If you are a member at an online photography community, there is no way you don’t know her. Brooke Shaden has not only managed to bring conceptual photography to a much wider audience, she has also decided that she wants to dedicate her life from now on, to inspire and motivate others to lead their life with their creative passions. The talk I had with her proves exactly how good she is at this subject as well!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! I love to write above all else but I don't do it often enough. My favorite places are anywhere dark and mysterious but I'm actually really scared of a lot of impractical things, like zombies. I married the love of my life who I met when I was 16. My favorite places to travel to have been Cambodia, Iceland, France and Scotland.
You found your path into photography after you had already started a different journey (studies, work etc). What made you take this decision and how did you fall in love with photography?
I tried photography on a whim after my friend told me to try it out with her! We both began taking self-portraits and sharing them with each other, and I loved the process. It was a hobby that I threw myself into whole-heartedly and have loved ever since.
Why do you find photography to be so interesting?
Interestingly, it isn't my favorite medium. However, I love creating in it more than anything else because of how it allows you to tell a whole story in one image. You can get your ideas out much faster than film and have total control over your craft instead of letting your ideas pass through so many people.
How would you describe your personal style and how did you find it?
My style has always been in me and truly hasn't changed very much since I was a child. Though I wasn't creating photos when I was young, I was writing. My stories were always dark and fantastical. When I went to film school my short films were the same. And when I started photography I had the same stories to tell. I have always loved dark yet beautiful works.
Which is your favourite image from the ones you have created so far and why?
Last year I created an image called "Catharsis" which was a beautiful and personal portrayal of something I was dealing with personally. I don't create from that personal place very often so it felt really good to do that. It is also a great representation of something dark yet visually lovely.
What are your artistic influences? Do you have any photographers whose work you admire?
I love the Pre-Raphaelite painters for their use of color and light. I love Pan's Labyrinth as a film inspiration and Dune by Frank Herbert for literature. A photographer that inspires me is Gregory Crewdson.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Mostly from theme. I love to start with an idea and build from there. There are certain themes that I always go back to: life vs. death, rebirth, decay…for example. I love dealing with those themes because they naturally inspire me and there are endless ways to portray them.
Could you describe us your whole creative process from coming up with an idea to realising it?Sure! I start with a theme most of the time and I try to sum up the theme in one or two words. Once I have the theme, I come up with visual words that might symbolize or represent the theme. Then I start to piece together the image - location, props, time period, wardrobe, etc. Once it is planned, and usually with a sketch and description, I go shooting. The shoot lasts about 10-15 mintues on average. Editing can then take anywhere from 2-5 hours, and often longer.
How did you learn all the photography techniques and editing?
I am self-taught in photography and editing.
Do you have any editing techniques you use mostly?
Definitely! It feels like chatting with an old friend when you get a flow down in Photoshop. I use curves extensively, the lasso/feather tools, and layer masking.
In your books you propose ways to come up with ideas and afterwards realising them. Could you give us some tips?
Definitely! One is to recognize that an image is visual, so coming up with all visual categories is a good start. Examples are: location, time, props, color, costume, character, etc. Then write down any word that pops into your head for each category. Right there you would have an idea because you've explained your image in words. Maybe you randomly choose: forest, early morning, lantern, blue, torn dress, young girl. Can you see the image already forming?
Another way is to try stream-of-consciousness writing. This is where you never lift your pen from your paper and you continuously write to see where it takes you. It is a very difficult challenge that usually reveals something about the writer.
You are also involved in other projects. For example, you dedicate a large part of your time to motivate and inspire people to live their life with passion. For this purpose you have created the webpage http://www.promotingpassion.com and you organize conferences. How did this start and what made you take this step?
I was speaking at a lot of photo conferences and noticed that I was always the strange one in the room. I was always doing something weird and my photos never fit in with anyone elses. I noticed something else, though, and that was that there was always a group of people who identified with being an outsider. I decided to start my blog and convention, Promoting Passion, to include all of those people who felt like they didn't have a place.
Organising conferences or teaching photography abroad. What is that like for you? (You have said in the past that you have been a shy person and to be speaking in large audiences is something you couldn’t have imagined!)
I absolutely can't believe that my life consists of addressing big rooms of people! I am very shy and timid, but I've found that if I am giving a platform to talk about what I am passionate about, I can talk for days! I love being able to share a part of myself in that controlled environment.
Could you describe the project you did in India?
I went to India in January 2013 to host a workshop with two organizations, Blossomy and Kolkata Sanved. After those first workshops, which were teaching self-portraiture and self-expression through art to survivors of human trafficking, I wanted to do more. I've been to India 6 times now, and at the end of 2015 started a school called The Light Space which is a photo school serving the same community.
In your workshops, conferences and the classes you give, you are so generous with your knowledge. How does it feel to see other people adopting your style?
Everything we do in our lives is a stepping stone, and I love being able to openly provide that for whoever needs it. I don't see it so much as adopting my style as much as I see them learning something new and applying it to their journey. It never gets old. I love teaching!
What is your relationship with the social media?
It is my place of community and where I go to share my best self. It holds me accountable, gives me a crutch to lean on when I'm unsure, and provides me with friends I never would have met. I love sharing.
What is your dream as an artist for you?
I have many. Right now I want to publish a novel that I wrote, so I am focusing on that this year!
What are you working on right now?
I'm editing the novel I wrote, doing more motivational speaking, starting a new art series, planning a documentary, and generally adoring life!
And how can people follow your work? How can someone purchase your art?
My website www.brookeshaden.com has all of the updates, and also lists galleries that represent my work should someone like to collect.
Would you like to add something else?
Thank you for conducting this interview! I am really grateful!
Facebook page: Brooke Shaden Photography
Interview: Georgia Kikou