Scott Lowden Creates a Smile with The Corner Project

November 2, 2013

By Barbara Goldman

© Scott Lowden

The Corner Project from 1050 Ponce De Leon Place.

Photographer Scott Lowden has been taking on quite a few new projects lately that combine his advertising photo skills with a more personal side.  A few months ago we reported on his light Lord of the Flies adventure. . This month we present another project that is a bit deceptive in nature and quite inspiring.

Lowden is an award-winning photographer with over 20 years of experience shooting for some of the biggest brands, including Kodak, Coca-Cola,Delta and AFLAC, just to name a few.  He spent the first part of his career specializing in still life, a few years directing for TV and creating some festival-worthy short films and has been concentrating on lifestyle photography for the past 10 years. He also has been taking on many personal projects.  A few months ago we reported on his light Lord of the Flies. This month we have another personal project with a premise simple in nature but very inspiring.

1050 Ponce De Leon Place is a famous – some might even say notorious – old apartment building in Lowden’s neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia. The people living at this address are known as Section 8 which refers to the Housing Act of 1937, providing housing subsidies for low- income Americans. Lowden has lived in this area since 1992 and has observed many characters come and go from that building. He has also met some amazing people.

“One of the more surprising things I’ve noticed over the years is that many in this community are always smiling. I finally got the nerve to investigate. My idea was to get to know the people who lived at 1050 and ask them – why, with all that is against you, financially, physically – are you smiling a genuinely beautiful smile?” That thought was  the beginning of Lowden’s  project.

©  Scott Lowden

Lowden’s smile project focuses on the happiness and contentment found in Americans who by all appearances should have nothing to smile about, in particular the older people, the handicapped and those dependent on government aid for help. At first glance, the people who live at 1050 Ponce De Leon Place might fit this description. To those who drive or walk by, it could look as though there is just sorrow and desperation inside the hulking red brick apartment building. But there is a great deal more you might not expect— genuine happiness. Many of these people, although fighting battles with poverty or illness are truly content and are happy individuals.

The Corner Project has been a powerful story to put on film for Lowden. The smiles of his subjects are contagious and their spirit has impacted the neighborhood.  While Lowden’s smile project would seem to call for a documentary style, he approached it from an advertising perspective. “In my advertising work I lean toward capturing what exists but skewing it better, happier, snappier. In my fine art work I push documentary photography towards something a little more affected…in the direction I want the viewer to go,” he explains. 

Lowden wanted the basic story to be simple. He used available light, but supplemented it with additional lighting.  With his first subject, he shot with a Profoto battery strobe with an umbrella, Canon cameras, Leica cameras and some LED lights. At the end of the shoot, he  knew immediately he had too much gear.  With his second round of shooting, he used only two Canon cameras, each with a different lens that forced him to alter his perspective and two LED lights.  By the time he shot the third person, he realized that he now needed to record audio for their great stories and added a zoom H2N audio recorder.

Although he used a photojournalist’s camera, he shifted the color and values to create the message he wanted the viewer to take away. “I document the entire scene, but edit the images towards the message I’m trying to communicate. While it would be dramatic to document their pain and bad days, I’m choosing to illustrate their happiness, their gratitude and their brilliant smiles,” says Lowden.

©  Scott Lowden

Lowden would love to have The Corner Project done as a show or as a book, but his real motivation here was to shoot something he loves. A smile is so inviting and can bring such simple joy. The neighbors of 1050 Ponce De Leon Place give of themselves and in turn give us a gift with each photograph. See more of Scott Lowden at his website and visit his rep’s blog to see more of The Corner Project. He is represented by the Atlanta-based boutique agency Repgirl.