GILLETTE, Wyo. — To the untrained eye, the rocks and fluorescent colors where the earth meets the hot pools underneath the walking bridges at Yellowstone National Park can be passed over without a second glance.
To truly enjoy and admire the beauty of Yellowstone, one can get the full picture of a hot spring or pool by gazing at a spring from afar, taking all the colors in at once.
There is no wrong way to study one of the country’s most beautiful and sought-after sights. Scott Mooney just wanted to see it in a different way.
On a recent vacation, Mooney and his family were walking across one of those bridges when he caught a glimpse at those spaces in the ground where the rocks meet the water. He saw the colors change so quickly and so vividly: from blue to white, white to red, green to beige.
Instead of seeing the pools from afar, he saw them framed tight with just a few colors at a time.
To capture this, he leaned over the railing of the walking bridge and snapped some photos while his wife, Sarah, hung onto his belt loop with a finger.
Mooney had no idea when he was taking those photos that they would become part of the permanent collection at the Wyoming State Museum.
THE MAN BEHIND THE LENS
Scott Mooney was born and raised on the famous Mooney Ranch in Campbell County 20 miles outside of Gillette. His family homestead here in the late 1800s and has been here since.
He grew up working on the ranch and still works it today with his two older brothers.
“It’s what we love,” Mooney said of ranching. “I couldn’t think of doing anything other than that.”
He has spent most of his life on the ranch.
Mooney got his associates degree from Gillette College in law enforcement and finished his bachelor’s degree from Chadron State in the same field.
He has stayed in law enforcement, working a few jobs for 17 years. He said he was influenced by his uncle and former Campbell County sheriff Spike Hladky.
He worked in the jail for a while and was later appointed sergeant for court security.
Scott and Sarah built a house out on the ranch two years ago and live there with their three kids, ages ranging from 7 months to 10 years old.
Mooney got into photography late in his life, getting his first camera and experimenting only six or seven years ago. It was a cheap 35mm automatic camera. He eventually saved up for his first DSLR camera.
“I started getting more into it and entering competitions and then realized I was halfway decent at it,” Mooney said.
Starting out, Mooney was inspired by other photographers like Ansel Adams and photographers who primarily shoot outdoors and abstract images.
Mooney is completely self-taught.
“I just practiced and practiced,” he said. “That’s the only way to learn is to mess around with your camera and find out what it can do.”
In 2012, Mooney won the Best in Show award at an art gala at the AVA Community Art Center.
The photo is a black-and-white image of an old woman’s hands in Costa Rica.
Mooney was visiting the country on a mission trip with Gillette’s Living Rock Church when he came upon a woman who said she hadn’t left her building for eight or nine years.
The woman inside the home was named Antonia. She was 96.
A therapist in the group taught Antonia some stretches that she could use to stay flexible. In return, she shared stories. But what Mooney was really interested in was the history accumulated in the lines of her skin, especially on her hands.
Antonia sat in a plastic makeshift wheelchair. The floors in the house were dirt.
“The lighting was perfect,” Mooney said. “I took the picture not really knowing what I had.”
Antonia put him on the map. After the first AVA award, Mooney went on to win many other awards such as reserve champion and people’s choice at the Campbell County Fair, the Platte River Photography show and Dahl Mountain Festival photography invitational in 2013.
His work was chosen for entry in the 2014 Dahl Mountain Festival, North Platte Photography Competition, the photography invitational at AVA and the Rail Art Photography Invitational at the Cheyenne Depot Railroad Museum.
In 2015, his work was selected for the juried Governor’s Capital Art Exhibit at the State Museum and the juried Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum art show.
Another career highlight was his cowboy mustache picture. He snapped that one at Cheyenne Frontier Days after noticing a strikingly old-fashioned man with a spectacular mustache.
Not wanting to get too close, Mooney tried shooting him from a distance until Sarah gave him another assist. She walked up to the man asking for his photo and Mooney’s first ever posed and positioned photo is now on display at Ruby Tuesdays in Gillette and is for usual sale at Wyoming Art and Frame downtown.
Down the street from Wyoming Art and Frame is another museum of sorts that showcases Mooney’s work.
When Becky Eischeid and her family were putting together the remodel of The Railyard restaurant, she wanted authentic Wyoming photos from a local artist.
Eischeid reached out Mooney to fill the restaurant with his work. For that gig, which was his first ever photo assignment, he traveled to the Douglas Train Museum and now his frames are all over one of the newest restaurants in town.
“It felt crazy (to get that first job),” he said. “Just crazy. It was awesome to finally have somebody like your stuff well enough to say, ‘I want to fill my store with this.'”
This winter, Mooney’s photography was given one of the ultimate stamps of approvals after he was invited by Gov. Matt Mead and the Governor’s Art Council to submit his work. From that, he had two pieces that were accepted into the Governor’s Art Show in Cheyenne.
It was his third time in Cheyenne for the same honor, but this year was the first time one of his photos received a purchase award at the Governor’s Capitol Art Exhibit.
A purchase award ensures that the photo — of the Yellowstone hot pools — will be in the state’s permanent collection and will hang somewhere in Wyoming forever.
As far as taking some sort of next step in photography, he’s not so sure about becoming full time.
“I love doing it. It’s a great hobby, but I don’t think I’d want to do it full time,” he said. “I think once you start doing it full time it becomes a job instead of something you like to do.”
For now, Mooney will keep it to a hobby, learning more and more about himself and for himself with each frame.
Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com