This article was first published in Journeys Magazine, Spring 2017.
In the second year of the SAS SOAR campaign, photo subjects transcended beyond student stories to include some of the passionate, dedicated educators that make it all possible. From singing as a young girl to soaring as a solo opera performer on stage at Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore, Kristin Symes continues to live her dream while inspiring the next generation of singers. As the middle school choir director, Symes is the embodiment of one of her favorite roles, Miss Wordsworth a comical teacher passionate about her students and bursting with energy. The shot set out to show how teachers like Symes are encouraged to develop their own passions, so that they can inspire students with the techniques and skills necessary to live their own dreams. The best part? The photography crew and communications team was treated to hearing Symes sing opera in Chinese as the shoot commenced.
Woodward’s roommate at Queen’s University in Canada (coincidentally now an SAS parent) had grown up in Hong Kong and opened Woodward’s eyes to a whole world beyond his small town upbringing. He recounts, “When I was a kid, I went to the aquarium, and when he was a kid he went scuba diving in the Philippines. He was a rock star to me and he really piqued my curiosity about the rest of the world.”
Shortly after his first year, Woodward borrowed money from his father to buy a ticket to Hong Kong, “turning up the volume” on life. “I still remember the feeling, the frenetic energy, the excitement, the smells, the sounds, the colors. That was the moment that changed the course of my life.”
Woodward’s father is an accomplished amateur photographer and taught his son the basics of picture making, but Woodward cites the trip to Hong Kong as the point when photography became his voice.
When Oliver Stone came to lecture at the Singapore campus of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Woodward was called upon to photograph him exclusively for The Rake magazine. Set at a private villa in the beautiful Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, in one of their Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines, Woodward had a couple of hours to capture the essence of the three-time Oscar winner and four-time Golden Globe winner.
After university, he returned to Asia for a year of travel – with his camera. During his travels, he was offered a job with Coca-Cola in Singapore. Moving across the globe, he spent several years with the company before joining American Express. Throughout those years, photography was a passion, albeit a somewhat secret one.
Shortly after turning 29, a series of events would change the trajectory of Woodward’s career path.
At a company Chinese New Year dinner, a table game asked each dinner guest what they would do that would bring them joy if they no longer needed to work for money. Woodward says he declared for the first time that he would travel around the world and take pictures. He notes, “That answer surprised even me. I had never said that out loud. And I remember coming home that night and laying in bed thinking to myself that if that was my answer, what the heck was I doing with my life?”
For the second year of the SAS SOAR campaign, Woodward and the SAS team set out to tell the story of how students like Bianca Antonio leverage their interests to differentiate themselves over and above academic excellence. For Bianca Antonio, the combination of advanced mathematics and progressive art was the perfect equation for a beautiful future, and her portfolio, passion, and purpose earned her acceptance to Brown University as a structural engineering major. Woodward created a situational portrait in the art studio with one of Bianca’s projects, which, as a 3D sculpture called Nike, itself soared.
Fast-forward one year. While celebrating his 30th birthday, he received a call from a distraught colleague who had been caught in the Asian tsunami. The events of that fateful day combined with a new milestone in his life confronted him with a realization. If ever there was a time to take a chance in life, this was it. He decided then to quit his job, and he’s never looked back.
Woodward recalls, “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew how to build a brand – I had learned that from two of the best companies in the world. I took that knowledge and applied it to build another brand: my own. It was a powerful thing because I got to think about what my brand would stand for.”
A few years in, Woodward was already experiencing success, but he continued to stay open to new adventures that would come his way. At an SAS homecoming alumni basketball game with wife and SAS teacher Stacey Jensen, alumni Matt and Vicki Rogers (Class of 1995) introduced him to Matt’s brother, Mike (Class of 2000), a documentary filmmaker who was setting up a production company in Singapore. The two hit it off and soon Woodward was on his way to Bhutan to make still photography to promote Mike’s documentary, Shooting for Democracy.
Woodward counts that first trip to Bhutan as the most amazing photographic experience of his life, and National Geographic Magazine might agree. Woodward’s photo of novice monks running down a hill would go on to be chosen as a double page spread in National Geographic December 2008. That spontaneous moment captured in a single frame has been reprinted dozens of times in publications around the world and remains Woodward’s most favorite picture ever taken.
With some serious support from the SAS facilities team, a Genie lift hoisted Woodward high in the sky for the first shot of the first SOAR campaign. He sought to photograph a quad copter built by SAS students from a unique angle, but there was just one problem: instead of hovering gently under the Woodward’s camera, the quad copter zipped towards an athletics field teeming with elementary-school students blissfully unaware and enjoying Play Day. When it crash-landed and some wondered if the photo shoot could be salvaged, the students circled around unfazed, getting right to work to fix it. Just as important as programs that enable students to design and test prototypes, they learn how to meet deadlines, work under pressure, work as a team, and never give up. Student learning was on full display in the best ways that day, and in the end, Woodward was able to capture a stunning shot of the quad copter and robotics students. The SOAR campaign was officially born.
Woodward’s commercial success and private creative collaborations continue to make a mark in the photography world. With work featuring regularly in international publications such as Condé Nast Traveller, GEO, GQ Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and VOGUE, and international advertising campaigns for global brands that include Adidas, Bacardi, Google, Johnson & Johnson, MasterCard, and Nestle, Woodward stays busy. Living in Singapore offers him all the inspiration he needs. Woodward says, “I’m still moved by the dynamism and vibrancy of Asia and of our back yard. It is so diverse; it has Technicolor India, minimalist Japan, ancient Cambodia, rugged Tibet, enigmatic North Korea, and on and on and on…undoubtedly, living here and working here and shooting here has shaped my visual aesthetic and influenced my photographic style.”
A passion for capturing the life of the region eventually landed Woodward his own television series on The History Channel. In Around the World with Voyager, Woodward sailed the region on a 187-foot luxury yacht, stopping along ports of early 20th century traders. Woodward learned about celebrated local icons and their lives, while documenting their personal journeys through definitive portraits at each of five milestone locations.
Woodward often cites the magic of capturing real stories, and that is where the creative partnership with Singapore American School began. For years, Woodward supported the school in a variety of ways. He and wife Stacey, then an SAS middle school RLA teacher, launched the first READ posters that inspired students by showing what teachers loved to read. He has delivered talks to photography classes and yearbooks students, judged the Interim Semester photography contest, delivered the keynote at Model United Nations, hosted mentor sessions with communications interns, and even called upon SAS students to collaborate in coding part of his new website.
Woodward says, “My philosophy is that if SAS calls, I always answer. This is an institution that has been very good to my wife and me, and being part of this community means that you give back. I believe in that.”
Woodward and Mike Rogers (Class of 2000) were on assignment for Nikon on a trek along the Druk path in Bhutan’s Himalayan Mountains. With 10 local guides and 25 packhorses, they climbed to Jimi Langtso Lake at 3,880 meters, which, when they arrived to the campsite that night, had no snow. They awoke the next morning to 18 inches of snow and were forced to turn around. While the guides packed up, the sun came out to allow Woodward to make this photograph – one of 5,000 he shot on the trip.
When the communications team approached Woodward about photographing the school’s first formal brand and advertising campaign, themed ‘SOAR’, he jumped on board.
SAS began identifying students who had unique stories to tell or were able to pursue their passions and achieve levels of excellence. The team wanted to visually show how SAS students are able to soar, in perspectives and styles that were unexpected and fresh. Woodward brought creativity and quality not typically seen in independent school photography and helped to update the school’s visual brand identity to complement other forward-looking strategic work.
Woodward says, “The best stories are the real stories. And SAS offers us 5,000 real stories. One of the exciting things about working with the school is that I feel we’ve grown together during this project. I love that we’ve come up with these ideas together, that SAS has given me so much creative freedom and a lot of trust in the images we’ve made…the evolution has been exciting. I’m very proud of the work that we’ve made. It’s authentic and it’s wonderful.
As part of the series, I Am Eyes of Nikon, Woodward set out to shoot short vignettes, each one highlighting a different NIKKOR lens. The lens for this shot was the 70-200mm, and Woodward thought motorcross was a perfect way to show it off. A motorcycle enthusiast himself, Woodward was impressed with the skill and athleticism his subjects showed in the dunes and noted how the rooster tails of sand shot up by bikes was the perfect way to show speed. This was part of the same project as the camel herders in Mongolia.
To see more of Woodward's work, visit www.scottawoodward.com.
Click here to read more articles from Journeys Magazine, Spring 2017.
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