SPEAKER | Brooke Shaden – Turning Your Strangeness Into a Career
I contacted Brooke on a whim several months ago, after we were asked who we would like to have at Creative Futures Week she was ultimately the best person I could think of. She has a background of Film, Photography & Writing. After worrying about making contact I just bit the bullet and did it … basically not expecting a massive result because of how busy she must be but I figured what can I lose by asking. And oh how I was filled with joy to wake up to a lovely reply from her saying that she would love to be involved……can’t quite explain how excited this made me! Not just for me but for everyone at Glyndwr, I knew she would be a huge asset to the line up.
Myself, Karen & Brooke (on the laptop waiting to be wired to the projector)
Below is her website bio and after that are my notes and phone pics from her Skype call that we streamed live at Creative Futures Week.
|Brooke explores the darkness and light in people, and her work looks at that juxtaposition. As a self-portrait artist, she photographs herself and becomes the characters of dreams inspired by a childhood of intense imagination and fear. Being the creator and the actor, Brooke controls her darkness and confronts those fears.
After studying films for years in college, she realized her love of storytelling was universal. She started photography then in 2008, excited to create in solitude and take on character roles herself. Brooke works from a place of theme, often gravitating toward death and rebirth or beauty and decay.
Ultimately, her process is more discovery than creation. She follows her curiosity into the unknown to see whom her characters might become. Brooke believes the greatest gift an artist has is the ability to channel fears, hopes and experience into a representation of one’s potential.
While her images come from a personal place of exploration, the goal in creating is not only to satisfy herself; her greatest wish is to show others a part of themselves. Art is a mirror for the creator and the observer .
Brooke’s passion is storytelling, and her life is engulfed in it. From creating self-portraits and writing to international adventures and motivational speeches, she wants to live a thousand lives in one. She keeps her curiosity burning to live a truly interesting story.
Brooke spent the first half of the session talking about what she does and how she does it, we then went on to a Q&A from myself, Karen, Kamila & then the audience.
She began by talking about how she comes up with ideas and finding inspiration from everyday objects around her. She then develops her initial idea, looking at colour and the emotional choice for different colours and then onto props and location.
It’s vitally important to make work that you love, that is true to you.
If you can’t relate to your own work then how can you expect anyone else to?
She doesn’t just class herself as a photographer, she is a storyteller and it just so happened that photography became her medium as a way of telling her stories, there is so much more to her images than just taking a picture in regards to the concept, the why, to the way it’s shot and edited. When she first started out she knew she wanted to create dark yet beautiful imagery. She had the choice to do what could make her money there and then and work commercially or do what she loved and stick to that carving her individual style and path.
Art is about connecting with others, building communities of people who can relate to or be inspired to do something similar.
Realise your impact – This was something she was faced with early on, using social media to share her images and focusing on how many likes and interaction she received. An image she uploaded didn’t get the feedback she was hoping for so she took it down, only to then be contacted by a friend who wanted to know why she had taken it down and that it had actually helped her to deal with a really traumatic experience that she was going through. And this happened on other occasions also, so it became clear to Brooke how much you can affect others emotionally.
‘Everyone has the ability to impact others with their work. You may not realise it or you may never realise it but it will happen’
Master at your craft – This doesn’t mean that you have to own every piece of fancy equipment, software and be trained in every aspect of photography that there is. It simply means that you need to become a master of what you like to use and be proud of that, and create unique art based on that.
Something she realised early on in her career:
‘If what you do in life is not your love affair then you’re not going to get very far with it’
Decide EXACTLY what you want to do, what makes you happy and what you want to spend your time doing day in day out. Because if you know what you want to do then it is easier to find a way to make it happen. And don’t worry if what you love doing now changes and you love something else in the future, it is all part of your journey.
Create your own rules – This is her favourite thing about Art because you can forge a career out of doing whatever you want. The cornerstone of her career was realising that just because someone tells her to do something she doesn’t need to do it, she’s made her own rules and followed her own path.
‘Art is very selfish in that it’s something that allows you to dig into who you are and be that person despite what everyone says. And that’s a little bit scary because it’s scary to be who you are unapologetically but I believe that’s the greatest thing we can do’
Brooke then went on to breakdown an image and how she put it together in Photoshop:
She was also going to edit an image from the start but unfortunately was unable to finish it because of technical issues, her laptop wasn’t happy running Skype and Photoshop at the same time.
LIVE Q&A (I have only included some of the Q&A because of the length of the answers)
So when it comes to education you always give so much, everything that you have learnt you make it so available for everybody. You have free online information on your Youtube channel, tons of videos as well as your new website which is about promoting passion, everything that you have learnt is there for everybody to access. So when you first started out creating images did you set out to inspire and educate people like you do or has that just happened naturally along the way?
It was a little bit of both, I always wanted to be an English Teacher personally, so I grew up thinking that I was going to do that and I got a Degree in English. And so my back up plan was if my art didn’t work out I was to get my teachers Degree and then go be an English Teacher. So I always wanted to be an educator and after I started photography I had some people asking like ‘how do you do that’ and ‘why do you so that’ and I started thinking about teaching photography instead of english because I thought well, teaching is teaching and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And so I started workshops just locally and that transitioned into artists retreats and then that transitioned into motivational speaking so it’s sort of been something that I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t start my career thinking that that’s what I would do. So, it’s a little bit of both but i’ve also realised that I find Art to be much more inspiring to make when other people are in on it with you and that there’s someone to share it with, that there’s someone to tell the process to. So it’s become sort of integral to me to really feel connected.
There is so much thought behind your images and every element that is included in it but at the same time you always try to keep the cost down, which is quite important when you are a student, and you make the most of what’s available to you. What would you spend on average for each shoot?
Oh gosh like, I guess on the average to be like 5 dollars .. I don’t know, it’s not much. I have a lot of dresses that I re-use and re-use and re-use so I would say that the average picture doesn’t cost me anything because they are things that I have on hand. You know, I don’t usually buy new things for images but if I do I try to keep the costs under like 20 bucks or something. And then I’ll do the occasional series where I’ll spend a lot more money on it. A couple of days ago I was travelling and I was actually in the middle of nowhere in a forest hanging a glass coffin from a tree which is extremely weird and very expensive as it would turn out to do that. But that’s the really rare time that i’ll spend a lot of money to make a lot of money. Really invest in a series rather than every single image that I create.
Just thinking Brooke you mentioned that the coffin was made of glass as well, so did you commission somebody to do that or work with somebody to do that?
Yes! It was so funny! I asked my friend who has this property that we can shoot on, I said ‘ do you know anyone who could make a coffin ‘ and he said ‘ yea I’ll have it done by friday! ‘ So he did and I showed up and i saw the coffin and it was great and I said ‘ who ended up doing it? ‘ and he said ‘ oh these two truck drivers that i know ‘ so it wasn’t even like a real business it was just some guys who wanted to try .. and thankfully nobody died! :’-D
Do you think that keeping things simple encourages you to be more creative?
It depends on how you work I will say that because I’ve seen people who really thrive in an environment with a lot of stimulation but the interesting thing is if you take all of the training wheels essentially that people get used to like the best gear or lots of locations or great props or whatever you use on a regular basis then you are forced to confront your own imagination which is amazing and terrifying at the same time. I’ve done this exercise many times where I take a group of people and just trap each person in their own room with nothing in it just white walls no furniture. And then say ok you have an hour now create something, and it’s so interesting the emotional process that people go through of like ok I’ve got a camera and myself and maybe a couple of resources but really nothing to inspire so you have to look within. It’s interesting because people go through almost this like grieving process of like first they’ve lost what they’re used to and then they’re angry about it and then they resign to it and the stimulation of their imagination starts to kick in and then they’re so proud of themselves for making something out of nothing. So I believe that is the true mark of an artist, is what can you do with nothing, not what can you do with a whole bunch of inspiration stimuli all around.
Your equipment doesn’t define your images, you go out on location with sometimes just your camera and use whatever’s around you. So, what’s the weirdest thing that you’ve ever had to use or do to get a shot? …apart from the coffin!
Yea, I feel like this weekend is very fresh in my mind! You know, I feel like the times I have felt most challenged in photography is entirely self-inflicted, like just because I can’t remember anything I’ll just show up on location and not have my remote control for example for a self-portrait and have to figure out how to run 100 metres and balance on a rock in 10 seconds. Ridiculous things that are impossible, so I find that happening to me a lot where if I only had a remote, so that’s like the most consistent thing that’s frustrating about myself but there have been many challenging situations as well. Like if I said to you guys, ok, the assignment today is to go hang a coffin from a tree, like that is a really difficult thing to do … so it turns out. It’s really fun though to have those moments of how am I going to work through every step of this process to make it work.
My evaluation is that I am chuffed to bits to have a selfie with Brooke Shaden!! haha
I really felt humbled to have had the chance to listen to Brooke talk about how she has developed her career into exactly what she wants to do and how she does it! It was nothing but awe-inspiring and I think regardless if you want to create images like her or something totally different her talk would have given everyone in that room something to take away and use.
A truly gifted photographer, storyteller, educator and genuinely awesome person all rolled into one!