is another creative outlet for me, and I enjoy sorting through the piles at lumber mills and selecting woods that I think would complement my subjects, like walnut, alder, oak, cherry and live edge pieces.” He also chooses black linen liners and has dispensed with glass. Instead, he uses an eco-friendly coating to protect his prints and preserve their integrity for hundreds of years. This attention to display allows a scene to emerge without distraction.

The meticulous precision Cordner uses to capture, process, print and finish his images is likely based in his training as an electrical engineer. He has developed processes and measurements for the style and format for his images, including a system that allows him to capture large (seven-foot) panoramic views. “When digital cameras first emerged, I loved the convenience but disliked the resolution.” In an effort to gain more resolution and make bigger prints, Cordner began experimenting with capturing smaller sections of larger scenes and stitching them together. “The process worked really well for panoramas and I was hooked.” This is something that Cordner believes sets him apart from others working as landscape photographers. “I definitely see the possible image in the panoramic format before I settle on which scene to shoot.”

Cordner captures images in the best possible light, which requires less processing. From there, he prints on canvas and cotton papers at his Sisters studio on a 44-inch Canon printer. This adds texture and a 3-D quality to his prints that are often mistaken as paintings, which Cordner considers a compliment to his style. While he has made prints on metal, he tends to avoid it. “I like to eliminate all traces of shine and reflection, and instead prefer a matte finish.” He believes this removes distraction from the image, and allows his finished prints to look good from any angle in a room.

“I think people who like my work understand and appreciate the way I approach making photographs,” Cordner states. “They sense my emotional connection to the landscapes I shoot, and even match that connection with their own love of the scene.” They also appreciate that Cordner is a one-man show when it comes to producing the end product — from making the image to printing, processing and display.

In 2018, Cordner decided to move from Portland to Sisters, and joined Hood Avenue Art first as a member; and then as a principal. “Having an ownership in a gallery has always been a goal of mine,” he says. “I like working with other artists and learning about their craft — it’s innovative and collaborative.” He also enjoys interacting with consumers — seeing their reaction to a piece of art on the wall inspires him to keep pursuing his passions.

While the COVID-19 pandemic offered Cordner the opportunity to get out and push the boundaries of his work, he is looking forward to this summer. He has accepted invitations to art and design shows in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming. He is also looking to expand his partnerships with nonprofits and other groups for conservation-related projects.

To see more of Cordner’s work, visit him online at Hood Avenue Art is located at 357 West Hood Avenue in Sisters’ Art District.

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