Rural Missouri Magazine
Creating Portraits
of Passions

Photographers Scott and Jessi Gordon turn outdoor traditions into heirlooms

by Jeff Joiner

Scott Gordon shoots digital images of family members to use in a hunting-theme portrait. Together with his wife, Jessi, Scott creates unique montages that depict the subject's passions.

Standing on a ladder on the side of a muddy rise, Scott Gordon towers over everyone around him, but as a photographer with 25 years of newspaper and studio experience, he knows some of the best pictures come from a high angle.

Scott directs a group of camouflaged hunters to point shotguns high into the air. They look as though they’re about to shoot Scott off his ladder. Fortunately the guns aren’t loaded.

Suddenly a Labrador retriever shoots from the duck blind the hunters stand in and has to be called back, seemingly disappointed there’s nothing to retrieve. Scott and his wife, Jessi, work to rearrange everyone and prepare for another shot as rain begins to fall on Schell-Osage Wildlife Area near Nevada, Mo. Everyone piles into the blind together and the photo shoot is put on hold.

The delay is nothing unusual for Jessi and Scott who photograph outdoors in all sorts of conditions while creating their Sporting Life Studios portraits. The couple, whose studio is located in Cameron, northeast of Kansas City, have developed a unique style of portraiture using digital photography to create montages of images centering on a sporting theme like hunting, fishing, golf or just about anything a client is passionate about.

A typical Sporting Life Studio portrait involves several members of a family, in this case five grandsons.

This shoot involves the Chronister family from the Kansas City area who are ducks hunters. The final picture will include individual portraits of family members with their guns as well as their dogs all surrounding an image of the family emerging from a duck blind, shotguns raised, at Schell-Osage, one of their favorite places to hunt. The results, Jessi says, will be treasured for generations.

“We want these to be heirlooms, works of art that will still be hanging above the fireplace mantel a hundred years from now,” says Jessi. “I can image the young kids in these pictures someday showing them to their grandchildren.”

Scott and Jessi’s traditional photography studio in Cameron, called Jesscott Images, offers all the usual services found in small-town studios like wedding photography and senior portraits. But when Scott began learning about digital photography a few years ago he began thinking about combining his own love of the outdoors with photography.

Scott grew up near Meadville in north-central Missouri, a part of the state nationally known for goose and duck hunting. Scott learned to hunt at an early age and continued throughout his career as a newspaper reporter, photographer and editor.

Jessi is also comfortable in the outdoors. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, she earned degrees in wildlife ecology and conservation and later moved to Missouri. She met Scott while working as a naturalist at Wallace State Park near Cameron where he worked at the local paper.

Scott photographs a duck-hunting family, guns raised, on location in a duck blind.

Scott admired the paintings of wildlife artist Ralph J. McDonald who created a series of scenes for Ducks Unlimited. Several of his paintings included a grandfather figure looking down from the sky on a young boy with his hunting dog. The paintings suggest the passing of the hunting tradition from one generation to the next.

“As long as I’ve been a professional photographer I thought I could create something like that if I just had the right tools,” says Scott. “And when digital photography came along, I thought here’s our opportunity.”

The first hunting theme portrait the Gordons did was a senior picture for a young local student who loved to deer hunt. Scott combined digital images of him hunting with a rifle and a bow as well as pictures of his mounted deer. The results were an unusual portrait that thrilled the young man. Sporting Life Studios, a separate business from their portrait studio, was soon born.

Jessi Gordon, also a photographer, stands in a duck blind and gives her husband light readings.

“I thought we could take this to another level and do portraits of adult sportsmen, maybe grandpas with generations of sportsmen coming up behind them,” says Scott.

Jessi and Scott, members of Farmers’ Electric Cooperative, interview the client to learn as much as possible about their outdoor sport. Usually the image features the client as the central figure with vignettes of family members surrounding them.

During the interview the Gordons discover what other details to include in the portrait. One Chillicothe family drove to the duck blind in an old International Scout, which Scott included in their photograph. Another picture included a youngster who recently killed his first wood duck, so Scott included an image of that species.

“We work hard to find out what’s important to them and try to include that in their portrait,” says Jessi, also an accomplished photographer who shoots along side her husband.

Scott readies equipment on location.

The Gordons take their clients into the field, often to their favorite hunting locations, and shoot dozens of digital images of family members, hunting dogs, gun closeups and other details like duck decoys or deer or turkey mounts and, back in the studio on a computer, meld the best images together in a 15- to 20-hour process.

A Sporting Life Portrait, with print dimension of 16-by-20 inches up to 30-by-40 inches, costs between $1,000 and more than $3,000 depending on where the images for the portrait are taken. Currently, they’re waiting to schedule a portrait with a group of Texas friends who hunt in Mexico.

The Gordons have developed a deeply personal way to capture in a photograph the emotional bonds that develop between family members or friends who love the outdoors.

“I always felt sportsmen would really go for something like this. There’s nothing else quite like this out there photographically,” Scott says. “It’s a way to remember the traditions of whatever outdoor passion you have.”

For more information about Sporting Life Studios contact the Gordons at 113 West Third St., Cameron, MO, 64429; 1-866-749-7767.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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