Acclaimed photographer Scott A. Woodward talks
life-changing moments, inspiration, and giving back through SOAR.

A “handful of parents established the Singapore American School (SAS) in 1956 in a private home with just 105 students to meet the educational needs of a burgeoning expatriate community.  Today, SAS is an independent, non-profit, co-educational day school offering an American-based curriculum for preschool through grade 12. There are more than 3,800 students from more than 50 nations, and approximately 70% hold U.S. passports.  SAS… is the largest single-campus international school in the world.”

I have long admired SAS for its innovative spirit, willingness to change and deep desire to be a world-class educational institution.  Whenever the school asks me to participate in a student activity — whether it’s assisting the AP Art class, delivering the keynote address at the Model UN conference, judging the annual Photography Club Contest or speaking about storytelling and image making to the Yearbook class — I am always happy to oblige.

So when Vanessa Spier, the Director of Strategic Communications at SAS, approached me more than three years ago about photographing the school’s new brand and advertising campaign themed ‘SOAR’, I was extremely excited for the opportunity to creatively bring to life the school’s strategic focus: promoting a culture of extraordinary care, excellence, and possibilities.

In our earliest concept meetings back in 2014, Vanessa shared with me SAS’s existing advertising campaign: “Be engaged. Be challenged. Be inspired. Be you.”  As part of that, SAS had begun identifying students who had unique stories to tell or were pursuing their passions and achieving high levels of excellence. Throughout this process, Vanessa told me, she and her colleagues often recounted how these students were able to “soar”.  As Vanessa explained to me, “It just all fit together that ‘SOAR’ should be our campaign theme.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we want our students to do.  It’s what our faculty does on a daily basis.  It’s where we want to go as an organization.”  And so the campaign’s big idea was born…

What was unique about the initial campaign commission, SOAR 1.0 (2014) — and has remained consistent through conceptualizing, producing and executing SOAR 2.0 (2015), SOAR 3.0 (2016) and SOAR 4.0 (which is currently in production) — is that I work directly with the client (and not via an advertising agency) who offers me a critical hand in the idea generation and acts as a true partner throughout the entire creative and production process.  In fact, every year Vanessa, her team and I spend at least one day together touring the SAS campus, brainstorming possible ‘SOAR’ subjects and deciding how best to execute the photographs of the students and teachers in order to show their inspirational stories.

Since we began our creative partnership in 2014, we have made more than 45 ‘SOAR’ photographs for SAS.  These have rolled-out in press campaigns, been published online and are displayed across campus.  I am always excited to see my work come to life, but because of my close relationship with Vanessa and her team, as well as SAS and its faculty, it feels a little more special and a lot more meaningful.

Over the years and the countless hours we’ve spent shooting together, I’ve shared with Vanessa not only a lot of my work for other clients, but a lot about me, my story and my creative process.  The outcome of this was our most recent collaboration, a 14-page profile that Vanessa wrote about my life as a photographer in the latest issue of Journeys magazine, the quarterly print publication that the Communications Department produces for the SAS community and alumni.

I am grateful to Vanessa and SAS for giving me such a wonderful platform to share not just my story and my journey, but to showcase my work and our work together.  I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to make next together!