Armed with a vivid imagination and her tools for the trade Brooke Shaden embarked in a journey of finding and embracing that inner child. Escaping the mundane realities of everyday life not through denial but through embellishments of her active imagination this visual story teller set about chronicling stories in photographic frame. Born in March, 1987 at Lancaster, PA, and now residing at Los Angeles, Brooke is a real ‘protector of magic’ between the realms of conceptual and fine art photography.
You majored in Film & English from Temple University, and you have also professed your fondness for creation of short films but your current pursuit of photography allows you to tell your story in one frame. How challenging and interesting is it?
My first love was writing, and then came filmmaking which was my first real foray into visual storytelling. I found it infinitely exciting because I could create stories that were real, moving, breathing images. What I disliked about the filmmaking process was how long it took to create one story, and how many people seemingly had to be involved. Photography allowed me to discover a new kind of visual storytelling, one that let me work relatively quickly and on my own. Instead of taking one year to create one concept, I could do several in a week, nearly one a day, with photography. It was a faster-paced and more exciting medium for me. I have always been interested in short stories and short films because I love to create a concise work about a concept. Photography gave me a way of doing just that, the most concise way I can think of to tell a story. I challenge myself to put as much story into a single image as I can.
How much the sketchbook you maintain as a repository of your ideas helps you in visualising the whole process of shooting? What degree of spontaneity do you allow in your photoshoots?
I am the kind of photographer that photographs with intent. I rarely do a photo shoot without having it planned beforehand. I sketch all of my ideas, and therefore the book comes in handy, especially since I might forget a detail that was really interesting at the time of brainstorming. I do allow myself some spontaneity. What I need to remember is that nothing is set in stone. I can never think of everything all at once or before the fact, and sometimes there are ways to change and grow in the moment. I always set up my shot exactly as envisioned, and if something is simply not working I adjust. I don’t think I’m terrible at working with the set and going with the flow, though admittedly I do work better when I am in full control. The times of momentary chaos are what help me grow though, and I sometimes seek them out to challenge myself.
As an artist describe your relationship with nature and its significance in your work.
To me, nature is the obvious backdrop to my images. I attribute this to growing up in a fairly rural town, always hating crowds, and generally disliking cities. That isn’t to say that I don’t see the beauty in it, but my heart has always belonged to the countryside. I love anything that is timeless, and nature is the most timeless thing that I can immerse myself in. I have great respect for nature, and so to use it in my images is like preserving it in a way that I otherwise could not.
How do you scout for locations for photoshoots?
I do a lot of driving to see what I can find, and when nothing turns up I try Google Maps, that way I can zoom in on specific areas to see what the landscape is like. I love asking around on forums because people always know a gem or two that I can explore. It helps to have a location in mind already, or at least a vague idea, as then searching becomes very simple. If I wanted to find a cave on a beach, it would be easy enough to find someone who has been to one, and so on.
Your works such as, ‘Guiding Spirit’, ‘Imagination Island’, ‘Hiding in the Dusty Curtains’, ‘Becoming Clouds’, ‘Immortal Bird’ etc have people and other elements seemingly mobile. Why do you seem to be so fascinated with ‘motion’?
Motion is the one thing that ties me back to filmmaking. I love moving images and the sense that what is happening is not a stagnant moment in time but a continuing act. I love the idea that the subject is a real, living, tangible person and we are privy to this one moment in their lives. That moment did not start there and it does not end there; they continue on living, and we see one small moment of that. I think that motion adds tension to a picture and gives a sense of immediacy that stagnant shots often do not achieve.
You also organise quite a few workshops. How do you see these interactions as breeding ground of creative and original ideas? How have the behind-the-scenes videos where you speak of the conceptual part worked as a medium of engaging your audience and connecting with them?
In a sense, the workshops and behind the scenes videos are working towards the same end: to promote free and imaginative thinking in all people, no matter if you create art or not. My workshops are very precious to me. It is a full day of bonding in a unique way that revolves around learning and having an open mind. Most people come into the workshops expecting to learn techniques, yet leave with inspiration that is even more valuable. That is why I teach. That is why I love to share what I have learned. The goal is not only to teach what I do technically, but also how to find inspiration and to find your style.
Behind the scenes videos are very fun for me to do because while I am filming I can really imagine that I am talking to the people watching the video. I try to share my thoughts as openly and honestly as possible, and that is what I believe creates a really unique community; when people feel they can speak freely. My aim is, in all that I do, to inspire and motivate in new ways, and that is what I hope will be thought of me, even above my art.
Audiences must have drawn their own interpretations in a variety of ways. Has it ever happened that an audience perception moved your own, original interpretation in one way or the other? Do you have any personal favourite among all your creations? If yes, then why?
I have never had my opinion of an image swayed by a reaction of perception, but I have certainly been surprised by reactions! I think that any artist will have certain favourites or images that they hope others will like, and sometimes it turns out the other way around. Alternately, I know that I have been surprised by positive reactions when I think an image is not going to do so well on the internet. This is why I try not to think about reactions, and definitely do not try to guess what it will be. I find this to be a really negative way of looking at sharing your work online; I want only to share what I am passionate about, and I love hearing all visions and interpretations from there.
A personal favorite of mine is, ‘The Tide That Takes Us’. It was extremely challenging to create both technically and physically. It required five different shooting locations, some of which was shot in the ocean with cold waves plummeting us, and a part was shot underwater as well with Ikelite housing. I am afraid of the ocean, so to throw caution aside and lay down and let the waves roll over me and my camera (which was in the underwater housing), was a really big deal for me. It took a lot of different twists and turns in editing to make sure it looked exactly as I envisioned, and in the end, it could not have looked any more like my dream.
Your work reminded me of the great photomontage artist Jerry Uelsmann. Do you draw inspiration from any personality from or beyond the world of photography, both past and present?
Oh thank you! I adore Jerry Uelsmann, and his wife Maggie Taylor. In fact, I just finished an image equally inspired by both of them. I try my best to draw inspiration from within, but I do admire certain artists very much, like Tom Chambers and Jamie Baldridge. My favorite photographer is Gregory Crewdson. I also love classic painters, like Waterhouse and Bouguereau.
How has your artistic journey on ‘the path under the sky’ been so far?
This is such a big question! I don’t know that I could put it into words. I would probably say enlightening and humbling. I feel gratitude every single day that I am able to do what I love, and I feel that I owe so many people so much, namely those who have supported me, either since the beginning or even for a day. I don’t think there is ever a way to let everyone know how much it means, but I wish that I could, and that is my biggest challenge: to give as much as I can to those who support me. I have challenged myself everyday since I picked up a camera, and that is something that I know is changing me and moulding me into the person I would like to be.
Brooke Shaden prefers…
‘The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience’ – Dune by Frank Herbert happens to be the favourite book of Brooke. She enjoys listening to the The Irrepressibles as much as she enjoys watching Pan’s Labyrinth. The earthly brown colour tickles her senses as does the mossy green hills of highlands in Scotland.
Find more of her work at http://brookeshaden.com/