"That Year of Living" is the chronicle of a photo editor who returns to making his own photos again after a brush with mortality, but it's also an examination of whether the genre of street photography is "worn out." One after another, in the 38 images on the gallery walls (and additional images in the catalogue), Scales' photos evoke that across-a-crowded-room experience of sudden, clarifying connection in the midst of buzz and clutter. Further, they bespeak an immersion and physical engagement with one's surroundings that surely alters any photographer's practice and relationship with their subject.
I spoke with Scales the morning after Light Work's opening reception for the exhibition last week, which remains up until May 27th. Here's part of our conversation:
NKR: ...[Your wife] talks in her essay about pretending to be brave and not really being brave, before you had had your treatment, and when you were recovering from that. One of the things that's interesting to me is that you started taking pictures when you were eleven, when you got your first camera. At thirteen you were taking pictures of the Black Panthers and having them published in their paper. You were in 'Time Magazine' when you were fourteen.
NKR: Do you think that you were encouraged in that because your mother was a painter?
JHS: Well, because my mother was a painter and my father was an amateur photographer - we had a whole darkroom at our house. He was a big camera swap-meet guy. So he was always - 'Here, try this camera. This one's better. Try this one, try that one.' So he gave me a Leica and within a few months I insisted that I wanted to have a Pentax. Decades down the road I'm like, where is that Leica? Now I can't afford one. I had one. So he was very supportive and I remember when I got out of high school - or when I was in my early 20s - the last camera he got me, I said, 'Well, I need to have a Hasselblad.' So he got the Hasselblad. He said, 'This is the last one. You're maxed out on the cameras.' It's expensive. I mean, he was Mister Swap Meet, so he got a good deal, but still. You know, I had to trade some of the other camera stuff. I still have the Hasselblad and I used the Hasselblad for dozens of years. They're wonderful devices.