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Bremerton veteran finds calling as a wildlife photographer

Dena Scott holds the photo she took of a bald eagle. The Bremerton vet plans to take up a full-time career as a wildlife photographer.  - JJ Swanson
Dena Scott holds the photo she took of a bald eagle. The Bremerton vet plans to take up a full-time career as a wildlife photographer.
— image credit: JJ Swanson

Dena Scott’s 21-year Naval career did not prepare her for the day she would be standing face-to-face with a bald eagle.

“I touched his perch,” said Scott. “That made him really mad, and he tells you just what he’s thinking in that picture.”

The photo that Scott snapped of the bald eagle named “D.I.”— short for Destruction Island which is where he was found and rescued by the Northwest Raptor Center — was the piece selected by a panel of judges for the Collective Visions Gallery Show in Bremerton running through Jan. 28.

The art show features 137 new and established artists from the Pacific Northwest chosen from more than 840 entries. The show brings in some big names from around the state, such as painter Anna Hoey and calligrapher Iskra Johnson. There are $6,000 in cash prizes, including a $1,500 top prize for best in show.

“The show is an excellent way for new artists to make a splash and connect with those that have been doing this for decades,” said Tess Sinclair, a member artist of Collective Visions.

For Scott, the event marks the beginning of a new life  she never had the time for during her military service. Scott started as a boiler technician, and ended as a senior chief petty officer. She served aboard five different ships — the USS Lincoln, USS Camden, USS Sierra, USS Simon Lake and USS Canopus. However, the former sailor said, it was only after her Navy career ended that she found her calling as an artist.

“This is what she’s going to be when she grows up,” joked Kristi Van Niel, a friend who first encouraged her to enter her wildlife photography into the show.

Scott explained that wherever her ship sailed, from France to Iraq, she always had her camera by her side to capture images. What she loved then, as she does now, was the sense of adventure and mystery in new landscapes.

After retiring from the Navy, Scott was at a loss of what to do with herself. She described the job market as “dire,” and recalled briefly trying her hand at commercial photography, mostly babies and engagement photos. But these ventures weren’t satisfying financially or emotionally.

As a sailor, Scott toured the world. As a wildlife photographer, she hopes to find adventure in her own backyard.

Scott and her friend took a trip up to the Northwest Raptor Center in Sequim where volunteers help rehabilitate injured hawks, eagles and owls then release them back into the wild. On a whim, she asked if she could photograph the birds in their habitats and create postcards for the center.

With her lens, she captured two eagles cutting through the air like a pair of fighter jets, a blue heron perched gracefully on the water, a newborn barn owl and a tight portrait of D.I. which she titled “The Face of America.”

“I guess there is a patriotism in me which shows through my work,” Scott said. “But when you see an eagle in full flight, you can’t help but gasp and be reminded of all the reasons why it’s the symbol of America in the first place.”

In addition to taking photos for the center, Scott works as a volunteer and is training to handle hawks and eagles on her arm.

Scott’s first two entries were rejected by the artist jury. Each artist was allowed up to three entries, but it took some time before Scott heard back about “Face of America.”

“That one means a lot to me,” Scott said. “When they told me it was selected, I stared at the email for a long time. I couldn’t believe it.”

Scott plans to pursue a full-time career as a wildlife photographer around Kitsap County.

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