Interview by Christian Argueta
When I first decided I was going to take photography a bit more seriously than just taking casual family pictures, I decided to scour the internet for information. As you can imagine, there are countless articles, videos, tutorials, tips and tricks on the subject, so it was very easy to get overwhelmed. But somewhere along the line, I came across some information on a young photographer named Brooke Shaden. Brooke's images are very inventive. They're a window into a dark world full of mystery and melancholy. They are, seemingly, personifications of dark feelings such as loneliness, longing, despair and isolation. But they're not meant to make you feel that which they convey, instead, I believe they're created to simply make you aware that they are there.
Brooke has been a fine art photographer for many years now. Her career has taken her from small gallery showings to now, a world wide audience through online and live workshops, lectures and solo exhibits. She's the recipient of many photography awards and recognitions and has published two books, so far, on photography.
She was gracious enough to take time off of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for this issue of 1X magazine.
To start, could you tell us where you’re from, what your upbringing was like, and at what point you became interested in photography?
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and because of that, have always been inspired by nature, rural life, and all of the beauty that can be found in a place like that. I had a beautiful upbringing - never with a lot of money but with good family in a 100 year old farmhouse that I adore. I was always interested in storytelling and loved writing and filmmaking, so photography seemed the next step, which I began just after graduating from college.
Was there something/someone that inspired you to pursue photography?
First one of my best friends called and said she wanted to start photography, so we would take self-portraits (from different states) and send them to each other. I realized very quickly that photography could be more than a hobby because I loved the process more than writing or filmmaking, and so I picked it up as my passion.
What were some of the challenges you encountered when your first began photographing?
To be honest, they are the same as today! Trying to find new techniques to achieve what my imagination looks like, looking for inspiration everywhere, and always being true to my vision. I think that anyone who is growing will continue to have many challenges.
Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what kept you on the path?
I can't say that I ever truly considered giving up on photography, but I have been brought down a lot by the internet. I had to reconcile how to deal with that, and doing so has lead me to be a much happier and healthier person.
How would you describe your style and what is that drew you to that style?
It is dark and whimsical and mysterious...deathly, but filled with life. Feminine. Soft. Painterly. Always in the square format. I love any kind of image that has an air of mystery to it, and so I was immediately drawn to images with overcast lighting and rich colors.
How do you decide when you’re done?
When the image matches what my imagination conjured up, I usually know I am nearing the end. It doesn't always work out so neatly, but often I can get to the point where visually it comes together in a way that is close to what I had hoped for.
I know from your blog, videos and workshops that you like working in natural settings/environments. Is this by design, necessity or because it’s easily available?
Nature is extremely important to me, and in the simplest way I can describe, it provides a natural and timeless backdrop to my images. I am personally not drawn to modern signifiers that let the viewer know what time the image is being created in. Instead, I prefer the anonymity of nature to let the viewer imagine whatever time they would like.
Also, from your blog, videos and workshops, it seems like you do a lot of work by yourself. Is this also by design or necessity?
A bit of both! I've had a business for 4 years now and have run it on my own, with the exception of someone assisting at workshops I lead. It has been overwhelming in mostly good ways. I have learned an incredible amount of business sense from it and have much satisfaction as well. However, there are things I am simply not good at - organization being one - and help would be greatly appreciated in that area. I found that I just couldn't give the things I love the attention I want without sacrificing something, so in April I hired my first employee and it has been a huge lifesaver. I now have the free time to focus on the projects that are very important to me.
Can you tell us about your toolbox? (Cameras, lenses, software)
Sure! I have a Canon 5dmkii and a Sigma 35mm lens and a 50mm lens. I use a 3 Legged Thing tripod, a Panasonic Lumix underwater camera and sometimes a DiCaPac bag for underwater work or an Ikelite housing. I use an Opteka RC-4 remote for self-portraits (when I'm not losing it). I use Photoshop - any version I can get my hands on, but right now, CS6, to edit.
What is “Promoting Passion” and how did that come about?
Over the last year or two I've been working a lot on myself - eliminating negativity from my life and experiencing all the good the world has to offer. A huge part of that is embracing what I am passionate about, and I found that the more I did that, the more I wanted to encourage others to do the same. Promoting Passion is about promoting passion in my own life and in the lives of others. I decided to create a blog with that name to spread the love and cultivate a safe place where people could embrace who they want to be and truly follow what they are most passionate about. That has turned into blogging a few times weekly as well as a weekly Monday video series all about pursuing your passion.
I know you’re a very outwardly positive person. You’re very generous in every sense of the word. Especially when it comes to encouraging people to pursue their dreams. Is this a trait or something you decided to practice at some point? Were you influenced by someone or something at some point? And does your personality influence your photography, or vice versa?
Awww thank you!!! That is super kind of you - day brightened!
Growing up and well into my adulthood I would be told very frequently that I am too judgmental of a person. I recognized it as a negative trait that I possessed, and for a long time was simply angry about it because I thought that was who I was. But then, very suddenly, I realized that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I could do away with judgment and choose to see the best in people. I could stop judging myself so harshly and simply become the person I wanted to be. And once I felt I had a handle on that concept, I wanted to spread the word so that others may experience the same love and passion that I was feeling.
As far as influencing my art, I would say that we are very much different. My art is dark and brooding and I am very light, happy, positive...or at least I try to be as often as possible. What is interesting is that there are two distinct parts of who I am - there is the darkness, that I can look at objectively and channel into my art, and there is my personality which I want to be as open and loving as possible.
When you’re not out photographing, what other things do you do that nurture your creative self?
I write a lot! I am working on a fantasy novel that is my baby at the moment. I love writing so much. I love to go hiking and on roadtrips, though admittedly that often turns into a photo session!
What does Fine Art Photography mean to you?
To me, it simply means personal work. It isn't something that needs a degree to practice or a certain education to understand. It is the art of creating for oneself first and foremost.
What other artists, be them photographers or not, inspire you and why?
I love the writings of Frank Herbert who wrote Dune, a prolific science fiction series. I love Bouguereau the painter and the way he paints skin and light. I love the photo work of Gregory Crewdson. I love so many people and things!
Do you have any general advice for folks who might be thinking about getting into photography, or are beginners, and are looking for advice?
I think that some of the best advice is to not take too much advice from other people. Figure out who you are and WHY you are those things, and then create from that inspiration. Find what makes you unique and run with it. Care not if people love what you do or hate it, but create for yourself and hope others follow.
Finally, could you give us a funny or interesting anecdote or story from one of the times you’ve been out trying to capture an image?
Great timing! This just happened yesterday.
I was out spelunking...cause I'm strange...and after I finished exploring a cave my husband noticed an elk spine on the ground in the forest. I am a strict vegan so I won't use animals unless they are found as they are, and so we put it in the car to take home and clean. The next day we went to the car and found maggots ALL OVER the car...something we had clearly not thought through, and had to spend the next hour cleaning our car out. The spine is still sitting in a bush in front of our house.
Thank you Brooke. You truly are the definition of a "do-er." You didn't wait for opportunity to come knocking at your door, instead, you took your own inspiration, drive and creativity and created your own opportunities. You don't let praise or criticism influence your passion and the results are their own reward. Can't wait to see what you'll come up with next.
Brooke is a regular on CreativeLive.com where you can watch live workshops, for free, as they take place. You can find more info on Brooke, her workshops, and gallery showings at http://www.BrookeShaden.com, be inspired on her blog at http://www.promotingpassion.com/ and learn even more on her old blog, http://shadenproductions.com/blog/.