Scott Mutter (1944–2008)

American photographer 

   Charles Scott Mutter was born to Lucille Schaffer Mutter and Charles M. Mutter on Jan. 14, 1944, on the South Side of Chicago.

      He always went by his middle name, and didn't even have his first name put on his gravestone. 

      His parents and older sister, Ann, lived in an apartment at 61st and Kimbark in the Woodlawn neighborhood, just south of the University of Chicago.

      The family, including a brother, Robert, born in 1949, moved to South Shore and then Rogers Park on the far North Side, then moved to suburban Niles and Park Ridge, near O'Hare Airport.

       Mutter graduated from Maine East High School in Park Ridge in 1961, then attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he played hockey and joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.

      He participated in Reserve Officers Training Corp., but became radicalized during the Vietnam War era, and protested against the conflict, as did many young people in the 1960s. He never served in the military, but stayed at the U. of I. for many years. He received a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, one in Chinese studies and one in fine arts.

      Mutter supported himself with many unlikely jobs: selling antiques, painting addresses on curbs and showing films at rented halls around campus and other buildings in town. He moved to California for a short time in the early 1970s, working for a film company. An independent man, Mutter was not happy working for others. and returned to Urbana. Having been exposed to water beds in California, he started selling them in the Midwest.

    He also showed films at other campuses in northern Illinois.

    A fan of Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, Mutter began to make a film about China, but in the process, he veered toward still photography. He often said he had never held a camera before that.

    Knowing exactly what he wanted to accomplish, Mutter took classes, but only to become more proficient with the tools of his trade, perhaps frustrating his photography instructors. He read myriad books about photography and art history.

    He credited a friend, Vern Fein, for the advice to "take pictures of history."

    He also credited the study of Chinese writing, in which the characters mimic their meaning. For instance the word for house might look like a house.

    Mutter puzzled his family with one of his first pictures, a rural pond that shows the reflection of a fence that isn't there. 

    Before technology made this kind of work relatively simple, Mutter spent hours in the darkroom merging two or more images to create a scene that couldn't possibly exist, but looked so natural that it inspired double-takes.

    Later in life, when addressing a class of school children, he explained that it might have been a good thing that his work required so much time and attention. He said he spent hundreds of hours in the darkroom, but got to know his subjects thoroughly and saw ways to improve the pictures even as he struggled to create them.

    He sold his house in Urbana to a developer and his share in the film company to his partner, Ron Epple, and moved back to Park Ridge in 1985.

    Mutter attempted to master computers, but never was comfortable with them, and often hired someone who was, to assist with his work and with transferring his darkroom photos to digital form.

    Occasionally, Mutter would accept consignments, but usually the trouble of working on someone else's ideas or the headache of meeting a deadline proved too bothersome.

    His photos have appeared in many forms, including book, calendar, magazine, newspaper, religious booklet, poster and framed art for the wall.

    Mutter also put his images on notecards, T-shirts and mouse pads

    He often gave his pictures titles and wrote prose to accompany them, but later abandoned the titles.

    Mutter suffered from depression during much of his adult life, and that was compounded by heart and other health problems. 

    He died at his home March 5, 2008, but was not found until the morning of Saturday, March 8.

    He is buried in St. John's Cemetery in Delphos, Ohio, next to his mother and father.