Madison’s Isaac Scott is a photographer now

Current issue of The New Yorker features protest photos taken by West High School graduate.
Isaac Scott
Photo by Temple University Photography/Joseph V. Labolito
Isaac Scott — a graduate of Madison West High School and UW–Madison currently studying ceramics at Temple University in Philadelphia — has several photos in the June 22 issue of The New Yorker.

Isaac Scott took a borrowed camera to the streets of Philadelphia hoping to record history and wound up making it.

In Philadelphia, as in cities across the country, protesters marched in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.

Scott, 29, a Madison West High School and University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate currently studying ceramics at Temple University, spent days among the demonstrators — he was teargassed twice — and put his photographs from the streets up on social media.

Seven of those breathtaking black and white images — spread across 14 pages — appear in the June 22 issue of The New Yorker magazine, which includes other stories related to Floyd and social justice.

“I want to thank you,” New Yorker editor David Remnick told Scott in a late night phone call as the issue was closing. “I think this is going to be an historic issue and you’re at the center of it.”

Philly Protest

Isaac Scott took this photo of a demonstration in Philadelphia against police brutality. An estimated 100,000 people took part in one the first marches there. This image did not appear in The New Yorker. (Photo courtesy of Isaac Scott)

Not bad for someone who isn’t really a photographer.

“It’s surreal,” Scott told me by phone recently. “To be connected to that issue in any way is amazing.”

Scott was born in Quincy, Illinois, and came to Madison in 2003 at age 12, where he was raised by his grandmother.

At West, a teacher named Phil Lyons encouraged his early interest in ceramics. Scott played on the Regents football team, in the honor and jazz bands and threw the discus well enough to make the WIAA state track and field meet in his senior year of 2009.

At UW–Madison, Scott first studied engineering before earning a philosophy degree. He also played trumpet for four years in the UW Marching Band, going to three Rose Bowls. While he didn’t study art, he did ceramics outside of school, much of it at the Midwest Clay Project.

“I decided to be an artist while I was working there,” Scott says. “It was like the only thing I could see myself doing 30 years later.”

Scott spent a few years in Seattle after graduating, then was accepted into the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple. He is now one year into his two-year MFA program.

With the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, Scott lost access to the clay studio. He’d been taking a photography class — using a grad student friend’s old digital camera — and when ceramics shut down, his photography increased.

“It was my only creative outlet,” Scott says. “Every day I would go for a walk and bring my camera.”

After Floyd’s death, his photography got more purposeful.

“I decided it was such a historic moment I should go to as many protests as I could and document them.”

Scott says the first few days of the protests in Philadelphia were particularly intense. Tension hung heavy. There were fires.

Scott recalls being at the 2011 demonstrations at the Capitol in Madison when tens of thousands protested Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill.

“I remember how crazy a time that was,” he says, “but it didn’t come close to what I experienced [in Philadelphia]. Those moments are seared in my memory forever.”

Protesters Tyler Photo

Scott’s photos of the protests in Philadelphia included this image which was also not published by The New Yorker. (Photo courtesy of Isaac Scott)

Scott continues, “The vast majority of what has been happening in Philadelphia has been peaceful. There were a few days at the beginning [that were not]. But the bigger event was when 100,000 people marched peacefully through Center City.”

A shot of that day — taken by Scott from the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — is included in the New Yorker package. There is also a striking shot of protesters fleeing rubber bullets and tear gas on Interstate 676.

Scott posted his photographs on Instagram, and a New Yorker editor was tagged on one of the posts. The morning of June 10 — to the best of Scott’s recollection — he was contacted by the magazine’s director of photography, asking if he could submit some protest photos. He did, and a request came for more. Then a smaller list came back. Could he send those in higher resolution?

At one point Remnick phoned Scott for an interview, and the editor wrote an introduction to the package as well as captions which carry quotes from Scott.

Still, Scott was not prepared for the result. “I thought it would be maybe one page,” he said. “They sent me the design before it came out asking if it was good for me. I was like, ‘That’s crazy.’ I had no idea.”

He continued, “I’m grateful. I wanted to document the protest to make sure the story was told accurately on the other end of whatever happened.”

Scott is still in touch with Madison family and friends. He mentioned several siblings, including “my little brother,” Badgers wide receiver Adam Krumholz, who with his girlfriend, Demitra Philosophos, has “been collaborating with Nehemiah to bring essentials to Madison households in need during the pandemic.”

Scott said he’s had offers from groups to come and discuss his photographs. “But I’m excited to get back to ceramic work. I will continue photography in some way. I’m excited to see how it informs my ceramic work.

“I was literally not a photographer a few weeks ago.”

He laughed.

“Now I guess I am.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.