Episode 2: Scott Jarvie on Faith in America and crowdfunding art
In this episode, Mormon Artist podcast host Katherine Morris interviews photographer Scott Jarvie on his Faith in America project. Scott has traveled to all 50 states in the United States over the past 13 months, photographing LDS temples and religious buildings of different American faiths for his two upcoming books: American Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Religious Buildings of the United States. Scott also discusses his use of social media and crowdfunding to stay connected to fans and gather financial support for his creative projects.
- Interview date: October 28, 2014
- Scott’s bio
- Scott’s website
- Nebraska church with lightning strikes
- Previous Mormon Artist interview with Scott: 2010
- Podcast song: “Blackberry’s Hedge” by Secret Jane. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US
Katherine Morris: Welcome to the Mormon Artist podcast. Today we are speaking with Scott Jarvie. Hi, Scott.
Scott Jarvie: Hello, that’s me.
Katherine: Scott Jarvie has been a full-time photographer since 2008. He’s traveled all around the world shooting weddings and also doing travel photography and some portraiture. He grew up in San Diego, and he’s currently work on a “Faith in America” project, where he has been traveling around all 50 states in the United States to LDS temples as well as other religious buildings.
So, Scott, where are you right now?
Scott: I am in Delaware. By the way, this is the 50th state, so I’ve been on the road for 13 months for this project and, you got a hold of me right at the end. Right at the 50th state. I’m not completely done, but, here we are at the 50th state.
Katherine: Okay, that’s awesome. So, where in Delaware are you? I mean, tell me what your immediate surroundings are.
Scott: Okay, hey, yeah. So, that’s a fun question. I am in my favorite type of country or area, and that is Amish country. And I didn’t know too much about the Delaware Amish. I always think of Lancaster, Pennsylvania or Ohio or Indiana or even Wisconsin. But here we are, and I’m living in an Airstream. I’m parked outside of a friend’s house, and every once in a while, I’ll hear the hooves of an Amish carriage going to its next location; going home after the work day, or something to that effect.
Katherine: That sounds very rustic.
Scott: Yeah, it’s pretty neat. Fall is finally happening around in these parts, so it’s been nice.
Katherine: That sound gorgeous. Speaking of your rustic environment, you have been traveling around in a 1963 Airstream trailer. What is that?
Scott: Okay, so, you’ve got trailer—you hear the word “trailer” and you hear the word “RV,” and stuff like that. Well, Airstreams are the only thing you really don’t call RVs or trailers; you call them Airstreams. They’re like the Cadillac of the trailer world. You know, when I pull up to a gas station, someone inevitably asks me, “Hey what year is that? Oh, man, that’s nice.”
But as a photographer, I needed something light. Well, that’s not the photographer part. I needed something photogenic that I could take pictures of, and I needed something light, because I don’t have a truck; I just have my Toyota Venza, which is still a V6—but it’s a small little trailer; it’s eighteen feet. So, it’s been nice.
Katherine: So, you’ve been living in this trailer for the past thirteen months?
Scott: Yes. One month I took off to do Hawaii and Alaska. And I also had a photo shoot in London.
Katherine: The trailer didn’t go with you to Hawaii?
Scott: No. Or Alaska or London.
Katherine: So, talk to me about these two books that you’re doing.
Scott: Okay, yeah. So, there’s two books. When I first got, I guess you could say the inspiration to do the book—I was already starting to put the temple pictures into book stores like ldsbookstore.com and at Deseret Book. They were there as well. So, when I was trying to figure out, last year, what I was going to do coming up. It’s like, you know, you have those moments when you’re like everything’s good, but I need to do something more—I need to step it up. And I had three options, and prayed about it, and the answer was option four.
Katherine: Do we get to know what the other options were?
Scott: The other options? Other very large projects that I still want to do, and I’m hoping that they’re next, now that this project is done. But, you know, you’re going to have to tune in later, because—
Katherine: So, stay tuned. Okay.
Scott: So, the idea first was to do a book of LDS temples, and I figured if I could get some funding on Kickstarter by pre-selling, by offering some of these books, that I could get some money to be able to afford to live on the road for a year. And not—I’d have to not do as many weddings, or kind of leave those behind for a year. However, it became a much bigger project where I was going to be going to all 50 states and photograph all different religious building of all different religions in all 50 states.
And I’ve done that; and so, there’s two books. The one book is at the printer, and the next book— I’ll be spending a couple of months sifting through 200,000 pictures, to find the best ones to put in there, and getting some writings to get in there as well.
Katherine: Wow! So, the one at the printer—that’s the temples book, is that correct?
Scott: Yes, American Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Katherine: Okay. It’s at the printer’s. So, when is it released?
Scott: It is at the printer, and we have a date. They promised me that it would be printed by the 18th of November and shipped to me so that I would have them in plenty of time before Thanksgiving—as you know, the day after is a somewhat popular day to start your Christmas shopping, and this really is a Christmas-type gift.
I’ve seen people pre-ordering them and getting five or six books at a time. A lot of people just get one, but it’s important that I get it by that date. So, I’m pretty excited. I’ve been working on that a lot in the last couple of weeks. It turns out, it’s not an easy thing—making a book.
Katherine: Turns out. So, what are some of the challenges of making a book?
Scott: Some of the challenges are just that—the margins all have to be perfect and correct. We’re talking about, besides all of the content—all of the pictures that are in there. I spent some time selecting. I hired a designer, someone to research and get some stories in there and lay it all out. But, moving pictures around and all of that stuff—but even after all of that, going through again and again and again—proof after proof, and just like, oh, here’s a little mistake and here’s a little mistake and here’s a little mistake. And five or six editions later, we’re still—me and several other people with more of an eye for scrutiny, I guess…
Katherine: Proofreading. Yeah.
Scott: Proofreading. So, we hired a copyeditor, but there’s still even more stuff like that—little lines that need to go here, and the spaces here, and design and style. I just want to take really cool pictures, ’cause that’s what I’m good at. Now I’m having to figure out how to be good at making books.
Katherine: Yeah. Well, I’ve done some editing and, gosh, you think that you’re done—that every double “the” is corrected, and every line break is beautiful—and then you get the next print, and on the first page you see a typo that you didn’t see before, or something.
Scott: And then you find out that not everyone’s computer is as fast as yours, and it takes them five or six hours to re-render a PDF. Because the book is quite large; it’s about 280 pages. Not just about—it is 280 pages.
Katherine: So, about how many photos of LDS temples are in it?
Scott: Oh, good question. We’ll have to count those up.
Scott: Well, there’s several—there’s more than one per page.
Scott: Maybe an average of two, but probably not quite that many. So, we’re talking at least 500 pictures in there.
Katherine: Okay, wow. So, how many temples is that?
Scott: There’s 70 temples in the United States. In the appendix I added some Canadian ones, and I actually put in Payson, just for fun, because I had some really good pictures of it, even though it’s not done.
Katherine: So, talk to me about photographing temples. That’s a lot of temples. A lot of them look kind of similar, so how do you approach that kind of a project when you’re photographing—in some ways—the same building over and over again? I realize they’re all unique and special in their own ways, but it seems like it could get repetitive after a while, so how do you approach that kind of a project?
Scott: It’s not just the fact that I’m photographing temples all of the time; I’m photographing just religious buildings nonstop every day for over 300 days. When I’m done with this, I’m going to take a break from buildings because it is a little repetitive.
There’s days when I’m thinking, “Wow, this isn’t that super glorious stuff—when you’re like, I’m going to go to Iceland and photograph waterfalls and happy things and travel around the world and take pictures of the most amazing scenes in the world.” Sometimes I’m taking pictures of very mundane buildings.
For me, though, I appreciate the fact that I’m doing a project that will benefit people’s life and that will add to the dialogue of faith and that will help people out a little more spiritually—not just taking pictures of beautiful things all day long.
When I do get in those moods where it is feeling a little overwhelming, the answer is, sleep. I go to bed, and I wake up refreshed, and I’m like, let’s go for it—let’s do this. It’s been more of a character-building type project where I said I was going to do this thing, I’m going to do it, and I just don’t worry about it. I just keep the eye on the prize, keep working hard, and stop worrying about those difficulties. And if I do get overwhelmed, I take a nap.
Katherine: I like it. Okay, so that’s kind of how you approach it philosophically—you keep the grand vision in mind. As a photographer, how do you approach it?
Scott: Oh. Well, I pull out my wide-angle lenses, and I walk around the building, if it’s possible. I’ve taken, I think at this point in my life, well over a million pictures. And so a lot of that has to do with experience. When I see something, I know how to approach it to make something look beautiful—and then I also try a few different new things on each different building. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Especially with the temples—I’m usually there at sunrise or sunset, and I will walk around first, before the light gets good. And then by the time I’m done and ready to go do another lap around the building, the light is perfect, so it’s go time. And sometimes I have to run. It’s like, okay, now that it’s the perfect light, I have to get everything I just did in 30 minutes in these next three minutes or these next five.
Katherine: Sounds exciting!
Katherine: What kinds of buildings have you taken pictures of aside from the LDS temples?
Scott: I would like to think that I’ve photographed every different type of religion, but I know that there’s a few I probably have not gotten. So, we’re talking the big Catholic cathedrals and the small community churches. Even some strip mall churches where all you are really taking a picture of is the front door with the sign. It’s next to a—who knows—next to a Subway or something.
But other ones are like a lot of countryside churches—a lot of Lutheran churches, because some of my favorite ones are these Lutheran churches in the middle of nowhere, in like North Dakota. They were great! You couldn’t even see a house from them. What are they doing here? And they’re old, from the late 1800s. Just small, very manageable-sized buildings. A walk around them will take a minute.
Katherine: That’s neat. You talked about funding this project. How have you gone about doing that?
Scott: I funded the project by giving rewards to people that used Kickstarter to fund me. I said, “I know that this project will probably cost—to live on the road, to pay for the gas, to pay for the book printing—about $100,000 to $110,000 for that year. But if I raise about $70,000 from Kickstarter, then I’m willing to do it, and I’ll figure out the rest.”
So, that’s about what happened. It’s cost about that much. I raised $70,000 on the last day, actually. It was down to the wire. Everyone, even myself—I was like, okay, it’s not going to happen. I’ll figure out a way, though. At the last moment, it came through. Kind of a miraculous story for another day. It’s actually going to be in the forward of the book. I’ve loaned the project the rest of the money from the book sales, though. It will come back, so I have no worries about that happening.
Katherine: Okay. On your Kickstarter, was it mainly pre-orders of the books you offered, or were there some other things you offered?
Scott: The books, calendars. There’s actually an LDS temples calendar that’s already done and in bookstores around the country—in a lot of Deseret Books and online on my website. Books and screen saver packs, and—what else did I do? A couple of workshop opportunities—one-on-one tutorials type thing. A lot of people got multiple books, where they bought both of them: the temple book and the Faith in America book.
Katherine: Okay. Cool. So, I’ve noticed that you have a presence on a lot of social media. In addition to your website, jarviedigital.com, you’ve got Instagram, You’ve recently been putting up—you said you have twenty days’ worth of video blogs? I was just looking at some of those on YouTube. You have a blog, and you’re on Twitter.
Scott: I’m everywhere.
Scott: You go to the website and put “/jarvie,” my last name, J-A-R-V-I-E. You just put that at the end of some social media thing, and you’ll probably find me there.
Katherine: I know you do this because you have a lot of fans, people who are interested in your work. How do you manage all of those social sites? What have you found to be useful? How do you use them?
Scott: Wow, yeah, there’s a ton, isn’t there? Like, today, I took pictures from a wedding that I did in San Francisco on Saturday, and I picked about two or three different pictures. I edited them—because I’m going to have to edit them anyway to give to the client.
So, I picked three or four different pictures, and I dropped them on each one of the sites. And the text, maybe, is the same, but the picture was different on each one of them, so they don’t feel like they’re just getting duplicates—so it feels like there is some value to following me in these different places.
It doesn’t take me too long. Well, the editing does, but like I said, I had to do it anyway. The posting doesn’t take very long. I have some shortcuts, and I just go to them, and I put it into Facebook, I put it into Google+, I put one into Instagram, and I put one into a new site called Ello. Yeah, so that was fun. And then I took one of the pictures—it has the thumbnail of that daily video from when I did the wedding. So, all sorts of different sites, right?
Katherine: Okay, that’s interesting. So, you have recently started using Patreon. What is that?
Scott: So, yeah—your audience; we’re talking about Mormon artists. So, I’m going to guess that there are Mormon artists out there doing cool things.
Patreon is like Kickstarter. Kickstarter helped me to do this one big project, this one-time thing. Now I do this daily stuff—I post stuff daily, and I do these daily videos, and I have lots of different projects coming up.
So, I decided to use Patreon, which is a crowdfunding for consistent content creators. People like yourself that are creating content that people are appreciating. People right now are listening to your podcast and finding some value in it.
Maybe people are watching my daily videos every day. There are quite a few people that will watch my video each day, and to them that may provide some value that they go, “You know what? We appreciate it. Keep doing it. Here’s a dollar or here’s two or five. It’s the crowdfunding mentality where five dollars might not do too much for you—but if you do it for 200, or 500, or a 1,000 different fans are that committed and loyal, then it will make a big impact. And you’re able to increase the quality of your creations, increase the frequency—and more time you’ll be able to have to work on those projects for people and keep creating.
Katherine: As you have been traveling around the United States, have you been able to meet some of your fans?
Scott: I’ve been traveling for thirteen months, but I just started using Patreon. And I noticed, in the first twelve months, there was a lot of people that I met with that said they were big fans, they’d been longtime fans and loved what I did. And I was like, well, that was a nice thing to say.
Then I realized they weren’t kidding. They really had been viewing all of the posts (and that’s great, because I put them out there to be viewed). But I had no clue who they were, and up until that point when I came into their town—that was the very first time they had said anything. And so I wanted to have better connections with people.
So, now, in this last month, it’s been really good because now I’ve met with them, I’ve had dinner, I’m doing this series of portraits of patrons. They’re scattered all around the country, maybe even around the world. And I’m trying to kind of group them together, and get to know to them a little bit better, and bring a few of them out of the shadows so that I know who they are. Maybe, they’re watching this right now—I’m going to share it on my social media—and maybe they’re going to go and watch the interview and go, “Oh, I’m that person he’s talking about.” And then we’ll have some sort of—valuable to the both of us—kind of connection.
I think that resource, specifically that Patreon provides, does even better because there’s this added connection when you say, “Hey, I’m his patron,” or something to that effect. It doesn’t matter. A fan’s a fan, and they don’t have to be a patron, but I just wanted to make better connections. I think that’s the answer to your question, right?
Katherine: Yeah, it is. That’s really neat. So, you’ve been taking pictures of some of these people who have been contributing to your Patreon?
Scott: Yeah. I’ve been having a lot of fun just getting a small powerful group of people together. Don’t get me wrong, I love having—you know, whatever, 200,000 people on some of these social networks. The number is really cool, and it does open some doors, which is the more important thing; it allows me to do more cool projects to have those large numbers.
But the real power comes in really strong connection with your loyal, supporting fans—the people that will when you say, “Hey, I need help with this,” they’re the ones who actually do it. You can have a 100,000 people, but how many of those people are actually going to help you live your dreams, help you do your dream projects—the things that will make you and others happy?
Katherine: Yeah, that sounds really neat. I think a lot of artists probably never—I’m sure a lot of artists do meet some of their fans, but some probably don’t, at least not in that way, where you’re actually taking pictures of them. I feel that there would be a very mutual appreciation that would grow from that.
Scott: I’m hoping so. And it’s looking that way, so far, after a month.
Katherine: You’ve been traveling thirteen months, taking pictures of religious edifices. What do you have to say about religious edifices in the United States?
Scott: They come in all shapes and sizes and colors and locations. It’s just so widely diverse, and I think that America gets a bad rap when you compare it to European religious buildings. We’re, like, “Oh, you need to go to Europe because that’s where all of the beautiful ones are. The United States doesn’t have them.”
But when you go around the United States—it’s a big place. They are there, and they are beautiful. Maybe they’re not as old, yes—we get that. There aren’t as many built with stone, yes, so we get that. But they are so diverse. And they’re more diverse than anything you get in Europe—that’s for sure.
And there are the big beautiful ones, just like anywhere else in the world. It’s just that they’re not in every single city. There are plenty of cities that they just start to look alike. There are certain sections of the country where there are, maybe more photogenic ones than the others. But there certainly are a lot, and they’re diverse—and there certainly are lots of different religions here, in the United States, that is.
Katherine: And some of them are in the middle of North Dakota.
Scott: Some of them are miles away from the nearest house in North Dakota.
Katherine: My last question is, Scott, you must have so many stories from your thirteen months of traveling. So, tell us a story.
Scott: Okay, this is a story I tell a lot because it’s so vivid in my mind because it was in the beginning of my trip—where everything was fresh. I was learning how to travel across country while taking pictures and getting up super early and staying up late and driving and driving and going.
I had been driving most of the day through Wyoming and Nebraska, and I didn’t get as far as I thought I was going to get. I was trying to get to Winter Quarters temple. That did not happen, so I pulled off the freeway around sunset and I said, “I don’t know where I’m at,” but sunset’s about to happen, and I’ve got to take some good pictures. So, whatever town I end up in here, wherever this is, I’m going to have to take some pictures here.
It didn’t look promising. The town had one church, I think, or two churches in it. Where’s the next town? Oh, wait, it’s thirty minutes away. Dang it. So, I parked at a gas station and started to fill up with gas and a guy with a purple Mohawk pulled up next to me and said, “What year is that Airstream?” He’s like, “Whatcha doing?”
I told him about my project, and he’s like, “Oh, you need to go into Omaha, ’cause…”
I was like, “Well, the sunset’s happening now.”
“Okay, well, you need to go over to the next city.”
I’m like, “Well, you know, I still can’t make it there.”
And he’s like, “Well, there’s this really old, cool church.”
I was like, “How far is it?”
He’s like, “It’s still twenty minutes away.”
I was like, “Well, can’t do that, either.”
He’s like, “Well, here in town there’s two churches.”
I was like, “Well, I saw that.”
He’s like, “I know one of the ladies, tell her I sent you.”
I went over there, had a great conversation with her, took pictures. A lightning storm started to roll in, and I was trying to get some pictures of it, but then I decided, it’s so far away I’ve got to get going. But I was like, well maybe I’ll go try out this old church in the middle of nowhere that he told me about in Nebraska.
I went over there, and he was right. I think the town had four houses, five houses. It was pitch dark everywhere. I couldn’t even see the church at all, but I pulled into what I thought was the driveway of it, and luckily it was. I got out and I was like, where is this church? It was so dark that I couldn’t even see it, and it was like 50 feet away—well, 100 feet away.
I set up my tripod and ran back into the car. I set it up to take pictures every thirty seconds and ran back to the car, because it was in the middle of the cemetery with an oncoming lightning storm, pitch dark, in the middle of nowhere, and I was a little freaked out.
But it’s still one of the most vividly memorable experiences of the trip because when that lightning storm rolled in—it wasn’t one of those lightning storms where the lightning was coming down—it was all cloud lightning. It would light up the sky and there would be one after, one after another, after another, after another. During a thirty second picture there would probably be 10 different lightning things going on. They don’t call them strikes, I guess, because they don’t strike anything.
The pictures that came from it were just amazing. It looked like—everything was lit up. From being pitch dark. It was amazing because everything was lit up, and it was lit up with these crazy pinks and purples. I’m not sure why. I don’t know—lightning has that effect in pictures. Still, pretty impressive pictures, which definitely helped the story, definitely make the story all that more important. Or maybe the story makes the pictures all that more exciting.
Katherine: I’m assuming those pictures are in your Faith in America book.
Scott: They’ll be in the book, that’s for sure.
Katherine: Well, I’m excited to see them.
Scott: They’re here and there. I put them on Facebook, I put them on Instagram. But where to look? I’m not sure. They’d have to go back a few months. Go on Jarvie Digital, I guess. Or you’ll provide a link.
Katherine: You’ll have to send it to me and I’ll include it in the show notes.
Well, Scott, thanks so much for joining us, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Scott: Thanks, I look forward to listening to more of these Mormon Artist podcasts. I certainly have plenty of time, while in the car to listen to some podcasts. And I do already, so I’m looking forward to this. Keep up the good work.
Katherine: Okay, we’ll do it. ❧