Scott Kuckler creates photographs of raw beauty without the ‘tease’
Whether working digitally or in analog, Scott Kuckler is a photographer who has the unique ability to capture humanity and nature in its purest yet fully complex form. The sincerity of his work is evident in the imagery.
Kuckler grew up in the Midwest, attended art school in Boston and eventually moved to Europe.
“I spent most of my childhood in Iowa looking outward at the rest of the world planning my escape,” Kuckler tells me in an email interview.
“Small town Iowa wasn’t conducive to my big world perceptions and aspirations,” he adds. “As soon as I could I moved to the Boston area and enrolled at The Art Institute of Boston, but always had my sights set on Europe.”
Kuckler spent a decade in Germany and a year in Paris working as a commercial photographer.
The expat life “certainly influenced my work but not in the way one would expect,” he says. “The aesthetic I was, and am, more drawn to is more of an aesthetic prevalent in Eastern Europe where subtlety in tonality and ambiguity of compositional content is embraced, while what was emerging and has basically continued to be the trend in Western Europe and U.S. are brash colors and compositions.”
This rigidity has loosened over time, Kuckler acknowledges, but he notes his time in Europe allowed him to develop his own distinct style.
“The way the [expat] experience most influenced me was that it brought me outside of my comfort zone and isolated me in such a way that I was able to develop my style and technique where being from outside the culture made it more acceptable to move against the grain,” he explains.
Jobs working for fashion magazines, advertising agencies and film studios also allowed Kuckler access to darkrooms.
“Had I focused my attention more on the commercial work I did and not invest the time and resources into my art I could likely have been more successful commercially, but my goal has always been to create from my heart the work that I truly love,” he says.
This dedication and passion is evident in Kuckler’s fine art photography. He captures the human form at its most elemental and essential, most often in natural settings. Kuckler isn’t against indoor settings, he notes, but prefers the purity of nature and the human form. The latter is the reason nudity is essential to much of his work.
“Nudity is an important aspect of my work since it isn’t what we experience from day-to-day and lends a vulnerability to whom I photograph where a sacred trust is formed,” he says.
And Kuckler has no interest in the “tease” of shedding clothing, something he says tends to sexualize the image.
“I find that total nudity is paramount in that partial nudity nearly always pushes an overt sexuality that I tend to avoid in my work,” he says.
“If you look at what are considered sexy photographs, especially in magazines like Playboy and the like, the sexuality of the photograph is enhanced by the clothing that models wear in various sets of undress, yet is always present as a tease,” Kuckler continues. “That tease is antithetical to how I approach the nude both male and female.”
One striking feature of Kuckler’s photographs is the dynamic and (seemingly apparent) “authenticity” (implying the subject(s) do not seem to be experienced models but average humans stepping in front of the camera, perhaps for the first time). This isn’t intended to imply an amateurism on either side of the lens, it’s simply an observation of how “real” Kuckler’s photos seem.
I ask who he prefers to work with, and he notes his preference for non-professional models.
“Professional models, especially well-seasoned models generally develop a universal catalog of poses they provide to every photographer, which to me can prevent spontaneity and connection – [and these are] the aspects I seek,” he explains. “Someone with little or no experience is going to connect more during a shoot and respond better to encouragement and direction than a model who has practiced poses and an expectation borne of experience.”
The authenticity and sincerity Kuckler seeks in his work runs deep. He favors analog equipment to capture his artistic imagery. I ask him if it’s frustrating to digitize images for viewing online.
“It’s certainly a bit frustrating to convert my work to digital to post it online since the texture and scale of the print is obscured,” Kuckler explains. “From time-to-time I’ve posted videos to capture these aspects and should probably do it more regularly.
“But what is wonderful about the world of online and social media that wasn’t present for the early part of my career is the ability to have my work seen and appreciated around the globe by people whom I would otherwise have never had the opportunity to present it to.”
As someone who discovered his work online, I’m grateful he’s adapted.
“I’m trying to embrace how the world today works where online presence is paramount as compared to the past when my career was beginning where the only avenue was to cold call galleries and publications, making appointments and physically lugging one’s work with to either be praised and accepted, or more often criticized and ridiculed,” Kuckler says.
And in certain instances, Kuckler opts to use a digital camera.
“The Moonlight series evolved from an experiment where I took my digital camera (that I purchased primarily to photograph my finished prints) to the beach to shoot time exposures of landscapes,” he says. “My wife Holly suggested early on having models pose in these landscapes. What evolved from an experiment turned into a series, where creating these digitally is more conducive to the process than shooting them on film since the varying conditions, long exposures and the fact that they are produced in nearly complete darkness allows more control over the process.
“They have a magical feel and the results are always surprising, even to myself,” he adds.