Brooke Shaden is a 27 year-old self-taught fine art photographer known for intense, otherworldly compositions created in frame and by way of strong post-production. After growing up near Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Shaden graduated from Temple University with dual degrees in Film and English, and began experimenting with self-portrature.

Shaden’s photography isn’t autobiographical. Instead, the photographer places herself in worlds she wishes to inhabit, worlds dominated by nature, where, in her own words: “secrets float out in the open, and the impossible becomes possible.” Shaden’s work is now on view in two solo photographic gallery exhibitions: JoAnne Artman Gallery, Laguna Beach, California and Trudy Labell Fine Art, Naples, Florida. Both shows are open until January 31.

Shaden was kind enough to share her latest series, and to speak a bit about her background, her photography, and her influences.

To connect with Brooke Shaden, head over to her official website http://brookeshaden.com/gallery/

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Hey Brooke, thanks for speaking with us. So you grew up in Amish Country, right? Is that where you started shooting?
Yes, sort of! I started when lived in Philadelphia, where I went to college. My hometown really inspired me, but honestly, I was too scared to shoot anywhere but in my apartment. After a little while, I started to venture home to stay with my parents and shoot the countryside, but I didn’t get a lot of shooting time back then. Now, when I travel home I shoot as much as I can, and I feel these are my more personal images.

In terms of sensibility: You get a lot of attention for creating surreal “painterly” works. But I notice that most of your images are, in one way or another, dominated by nature. Can you talk about this?
When I was a child, my sister always talked about how she couldn’t wait to move out of our country home to live a big city. I never understood her – not at all. I don’t desire to live with people bustling all around me, with huge buildings blocking The trees. I feel very connected to nature, and at once want to be surrounded by it and feel completed by it. When I began creating art, it made sense to incorporate that part of myself into my visions. In a way it doesn’t feel so much like a backdrop for my images as much as it is another way of adding character into the story.

Also, you’ve got subtle references to bondage in your work. For example, birds are tied by string to a woman’s body, contorting it. There is an image of a body completely wrapped in yarn, or others where limbs contort into branches. Is that premeditated? Is it sexual, spiritual, or just some extension of nature?
I’ve always had a fascination with the idea of someone being tied down and unable to break free—or in the process of it. When I was about 11 years-old, my school class traveled to a museum in Philadelphia. We were each asked to pick out a painting that inspired us and to write something about it. I found a photograph of a man’s arm wrapped in rope. Nothing more in the image, but it was the most provocative to me, and I loved what it said about that man’s emotion without seeing his face.

I incorporate this sense of bondage or entrapment because I love presenting characters who have a decision to make—to break free, die trying, or fail. Putting stress on the human form adds narrative to the photograph, giving a sense of unrest. Using a physical bond, be it fabric or rope or yarn, presents internal struggle. These elements make my images appear surreal, but I would argue that each one hints at a deeper emotional story, that shouldn’t be interpreted literally.

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As a photographer, you rely heavily on post-production. Do you feel that’s where the true art lies?
Me, personally? Yes. But I also rely heavily on the camera. And what I rely on most on is the planning stage. I spend a lot of time planning my images, so by the time I pick up my camera, I need only a few exposures. This planning includes my character’s back story, as well as any technical aspects of the shot. Post processing is very important, but if I wanted to spend more time shooting I could absolutely take the time to build all the props and dresses and shoot it as is. I am a fan of whatever method is the most fun—and for me, I enjoy editing very much.

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What photographers really inspire you right now?

Gregory Crewdson is an incredible cinematic photographer. He’s probably the top that I’d love to meet! I think that Jamie Baldridge is spectacular, along with Maggie Taylor and Julia Fullerton-Batten. Marico Fayre is just amazing!

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Can you tell us about the series of images you just submitted?
Very often in these images someone is searching for something—be it in a book, into the clouds, or just running into the unknown. I love dealing with this subject, because it relates to people so beautifully. We’re all constantly searching for something new, or something more, hoping that with that discovery comes great joy or insight.

What’s your favorite band right now?
Agnes Obel! If only I could sing like her…or at all.

Are you ever influenced by directors, films, etc?
Sometimes! I went to film school so I have some background in film-making and studied it a lot. I adore Atonement. I’ve watched the director’s commentary over and over again. They really beautifully created a flow in camera and musical dynamic in every scene. My favorite movie is Pan’s Labyrinth. The cinematography is to die for. Guillermo Navarro, the cinematographer, is amazing, especially his portrayal of color.

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