Brooke Shaden’s photography is ethereal and otherworldly, a visual manifestation of the way that she views the world. She is most certainly a dreamer, and she chases all of her passions fearlessly. In addition to creating art, she founded The Light Space, a photography school that helps support the victims of human trafficking. She’s also a published writer, currently writing a new fantasy novel, and a motivational speaker, organizing a convention called Promoting Passion.
Art Zealous was able to catch up with Brooke about all of her current projects and how she manages to do it all!
Art Zealous: You began your career in photography by doing self-portraits. How did it progress from there?
Brooke Shaden: Yes! I very much like to be in control when I create so being in front and behind the camera made sense for me. It was never a vanity thing, and I often tried to obscure my face so that the character could be anyone. However, through taking self-portraits I realized the value in seeing yourself transported to new worlds or taking on the persona of a character. It is a really liberating and an exciting experience, so I’ve kept self-portraiture alive in my work. I feel most fulfilled when I am creating by myself and for myself.
AZ: Most of your work portrays female figures. Is there a reason behind this?
BS: The femininity in my work started because of self-portraiture, and largely remains so because of that to this day. I know myself better than anyone, so naturally I feel comfortable dealing in the feminine rather than masculine. I am creating stories that feel authentic and those stories often feature female leads. It is the same as “writing what you know.” That said, I am interested in incorporating a more masculine side to my images and am exploring that in new works that I’m conceptualizing currently.
AZ: Your photography has a very distinct style. Can you tell us about the fantasy world you’ve created?
BS: Ever since I can remember, even as a child, I wanted to create the worlds that I imagined in my mind. I wrote short stories – dark and creepy but beautiful. I made short films that felt the same as my stories. And when I picked up a camera, my images became much the same. It is a visual style that has always emerged and continues to fulfill me. I see the world the same way I make my images – dark, more sinister and mysterious – dim but yellow light – etc. I love using square format since I never loved photography as a medium, particularly. Squares let me see a window to another realm rather than a photograph.
AZ: What are your sources of inspiration?
BS: First and foremost, my daydreams. Secondly, symbolism. I love to see symbols in anything and everything I come across, from an umbrella to the forest and everything in between. I love the Pre-Raphaelite painters for visual cues, surrealism for permission to distort reality, and fairytales, of course!
AZ: Favorite artist?
BS: Gregory Crewdson!
AZ: Can you tell us about the new novel you’re working on?
BS: Certainly! It is a young adult fantasy novel centered on a dying world that must be brought back to life. I am new to novel writing, so I’m spending a lot of time learning about writing conventions, structure, etc.
AZ: Currently reading?
BS: The Hobbit and The Story Grid. I just finished Sabriel by Garth Nix and fell in LOVE.
AZ: The Light Space, a photography school you founded to help survivors of human trafficking, is expanding to Thailand. How did you first get involved, and what has your experience with it been like so far?
BS: I first started working with trafficking survivors about five years ago when I traveled to India for the first time. I taught a workshop about self-portraiture and self-expression and it went really well, so I continued to come back to give those workshops. After a few times I felt that there was something more long-term that could be done to provide an income and stability for those girls aging out of the shelter homes, so I, along with my partner Laura Price of Blossomy, started The Light Space. We ran one successful year in India and found an organization in Thailand (The Freedom Story), to partner with to make another chapter happen in Chiang Rai. It has been an amazing journey that we hope to continue expanding.
AZ: You’re writing a novel, planning a convention, and running The Light Space, all while continuing to share your photography with your fans on social media. How do you have time for everything?
BS: I am a strong believer in never calling myself “busy,” so instead I like to say “passionately alive”! I hike almost every morning, have a yoga practice, love watching and reading science fiction, and always get 8 hours of sleep. I think I’ve simply become decent at focusing my energy on specific, goal-oriented deadlines and tasks so that what I am planning happens efficiently. It doesn’t always work, but I really value every aspect of my life – writing, reading, photography, downtime, etc. – so I try to actively and intentionally plan everything and work hard to make sure each element gets proper and uninterrupted attention.
AZ: Any advice for fellow creative souls?
BS: Dig deep to find what makes you different, or light up, or feel so like yourself it scares you. And then create from that place. That is the place where people look on in awe and where you feel most free and alive.
AZ: How can we keep up with you?
BS: I’m on Instagram/Twitter/Flickr as @brookeshaden, and Facebook as @brookeshadenphotography. My blog is promotingpassion.com where I keep free downloads, writings, behind the scenes, and information about my convention. My website is brookeshaden.com.
all photos // courtesy of artist