Scott Ball: Understanding Life through a Viewfinder

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Scott Ball poses for a photo with friends. Courtesy Photo.

I don’t exactly seek attention. My job is to go unnoticed while pointing this little black machine at moments other people are having in their daily lives. So when I was tasked to write about myself, to introduce myself to Rivard Report readers (and visual connoisseurs) my stomach started to turn. I’m behind the camera for a reason and I prefer to keep it that way. The only way I know how to write this personal introduction is by telling you how I decided to pick up the camera in the first place, and the journey I have since traveled.

A woman walks through a downtown street in San Antonio Texas.  Photo by Scott Ball.

A woman walks through a downtown street in San Antonio Texas. Photo by Scott Ball.

When I was 11-years old my family was in the middle of rough times, and what I understood as a healthy family dynamic was actually quite the contrary. My parents were fighting and it was becoming a problem. I was invited to go on a school field trip to New York City with a theater class, and I was lost with excitement. New York felt like an unreachable land, in my current state of familial upheaval, and also by any measure of what I knew as normal life.

My parents generally stayed in and around Texas, seldom if ever leaving. There was never a sense of adventure in my childhood. I had to make adventure for myself. When it was time to prepare for the NY trip I asked my parents if I could take a camera to document my findings in the big city, and they agreed. I received a small compact Nikon film camera that fit in my pocket and was simple to use.

When I arrived in New York I fell in love with the people and the relationship between New Yorkers and their environment. I photographed the tourist attractions, the Empire State Building, the Twin Towers, and the Statue of Liberty because I felt like I had to, not because I truly wanted to.What I really wanted to photograph — and did — was the man on the corner with a black poodle , the woman weaving her way between taxis on a busy avenue. Every moment meant something to me and I wanted to capture it all.

By the time I returned home, my family had fallen on harder times. My parents announced their pending divorce, and my mother was diagnosed with a case of advanced breast cancer. My life was thrown out of balance and I didn’t know how to cope, unable to handle terrible situations face-to-face. My only reaction was to cover my face with my pale hands, as if I could pretend to physically remove myself from the present reality.

I’ve always dreamt of being a photographer, yet I didn’t pick up the camera up in those tumultuous years. I found my way back to the camera in my early 20s, although I still wasn’t ready to dive deeply into photography, fully committed. In fact, I found myself in a longterm relationship that took me away from photography. I sold my camera to make ends meet.

A street portrait of a man on Ash Wednesday in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

A street portrait of a man on Ash Wednesday in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

It wasn’t until the end of that relationship and my 25th birthday that I rediscovered the camera and my passion for photography. Still, I didn’t have a plan, only a calling and a deep need that photography could meet. I was working on an ambulance as an emergency medical technician, an EMT, unhappy with my daily routine. I had a little money from the savings account from my former marriage, and without much fear, I decided to go all in and purchase a camera. Now I was broke, but I had a camera and that was something.

While living alone for the first time in five years, I started to find myself going for long walks with just my camera. It was my first time living anywhere near downtown and San Antonio suddenly made sense to me. I quickly experienced an overwhelming comfort as I held onto a camera walking through unknown places with nowhere to be and nobody waiting on me to return home. I would get lost in Brackenridge Park, the University of the Incarnate Word Campus, and downtown.

A child runs down the stairs at The Arneson River Theatre.  Photo by Scott Ball.

A child runs down the stairs at The Arneson River Theatre. Photo by Scott Ball.

Not long after this discovery I met Michael Cirlos III, a local photographer of a project called Humans of San Antonio (HOSA). We instantly connected with our shared passion for photography and spent many long nights talking not only about our work, but our lives, and the future they might hold. Michael needed help keeping up with the rapidly growing project and invited me to come along as the second member of Humans of San Antonio.

A photograph captured for the project Humans of San Antonio.  Photo by Scott Ball.

A photograph captured for the project Humans of San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

I took the photograph above of this man whom I met during my lunch break and posted it with our conversation:

“My mom passed away not too long ago.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“It made me feel like I wanted to throw a rope over a tree and end it all. I wound up not having the nerve to go through with it. You just have to keep working and keep surviving.”

Within a matter of seconds this man completely opened himself up to me. It was in this moment that I realized the power the camera held, the places it could take me, and the people that will impact me along with it. After this I thanked him for the photograph, walked around the corner, and shed tears for this man. I suddenly, and without question, realized exactly what I needed to do with my life.

I traveled with my camera to Seattle and Vancouver and came back with this photograph.

"Smoke Bomb" was taken in Seattle Washington.  Photo by Scott Ball.

“Smoke Bomb” was taken in Seattle Washington. Photo by Scott Ball.

After about a year of working with Humans of San Antonio, Michael and I decided we wanted a change of direction. I wanted to go into journalism, while Michael wanted to dedicate more time to HOSA. That program gave me the courage to approach people, to ask questions, and to take portraits of strangers. I owe so much of who I am today to Michael and Humans of San Antonio.

Fast forward a few months. I was still working as an EMT, but now at the San Antonio Zoo and part time at San Antonio B-Cycle, still craving photography work. The Rivard Report did a story on HOSA about that time. I had admired the Rivard Report’s work and sent a brief email to Managing Editor Iris Dimmick, suggesting the visual journalism I could contribute. This email happened to show up at the perfect time, one week away before Fiesta 2014. I was given a handful of assignments right off the bat, and we were off.

A folklórico dancer dressed head to toe in colors and medals, performs during the crowning of El Rey Feo LXVI on Saturday April 19, 2014. Photo by Scott Ball.

A folklórico dancer dressed head to toe in colors and medals, performs during the crowning of El Rey Feo LXVI on Saturday April 19, 2014. Photo by Scott Ball.

I felt like I had grown wings. I instantly was a part of something important for this city and it’s people, and I had access to everything, and it was glorious. Fiesta was one hell of an introduction into my career of journalism – a San Antonio tradition that took a lot out of me. I couldn’t have been more proud to give the Rivard Report readership my view of our city’s deeply-rooted historic culture during our most celebratory of events.

Dancers at the 2014 Diwali festival at Alamo Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.

Dancers at the 2014 Diwali festival at Alamo Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.

I didn’t know if I could top my experiences with Fiesta, but then the Spurs went to the NBA Finals.  As a life-long Spurs fan, I covered every Finals game with writer Hunter Bates from the unique vantage point of the fans in the cheap seats. When the Spurs were playing Game Two, I was outside with undoubtedly the biggest Spurs fan of them all, Earline Miller, who was unable to secure tickets to the game and was convinced that she had to be in attendance or the Spurs would lose. They did, 98-96.

Earline Miller looking discouraged after learning The Spurs were down in the fourth quarter. Photo by Scott Ball.

Earline Miller looking discouraged after learning The Spurs were down in the fourth quarter. Photo by Scott Ball.

I also had the honor of being in the locker room when The Spurs won it all for the fifth time and grabbed this shot of Kawhi Leonard with his MVP trophy. Before walking in, I started hyperventilating because of the overwhelming nervousness and excitement. As always, when I put the camera to my eye I found myself removed and able to capture the moment.

Kawhi Leonard holds his MVP trophy high after the Spurs' win of the 2014 NBA Finals. Photo by Scott Ball.

Kawhi Leonard holds his MVP trophy high after the Spurs’ win of the 2014 NBA Finals. Photo by Scott Ball.

In 2015 I gave myself two goals. One was to start a personal project that would allow me to grow as a photographer. I started a blog titled “Eyes to the Ground” in which I give photography tips to people interested in documentary and street photography. I thought to myself: what better way to learn than to teach? The second goal was to become a full-time photographer by the end of 2015, and I am happy say I have successfully reached that goal.

A street portrait of a man in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

A street portrait of a man in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

This marks my one-year anniversary with The Rivard Report, only now I am a full-time member of the team, or the family, as Robert Rivard calls our people-filled office. I am happy to say I am celebrating as the full-time staff photographer and photo editor, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity. As of late. I’ve been focusing more on the history of photography and have enrolled in a darkroom class at the Southwest School of Art to learn the foundation of my chosen field. I’m not sure if this is making me a better photographer, or if it’s just making me more aware, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

The camera is my chosen tool to make sense of the world. It allows me to cover my face and disappear visually from my environment. It removes me from situations of great sadness, celebration, or danger and replaces it with a single moment that, well, lasts forever.

Related Stories:

Home Again in San Antonio

Jaime Solis: From Rockport to the Rivard Report

San Antonio: A City on the Rise

Photo Gallery: The Spurs Ride the River to the Alamodome

14 thoughts on “Scott Ball: Understanding Life through a Viewfinder

  1. You’re a great photographer! I always enjoy seeing your photos in Rivard Report. You’ve got a great eye, and a style that is easy to recognize. Kudos!

  2. Wonderful story and work. I wish I still had my first camera, not for the quality, but for connection to a youthful time when everything is possible.

    • Robert, just now seeing this. Thanks so much for pointing it out, I looked it up and am amazed by the similarities. I would love to meet Jesse and talk about this.

      -Scott

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