Naro Cinema in Norfolk, Virginia.

photo by: Kate Scott

March 28, 2019

How One Photographer Learned to Truly See Buildings

Kate Scott combines her training in urban studies with her natural curiosity to photograph architecture across the United States.

  • By: Emma Sarappo

Off the cuff, photographer Kate Scott can’t pinpoint the exact types of architecture that catch her eye. “Sometimes, it’s just sort of a feeling—‘Oh, that’s cool’—and I can’t necessarily tell you what I think is cool about it. I just go toward it,” she says. But the details that make it into her photographs of cityscapes and historic buildings tend to be the small ones—gargoyles atop skyscrapers, older brick bonds, and inscriptions in stone. She looks for “the evidence of the craftsmanship and the detail, that there was some time taken with it,” she says. “Obviously that time was worth it, because it’s still standing.

A former Pure Oil station.

photo by: Kate Scott

Former Pure Oil station, Cape Charles, Virginia.

Scott’s photographs engage with built environments across the country, from her native Midwest to the desert Southwest to the Atlantic shores of the East Coast. As she works to transition from hobbyist to professional, she shoots landscapes, buildings and wildlife, and maintains a robust stock photography portfolio and a personal Instagram account, @scottkatee. She combines the documentary style she learned in the preservation field with her own natural curiosity to both capture buildings as they stand and highlight their more interesting features.

As a child, Scott was always the photographer on family trips, but she started thinking seriously about the medium while pursuing her degree in urban studies at the University of Minnesota. Her major led her to her first historic preservation class. “They really encouraged us to get out in the field and observe,” she explains. “That really got me looking at the details of buildings: where buildings were sited, how they were placed, that sort of thing. Old buildings tend to have more detail and craftsmanship than the modern things, so I got focused in on that.”

That urge to document followed her into her work as an architectural historian, where her photos had to be centered and capture all the features of a building. When she moved out of the preservation field, that training bled into her photography and helped her stay connected with the landscapes—both natural and human—around her.

One thing about Scott's photography: She’s always looking up.

“Maybe that comes from growing up in a rural area where there are no big buildings—kind of little kid in the big city,” she laughs. “But once I got to bigger metro areas, there was a lot looking around at everything and looking up to see the human scale of things. For a lot of older buildings, you get more out of them from that perspective, by walking in the environment.” And armed with her telephoto lens, she catches details that were invisible to her naked eye.

Her Midwestern roots influence what kinds of details catch her eye. She’s from western Wisconsin, but now lives in Norfolk, Virginia; Before that, she lived in Richmond for a year. A stately Federal building or brick exterior with Flemish bond is especially interesting to her because those styles aren't often found where she grew up.

Likewise, on trips to Arizona and Nevada, the differences in architectural detail drew her in. “They also have structures that are several hundred or thousands of years old—some of the pueblos and different cliff dwellings,” she says. “It’s a totally different kind of built environment but still a really, really interesting one.”

Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve, California.

photo by: Kate Scott

Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve, California.

The result of that curiosity is photos that capture up close details that are easily overlooked. Here’s a carousel of Scott’s shots from across the country.

Headshot of editorial intern Emma Sarappo.

Emma Sarappo is a former Editorial Intern at the National Trust. She can be found writing or in the kitchen of her century-old DC rowhouse.

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