Photography by Scott Strazzante
Digital and Physical Photography On Sale Now

Scott Strazzante’s Whitney Houston

OnChain Magazine Editor-in-Chief Ceslie Armstrong’s interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist about his work and Whitney Houston NFT Show

by | 25 Aug, 2022

This show and story are part of the OnChain Media+Entertaiment “Women of Authenticity” series.

Ceslie Armstrong: Scott Strazzante, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and author is a talent and producer in our OnChain Media+Entertainment Original Studios — and we are so thrilled and excited to have him be part of the OCM+E family.

Scott Strazzante: Hi, Ceslie, so great to be here. I’ve got a big archive to dig into! People will be seeing a lot of it over the next months — and years, hopefully.

CA: Scott, will you please share —first hand — some background about yourself personally and your journey in photojournalism so far?

SS: Absolutely. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago where my dad was a tire dealer, and I was meant to take over the family business. But in college I was just like, ‘No, I don’t think I want to be a tire dealer’ [and] I fell into photography. I’d always loved sports and my family members were all big sports nuts in Chicago. We would go to many Bears games and Cubs, White Sox, and Bulls games.

PhotographY by Scott Strazzante

At some point, I think when I was 13 or 14, I started bringing my dad’s Canon to the games. It was funny: I would take these photos from the 20th row or the 40th row or wherever we were sitting and then get the film developed. I’d put them in a photo album and on each page I’d have 40 or 50 different little action photos from so far away.

My dad wasn’t much of a photographer but he gave me one bit of advice. He said to always shoot between F eight and F 11. I remember every time I shot for like the first three or four years, I’d make sure that little needle was between eight and 11. It was so funny when I finally realized that I could actually go lower or higher than that — but that was my introduction to photography. It was not meant to be a career option for me; I definitely liked it because of sports but I never thought I would do it for 30-plus years, like I have now. I went to a small college in Wisconsin called Ripon College, where I was a business major.

During my junior year, I came across the gallery of work by a Chicago Tribune photographer at the time, Paul Gero, and it was a lightning moment for me. I walked into this gallery, saw his work — a lot of which was from the neighborhood where I grew up in Chicago — and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’  I finished off college with an art major to go with my business major, and somehow my tiny hometown newspaper, The Daily Calumet, hired me as a part-time photographer. Everything I know now I learned by making mistakes. I think that first year I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to use a flash. I was afraid of people; I would literally hide behind trees when I was taking photos. I was able to make mistakes and go back and reshoot things.

Scott Strazzante

“We’re selling prints too. So you can have the NFT in your digital wallet to show and have the print shipped to you for the wall. So it’s definitely a multi-pronged Whitney Houston extravaganza here on OCM+E.” – Scott Strazzante

The biggest break for me — and not really a break, but the coolest thing for me at that time happened a year into my job at The Daily Calumet, which was bought out by another newspaper called The Daily Southtown, a suburban newspaper in Chicago, one of five or six newspapers at the time that covered professional sports. I could go shoot a White Sox game or a Bears game and not have to shoot it from the seats.

As time went on, I decided there was more to photography than just sports. I really started enjoying doing feature assignments and shooting long-term projects and photographing anything. Every day we had to go out and find a feature photo — whether it was a kid doing a snowball fight or kids playing with a sprinkler, it always seemed to be very kid-oriented. That was basically how I learned. It definitely was, for me, the perfect speed. I think if I would have been dropped into an environment that was a little bit more difficult or pressurized, I might not have been able to succeed, but that slow, easy learning curve for me was the best. And here I am today, speaking with you and thank God.

“I walked into this gallery, saw his work — a lot of which was from the neighborhood where I grew up in Chicago — and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.‘’’ – Scott Strazzante

PhotographY by Scott Strazzante
PhotographY by Scott Strazzante

CA: It’s exciting. I love to hear this because a lot of times working in a creative field can feel lonely, right? Especially in photojournalism that is assignment driven.

SS: Yes, for sure. Like you’ve said, people twist themselves into a pretzel trying to come up with a great idea, but I think that you have to start as general as possible. Whatever city you live in, give yourself an assignment to go out and just photograph a corner or photograph at a park or take an exterior photo of every business in this town. If you just did that and you made prints of 50 photos of the front of the businesses, and you put them away for 25 years, people would say, ‘Those are amazing. Look at that. I remember this, I remember that.’

I think sometimes people think that photography has to be formal, that it has to be with a professional camera. But iPhones are so great now, that’s really all you need. If you’re going to go to a certain level, of course, you’re going to need a [better] camera or faster lenses. But if you’re just starting, it’s more about getting used to documenting things. We all see the world in a different way: If 10 people with cameras went to the same places every day, they’d come back with totally different photos.

“We all see the world in a different way: If 10 people with cameras went to the same places every day, they’d come back with totally different photos.’’ – Scott Strazzante

CA: You just said, “give yourself an assignment.” I love that this is coming from a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist; I love the discipline and also the humbleness. And, yes, everybody sees the subject differently. This is what I think we certainly see in the talent that we sign for Originals Studio at OCM+E and with the shows we’re doing — these are subjects and people and places that maybe people would not have known about before. Through the photographers’ artistry and lens, we are the custodian to bring these images to blockchains to ensure provenance and build long-term value using smart contracts — and we’re extremely privileged to tell the stories behind them.

SS: My photography is broken into two very distinct categories: the work that I photograph for other people at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, and then there’s the photography of my personal work that I shoot for myself. I think that sometimes my personal work is a lot more creative and interesting than my newspaper work. Even after all these years, I’m still trying to be a little more creative with my newspaper work. But when I do my series of fine art photography at the ocean, which is at slow shutter speed, I just love doing that. It’s just going and playing and creating, and serendipity comes into it and there’s chance, and, every single image is completely different. It really is the photography that keeps me motivated. If I didn’t have personal projects or things I do on the side, I’d be burned out because newspaper work is very repetitive. I’ve always wanted to entertain myself and the internet has been a great outlet for me because I’m always creating content for social media and that keeps me fresh and evolving — and relevant. The last thing I want to do is become a caricature of myself, just trying to recreate photos I’ve made in the past.

PhotographY by Scott Strazzante

CA: Scott, I fell in love with your Whitney Houston images the moment you shared them with me. You really captured her in moments of pure joy on stage. I’m so happy you were invited to document this moment in Whitney’s life. We all miss her so!

SS: This is going back to 1991 and we were located in a place called Tinley Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. In Tinley Park was the New World Music Theater, which no longer exists. It was a huge amphitheater. I think it was like 11,000 seats and then a big lawn that had 17,000 capacity. Every year, the New World Music Theater would announce their schedule, and the photographer’s would be on alert: ‘Who’s coming? Who would I like to photograph?’

I remember in 1991, the schedule came out and I did a little research. In 1991, Whitney played on June 30; I think there was a Cubs game that afternoon, which I begged off to make sure that I could shoot the Whitney concert. Concert photography, in general for journalists is crazy because typically, the most you can shoot are the first three songs. At the Whitney Houston concert, we were only to shoot the first two songs — and these were good ones: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “So Emotional.” This was back in the film days, so I shot two rolls of film, or 72 photos, just on these two songs.

“Photographing Whitney Houston was just such a joy. You’ll see, in these photographs, the life in her that comes out.’’ – Scott Strazzante

If I was shooting that now with my digital camera, I probably would shoot a thousand photos in that two-song period, but because you had to have time to change the film after 36 exposures — and, of course, the best moment always happened while you were changing film. But going back to the Whitney concert: In 1991, she was everywhere. She sang at the Super Bowl that year, the greatest rendition of the National Anthem ever in my opinion. She was reaching the height of her popularity. Photographing Whitney Houston was just such a joy. You’ll see, in these photographs, the life in her that comes out. There’s a handful of them that just give me chills thinking about them. She was a beautiful woman and had such an amazing voice and to be able to document that was just amazing.

During the pandemic when I had some downtime, I went through all my negatives, which I’ve been carting with me from home to home over the past 20 years or so. When I photographed Whitney Houston, we were both 27. For the past 30 years, I’ve been carting around these Whitney Houston negatives, really unaware that I had them. I was like, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t realize I had these. When I got my loupe out, I started looking at them and said to myself, ‘These are amazing.’ I scanned a handful of them. The cool thing about film photography is that as long as you keep the negatives in a place that’s not too horrible, they are going to last forever. With a lot of the work I’m creating now, who knows in 30 years if it’ll even be accessible? It’s a great thing about the blockchain, these photos of Whitney Houston are going to live forever. Who knows what will happen with the negatives? I think one of the cool things about OnChain Media+Entertainment is that there are real-life tangible items that you can purchase that the digital NFTs represent, such as limited edition prints and some of the editions include my film of Whitney Houston that we are selling and I think those will probably go fast.

PhotographY by Scott Strazzante
PhotographY by Scott Strazzante
CA:Several of these images of Whitney almost look like they were done in a studio. They somehow have this motion and emotion to them. It’s hard to explain how a photograph looks, but at OCM+E, we tell the story of how a photograph makes you feel and the story behind it, and all of those things that emotionally connect us to artists like Whitney Houston. It’s not surprising to me, because I’m a fan too, that her image, her legacy is still so profound for people. That’s the endurance of a great talent. Now, for people to be able to participate in that through NFTs and physically have these items, this is something that’s really never been done before now. So now we know for sure that your images of Whitney Houston are going to live forever. There’s some comfort in that, I think.
SS: Absolutely, and for those out there wondering,’ we’re going to sell prints too. So you can have the NFT in your crypto wallet and you can also have the print on the wall. So it’s definitely a multi-pronged Whitney Houston extravaganza here at OCM+E.

CA: We love it. Scott, I have to say we can’t wait for the audience to experience all the incredible shows by the talent in our Originals Studio. Including more from you already filling up our Scott Strazzante Channel!

PhotographY by Scott Strazzante

SS: It’s been an amazing ride and one of the cool things is that I’m being exposed to the work of a lot of photographers I never knew existed. It’s so inspiring. There’s some great work out there. Also, a lot of what I’m doing with OCM+E is going back through my archives and breathing new life into old work. But creating new work just for NFTs is something that I’m very excited about. Plus, I’m going to give myself assignments. The work that results from that will only be available on OCM+E. I want to keep evolving. I want to stay relevant and NFTs breathe new life into my creativity. The whole world of NFTs and the permanence of it is what I really like. I have two photo books that have been published. But really, NFTs are really the only things that might exist in a hundred years. The legacy of an NFT photographer is something that never really was on my radar before but the more I think about it, it’s all about these images always being there. If I have popular images that resell after I’m gone, my children can be the custodians of my work. I think that’s pretty cool. I can’t wait for the years now to keep going. I think I got a couple of good decades left in me.

CA: You do, no doubt about that! Thank you so much, Scott, for allowing us to tell your story and publish your works.