Agricultural photographer Scott Stebner of Manhattan, Kansas, describes himself as “a husband, father, teacher and creative agricultural communicator with a passion for creating environmental portraits that empower the agricultural community.” He received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, then went on to Kansas State University for his master’s degree in agricultural communications. His work can be found everywhere from national magazine advertisements to promotional materials for family farmers and ranchers.
He was interviewed by Tiffany Rogers, a University of Florida PhD student in agricultural communication who also co-owns the Gainesville video production company Paradigm Productions.
TR: What is your connection to the agricultural industry?
SS: “I grew up a surf bum in Southern California. That’s not the way most would expect me to begin this answer, but it’s true. I was born in Long Beach but grew up in northern San Diego. We had four acres, so of course we bought some sheep and became active 4-H members. My county fair was…large. We averaged over two million people in attendance every year. With that many people walking through the lamb, cattle, and pig barns, you learn from a very young age that you have to be proactive in educating the public and always be ready to answer their questions…no matter how crazy they may seem. I went to school to become a veterinarian…until physics and chemistry happened. I soon changed my major to agricultural education and spent seven years as a secondary agriculture teacher/FFA [Future Farmers of America] advisor. Most of this time was spent in predominantly urban areas teaching kids who had zero connection to agriculture. I loved it.”
TR: How did your passion for photography develop?
SS: My uncle, Carl Mydans,— was one of the first FSA [Farm Security Administration] photographers hired under Roy Stryker (the famous head of the Farm Security Administration’s Information Division during the Great Depression). So, he photographed a ton of agriculture. From there he went on to be one of the first five photographers for what was then called Time Project X. We know it as LIFE Magazine. I grew up listening to his stories so I guess it was just a natural fit. However, I originally wanted to be a writer. I spent tons of time wanting to be a fashion photographer, wedding photographer, and any other type of photographer under the sun. But, I got burned out. I didn’t like my work. When I moved to Kansas I wanted to get back to my roots so I looked at what I was truly passionate about: Agriculture. So, I spent two years photographing the farmers and ranchers around me. I found my passion again. I love communicating about the heart and soul behind agriculture through an image.
TR: You’ve described your academic experience in agricultural communications as having a “profound impact” on your images. Can you explain?
SS: My images are not just pretty pictures. They are theory in practice. I draw upon theoretical concepts, the body of literature, and practical experience to create emotionally activating and cognitively stimulating photographs that effectively communicate agricultural principles and issues.
I actually draw upon a ton of transparency research. Some of the early research by Dr. [Joy] Rumble at the University of Florida on perceptions of images in agriculture, color theory, ELM [Elaboration Likelihood Model], and quite a few other theories come to mind.
TR: What ultimately drives you to do what you do?
SS: It makes me happy. I know that’s a shallow answer, but really that’s the best one I can give. It makes me happy that I can take an image that empowers a community and tries to bridge that green divide.
TR: What do you hope your viewer sees when they encounter one of your creations?