Brooke Shaden is a fine art photographer, writer, teacher, and speaker. She is known for her self-portraits and creates ‘fantastic realities’ by using painter techniques within the square frame of her photographs. Her works have been exhibited and featured throughout the world and at age 24, Brooke was the youngest artist in The Annenberg Space for Photography “Digital Darkroom” exhibition. Brooke Shaden, self-portrait photographer and artist, shares more about her background, being ‘born’ into photography, and advice for aspiring photographers.
Brooke also explores the role of community within the world of art with her guest blog post, Creating and Community.
You describe being “born into photography”, can you share more about this experience?
All growing up I thought I was going to be a writer, so when I discovered photography I was fresh out of college and sort of resistant to being a photographer. But when I constructed my first image from the ground up, it was like being born into a craft that I never wanted to abandon, and I went on to learn more and more through trial and error until I saw my style emerge.
You mention exploring self-portraiture as a way of maintaining artistic control over your process. Do you feel you have been able to maintain this control? How much does your initial vision of your art differ from the final result?
I love self-portraiture for just that reason. I do feel that I’ve had good control over my art through self-portraiture, and often much more when I’m doing self-portraits versus directing someone else. Of course every situation is different, but being able to work through my process privately is important to me in a lot of ways, so being at peace with my art makes the process that much more meaningful. I find that my images usually end up looking like what I envisioned, though I can’t say that what I envisioned is always great!
Your art evokes emotion. As both the artist and the subject in your self-portraits do you feel vulnerable when sharing?
I have always seen myself as a character quite separate from who I am when creating. In fact, the whole creation process seems very different from who I usually am. I love dark things, for example, yet I am a happy person. I have always naturally separated those two parts of myself, so when I create self-portraits, the identity gets separated as well. There are times when I feel trepidation based on the theme or subject matter, but never because I am the one portraying it.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Trying to gather support in many areas. For example, I am almost equally dedicated to five different projects: my photography, writing, motivational speaking, charity work, and a documentary. My fear is that I won’t be able to get enough people on board with such a diverse range of topics.
What do you love most about what you do?
The message. I love to make sure that anything I do has a message attached that can, in some way, make someone see a little bit differently. That is the reason why I love art so much. It is thrilling to see your vision come to life, but to see that vision translate to someone else is astonishing to me.
What advice would you share with other aspiring photographers and artists?
Know what you want to say with your art. Ask yourself “why” even when you don’t know the answer or it is uncomfortable to answer. And always think about how your actions will benefit other people. When I know why I create and how it might affect others, that is the ultimate goal for me.
Creating and Community written by Brooke Shaden
When I started creating images I felt alone. I was creating and loving it, but I didn’t know how to share it. I started on Flickr, uploading my images with musings about my day or how I created the picture, and then I started joining groups to try and meet new people. One of the first groups I joined was a contest group where I ended up making a friend that I still have to this day. She came to my first gallery show opening, flying across the US to do so, and we now visit each other a few times a year.
The interesting thing about community, at least for me, is that it can feel overwhelming. Put me in a group and I feel confused and awkward. I have been that way my whole life and that has yet to change though I’m always working on it. So an online group of friends to call community seemed like a great idea. That was until I realized that I was having trouble finding a group that would only be supportive without putting anyone down or judging them. Even the nicest groups I joined had a negative opinion about someone or something, and I didn’t want to be around that.
I noticed that the more I tried to force the community aspect of creating, which I believe is very big for me, the less I wanted to create. Happiness and creating go hand in hand in my world, and I need positive vibes around when I am creating. So finally, after years of feeling disappointment with the communities I was in, I started my own. It was a novel idea for me, that instead of standing idly by as others take charge, I could be the one taking charge. I started viewing my business as a group effort; my photos as a collage of opinions.
When we stop thinking about our work as solely our own, assuming we believe in community, that is, then it suddenly has room to grow and expand and become something else. I believe that the opinions of others enrich my art, and so I seek them, good and bad. I believe that, when something miserable happens in my life or career, I benefit from having a community that shares love instead of hate to “go home” to.
The art that I create is often called strange – dark, mysterious, creepy, weird, etc. I have always had this vision in my mind, from the short stories that I used to write to the films I made and now the images I create. Never did I have a community of like-minded individuals around me until these days. I have learned the most valuable lesson: if you create something from your heart, others will love what you do. Not everyone, nor should they – but someone will, and that connection is invaluable.
Thank you Brooke! So what do you think? Comment below on your experience with the creative community!
Learn more about Brooke at http://brookeshaden.com/gallery/
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