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Her work is a mix of beautiful, whimsical worlds and dark, thought-provoking images. Learn more about Brooke’s philosophy in our Q&A with her below.
How did you get your start in photography? How did you pick fine art self-portraiture photography as opposed to other genres?
My start into photography was a very intuitive venture. I had just graduated from film school with an additional degree in English literature, and my focus was on storytelling. Photography became the next logical step, and I found it an amazing escape from the social aspects of filmmaking. Instead of asking an entire team to help bring my vision to life, I could create by myself entirely and still tell a story – this time in a single frame.
For me, photography represents freedom. Freedom from social obligation, freedom from collaboration, and freedom to express myself in exactly the way I see fit. I got into this particular style of work because my vision has always been singular. Whether I’m making a film or writing a story, there is always a focus on darkness and beauty.
What fascinates you about photography? How would you describe your work and photographic style?
Traditional photography promises to depict life as we feel and see it. To take an image that is literally true to life and manipulate that, whether through set design or Photoshop, is like taking control of reality. I love being able to capture what is in front of me and manipulate that scene to reflect the way I see the world. My work is largely informed by that desire to craft the world I wish I lived in. Visually, my style is dark and disturbing yet beautiful, surreal yet grounded in reality. All of my work is square format with an edge toward the cinematic.
How has your style changed from when you started to now?
As a photographer starting out, I wanted to get all of my ideas out fast. I shot every single day for a couple of years, and the concepts I was shooting were very in-your-face, dark, and weird. Over time I learned the difference between shock value versus really meditating on an idea and presenting that idea in the most effective way possible. The main difference between my work then and now is that I’ve slowed down the production process to create a more meaningful experience for myself and the viewer.
In the beginning, I remember being scared of color and locations. I shot almost everything in my apartment and favored neutral colors. After a hundred images like that, I branched out, and now I love shooting on location outside and utilizing bold colors in my work.
Given everything you’ve learned in your years as a photographer, what do you look for when you “see” a shot? What makes a lasting photograph?
In my case, I don’t so much “see” shots as I create them. I look for timeless, natural backdrops. When I find those spaces, such as fields or forests, I love to put my own concept into that space. For me, the more neutral and unobtrusive a location, the better palette it is for my imagery. Timeless imagery is what I believe makes an image last.
What tip/practical gear/shooting-lighting-or editing technique do you wish you knew about photography when you started, that you now use every time you shoot?
The first is the importance of a great quality image for printing purposes. Of course, for creating in general, this doesn’t matter at all. But, down the line when you want to print and thus make money as a fine art photographer, those extra pixels and a high dynamic range are important. I’m a Sony shooter now for that reason. Another practical tip I wish I knew was that I could set my timer to take multiple shots when I’m doing self-portraits. It has been so helpful during certain shoots to be able to burst capture five images instead of just one!
You recently celebrated your tenth anniversary on Flickr. What’s your favorite part of Flickr? What made you stay with us for so long?
Community. Community all the way. I am an extremely shy, introverted person so I find having “real life” friends very challenging. But online, and especially on Flickr, I was able to cultivate a group of like-minded individuals that I could be inspired by and, in turn, inspire, by simply sharing my vision. To find a group of people gathered in one place who appreciates art and are willing to have meaningful conversations about it is priceless. I’ve met some of my best friends thanks to Flickr. I stay on Flickr because of the promise of friendships, and also to keep an archive of my entire photo journey.
Do you ever find it challenging to work as a female in a male-dominated industry?
I find myself in an interesting position for two reasons. One is that I work entirely alone and remotely, so I don’t have those in-person experiences where I can see the decision-making process of why I was or was not chosen for a job. But second is that I live my life and career as though my gender is irrelevant, as it is, to me. I love to create any concept, pursue any business decision, no matter what and who is involved.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young and aspiring female photographers today, what would it be?
What you have to say is important to someone. You may not know who that person is, or how you will impact them, but rest assured your voice is one that someone needs to hear. Never forget that, and always create with that confidence.
Do you have any female photographers you admire, or who may have influenced your work?
From there, Tim began to Google more and more about it, and what started off as curiosity, eventually turned into a passion. The documentary “Ball of Light,” on Vimeo, was his first major source of inspiration.
Tim has done about four 365 projects in the past six years, shooting daily. “Light painting is, for me, the ultimate form of creativity. If you can visualize something in your imagination there will be a way to achieve this with your camera,” he said. But being a professional photographer didn’t save Tim from having his 500px account deleted for “posting non-photographing content.” A few weeks ago, the photo-sharing site mistakenly classified his images as “illustrations,” and suspended his (now reinstated) profile without notice. The incident had a positive outcome though. Tim says the media attention gained from the incident has brought light painting to a wider audience. “It’s also a huge compliment from a personal perspective, as I always strive to produce believable work, so I guess I’m doing something right.”
Flickr’s light painting community was another big source of learning for Tim during his earlier days in photography, particularly the shots and conversations in the Light Junkies and Optical Nirvana groups. “I’d sit for hours trying to dissect each shot to get my head around how each effect had been achieved. This is what drove me to improve and keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible during that long exposure.”
What’s amazing about his photos is that the majority of his work is done totally in-camera. “I use many techniques and tools to achieve my images, first and foremost is camera rotation. After seeing work by TCB, Dan Whitaker, LED Eddie, and Mart Barras, I wondered how they had twisted reality in such a way. Camera rotation was the answer. You place your camera on a rig which allows you to rotate the camera around the axis of the lens.”
Tim uses other techniques, such as refractography or lens and tripod swapping, to achieve that unusual, surreal effect. “More recently Hugo Baptista very kindly shared a number of 3D cross section videos which are really fun to use. He takes a 3D image and cuts it into cross sections on his computer. He then converts this into a kind of 3D scan that plays on a loop. I play these on my phone whilst rotating or panning my camera, and the original 3D image comes back to life.”
Tim, who recently became a brand ambassador for Light Painting Brushes, says one of the fun aspects of light painting is the fact that the artist gets to create their own tools, using LED lights, acrylics, holographic cards, and any other tool that reflects or emits light. For beginners, he recommends starting with a few basics: a tripod to keep things steady, a camera capable of bulb mode, a wired or wireless trigger, a bright torch, dark clothing so as to not appear in the frame, and a dark location to allow for long exposures. But, the most important thing, he says, is “to have a good imagination.”
If you’re into light painting, be sure to follow Tim Gamble. Flickr is where he got started as a photographer. “I love Flickr due to it being the place I found a wider community of like-minded people from around the globe. It also introduced me to my favorite shooting buddy, Chris Thompson, from just over the Pennines in Sheffield. Without his ideas, skills, patience and kind-heartedness most of my favorite light painting images would not exist, and that is all down to a chance meeting on this wonderful platform.”
You may also want to follow the Light Painting Community Flickr group, a place where both experienced and beginner light painters can post their photos and share ideas.
They created the hashtag #StillFlickring and the challenge: Every two weeks, each participant browses through the old images of the photographer they are challenging within the group and selects a photo for the photographer to recreate. There are ten rounds total so everyone is challenged at least once.
We chatted with the creator of the project, Liisa H. Hole, and with participating photographer and current Adobe Creative Resident, Laura Zalenga, to learn more about the backstory behind this fantastic idea.
How the idea for the project came to be
Liisa: I came up with the idea for this project back in January. I was drowning in a massive study load and was in the middle of one of my most stressful exam sessions so far, and felt this sudden urge to look at my old work on Flickr. When going through my old photos, multiple things became very clear to me: 1) The artistic community on Flickr was so kind and supportive, and it’s sad how this sort of authenticity and generosity had vanished from social media 2) I really missed taking self-portraits and being more creative in my approach to photography; I felt a sense of wanting to return to my roots 3) I would do so many of my old concepts differently now, and definitely much better on the technical level 4) I realized that I probably wasn’t the only one feeling like this.
The importance of Flickr
Liisa: Some of my very best memories were from the good old Flickr days. For example, back in 2012, I flew to the States to meet up with a bunch of complete strangers whose work I had followed on Flickr, and it ended up being the best thing ever. Those few days at the Midwest Flickr gathering were filled with so much passion, inspiration, creativity, and laughter. We went on little to no sleep, took so many photos and formed such strong bonds throughout it all. Later that year another person from Flickr came into my life – a weekend that was supposed to be a photography meetup led to falling in love instead, and now that person is my husband. It’s crazy, right?! I’m so thankful for joining Flickr about a decade ago, and for everything it’s brought into my life.
Laura: The whole community was very different on Flickr compared to now where everyone is mostly posting on Instagram, and no one ever gives you real feedback. On Flickr, people were giving you constructive criticism, and it was a lot more personal. It didn’t matter that much how many likes a picture would get, so it was a very different world, and I think we were all nostalgic and really missed that cool era of our photography.
Recreating their old self-portraits for this project
Liisa: I feel like we often don’t give ourselves enough credit for how much we’ve actually evolved over the years – or maybe we don’t even notice it –, so this has been an amazing opportunity to see clear growth and acknowledge our entire artistic journey. For me personally it’s become crystal clear that while I’m terribly out of practice when it comes to self-portraits, I’ve definitely learned something in the past six years, despite the complicated, on-off relationship I’ve had with photography. I also tend to be very self-critical, but this project has allowed me to soften up a bit and cherish the current ‘me’ instead of feeling like the best was in the past. I’m not the same person who I was back then, but it’s a good thing. Different is anything but bad.
Laura: I know that technically I got so much better, and you’d think that I’d be able to recreate the images and that they would just look better, but I realized that it is not possible to do that, because you cannot mimic the mood or the intention that you had when you first took that photo. From the start, I knew that I would rather try and be inspired by the [old] photo or have the same theme, or see how the same topic now relates differently to me… It’s a nice challenge–looking back and seeing how much you’ve changed personally and photography wise.
Evolution of their work
Liisa: I feel like my photographic journey has been a rollercoaster ride. It’s been very reflective of the stages in my life. For example, I consider my photos from November 2012 to be one of my very best, to this day. I was madly in love and liked using blue tones and creating dreamy atmospheres. In 2014 I had to cut my hair short, and while it’s not really the biggest issue in the world, it challenged my self-image a lot. I felt like I wasn’t pretty and feminine enough to be in photos (at least not in the way I used to be), so I had to redefine my style a bit – I started experimenting with body paint and strong colors, and cared a lot less about looking pretty. Now I’ve got to a phase in my life where I’m stronger than ever, both physically and mentally, so I’m trying to convey that through my body language. I’ve always found the human body very inspiring and beautiful, but I never really dared to capture my own. Now that I feel content in my body and accept it with all its flaws, it’s empowering to use it as a tool in my work.
Laura: Style-wise, I still do self-portraits. While some of the others in the group started with self-portraits and then moved on to take photos of other people, I stuck to that topic, and it worked out in the end. I do a lot of talks about self-portraiture and how self-portraits are a very different thing from selfies. People seem to still be interested in the topic, especially in a time where everyone cares about themselves but never spends quality time alone. Self-portraiture is almost like meditation, but not many people see that.
How they met the other photographers that are part of this project
Liisa: All of us kind of “met” on Flickr, and not all of us have met up in the real world. I’ve only met Ethan, Savannah and Håvard. Savannah has met Brittany, Ethan and me; Alex and Christian have met up with Brittany; Laura has met Ethan; Jana hasn’t met anyone (yet!).
Laura: We once had a meetup with people from over the world on Vancouver Island. I’d say we were fifty people, and we called it the Flickr island, and it was probably the biggest non-official but people-organized Flickr meetup. That was in 2014, and to me, that was a life-changing experience because it gave me so much inspiration. Funnily, I haven’t met most of the people who are part of the project in real life.
Check out the photos uploaded to Flickr so far and be sure to follow these ten young photographers for more beautiful work and inspiration!