Our review of Brooke Shaden’s new book ‘Inspiration In Photography’ can be found here.
The Protector of Magic
Brooke Shaden’s style is one to be admired. The beautiful technique and style of dark art allows the viewers and creators imagination to run wild. Reminiscent of dreams, Brooke’s images usually portray an element or concept through the props and clothes the models wear. Furthermore the way she positions her models, which often includes herself, she emphasises the beautiful nature of the human body.
What is most striking about Brooke’s images, is her compassion for detail. Her exploration of the world allows for her work to be communicated in different ways through the photographic medium. Using models in her photographs which are edited to emulate a painting, her images are so beautifully crafted that it makes you wonder if they’re actually photographs. Dark art is a relatively contemporary style, often associated with the exploration of life, death and other contrasting elements. Using an array of techniques to create her images, she has also successfully created photographs using ‘levitation’. This technique which is then further refined in Adobe Photoshop, allows for the illusion of the model to be floating in mid air. Experimenting with this weightlessness has also lead Brooke to creating underwater photographs.
There’s something so striking about your images, it is as if we are looking into your dreams – how do you decide on what to create and what state of mind do you find yourself in when you encounter an idea for a photograph?
For me, inspiration is everywhere and I try to see it in all things. It is like living in a state of inspiration rather than searching for it. I am inspired by the things around me: nature, first and foremost, as a backdrop to my work. I am inspired by certain themes, like life and death, rebirth, fairytales, and any form of storytelling.
A photographers style is what makes them so unique – what parts or elements in your life do you think helped to develop your ‘dark art’ style?
I completely agree, I think that style is something that will often set one photographer apart from another. Style often evolves naturally, as it did with me. I have always had a fascination with dark art and anything that made me think outside of my normal spectrum. To me, darkness is something that so many people shy away from because it forces us to question things that we often need not think about. It allows us to access a part of ourselves that might not get let out all the time, but when it does, it frees us from our fears.
You seem to focus on contrasting themes such as life vs death and reality vs dreams just to name a few, how do these themes help you in constructing a concept for a photograph?
Themes allow me to feel grounded and is often a starting point for creating a photograph. I have themes that I always go back to, like you mentioned, that I can always pull inspiration from. If I have a place to start, like a broad topic, I can put my own spin on it to make it specific and personal to me.
Works such as ‘The Drift’, ‘Retention’, ‘Half Sister’ and ‘Spin Cycle’ are slightly different from some of the works that you create now, how do you think you’ve changed in working style over the past 4 years?
Absolutely, and I love that you picked up on those in particular. When I started photography I certainly thought a lot about meanings behind my work, but I perhaps demonstrated them in more obvious ways. If I wanted to portray someone feeling torn, I might literally split their body in half. Now, I would be more tempted to do something less obvious and more mysterious in nature. My work is still conceptually dark but not as aesthetically dark. I think I have found a better balance between beauty and darkness. I am also working on adding more set design to my images to create fuller frame.
‘Preservation Of Fairytales’ is probably one of my favourite photographs of yours. Tell us a bit about the inspiration for the photograph, how you went about creating it and if the idea for the final photograph changed along the way at all.
Aww thank you! For that image, I wanted to give the illusion that a woman was frozen in a block of ice that had been melting. She was being revealed and introduced back into the world. In the image, we don’t know who the person is or what she will do when she escapes, and that is where the mystery comes from. My opinion on the piece has always had to do with the title. To preserve a fairytale is to write one. The act of writing, or taking a picture, is one of the best ways of preserving a memory, so the title is a play on how not only was the girl preserved, but the memory of the fairytale is as well. To create the image, I put the model in a clear plastic bucket of water. I then edited out the rim of the tub to create the illusion that the water was solid and that she was frozen inside.
Dark art has also seemed to have led you to underwater photography, even photographing a promotional set of photographs for the HBO series, True Blood – what is it like photographing underwater? How does the experience differ from photographing your other works?
Underwater photography is a huge passion of mine because it allows me to access a world that is widely unknown to us. It is a place where humans cannot exist for long periods of time, yet in a photograph we can look for hours if we want, staying submerged in the space. This excites me because it is truly creating a new world, which is what I love to do. It represents darkness and mystery because it is a place we cannot explore normally.
Defying gravity seems to be another skill you have honed into (haha), as you have stated you do most of the construction in a photograph on shoot, how do you construct photographs such as ‘Pixie Dust’?
For images such as this, I tend to prop the model up on a stool of some sort and then edit that stool out from under them. I love this process because it, again, allows the viewer to experience something that would be otherwise impossible. With photography, nothing is impossible, and that is why I love it so much.
Another thing that is so unique about your photographs is that they are square and almost emulating a painting from say the Pre-Raphaelite period – Most of your inspiration seems to come from more of a painters medium rather than photography itself, how does this influence or help you with your creative thinking processes?
I do love the square format because it gets rid of the standard 2:3 aspect ratio that a photograph will give. I want people to look at my images and forget that they are photographs; not because I dislike photographs, but because I want the concept to be at the forefront of the image. I love the Pre-Raphaelite painters. They give me inspiration in light, the way it hits skin, and colors as well. I think that painters are such interesting subjects because they have to choose, each time they change the picture, exactly how and why they are going to do something. This is a mindset that I cherish while working on my photographs.
‘5 Things’ from Brooke:
What are your 5 favorite things about photography?
- Being able to create what I see in my imagination
- Going on location Editing, especially the part where I get to start changing colors
- Exhibiting prints – there is nothing like seeing a big print!
- The incredibly absurd situations I get myself into (not least of all having crowds of people watch as I do self-portraits.
- Having my friend tie me from a tree inside some stretchy fabric…)
What are your 5 least favorite things about photography?
- The stereotypes of how people see photography
- Getting asked to do headshots…a lot
- How expensive it can be!
- The trends that so easily get started
- The fact that often, running a photography business means more emailing than shooting
What are 5 things you wish you had been told before beginning photography?
- To not upload full size images to the internet (blargh)
- How the gallery system works
- Age can be used to your advantage
- Wrapping yourself in plastic wrap can be hazardous to your health
- Even the best photographers often do not have things handed to them
And finally…if you were able to sum up your entire collection of work in just a sentence, what would you call it?
- Creating beauty in darkness.
‘The key to living a happy life is to figure out what makes you happy.’ – Brooke Shaden