I’ll be turning 30 at the beginning of March, and I am excited the same that I am for every passing year. It is a celebration of still being alive. I never expect age to continue blessing me so each birthday is beautiful. For the first time in my life I feel like I am turning an age that I was meant to be. I always felt out of place as a teenager or “20-something”. I’ve never voluntarily gone to a party, never tasted alcohol, never disobeyed my parents (except for that one time, but it was for love!), never had a “wild side”, never wavered on my convictions, never felt a need to belong. I was born to be 30, or older, or oldest. I’m pretty sure 80 will be my sweet spot.

They say that your 20s are a time for exploration and your 30s are a time for settling down. I think I’ve always done both and will continue. I want to explore until my feet won’t move and my mind shuts down. Curiosity is the fuel of the human spirit.

Life is the grandest teacher, and I am a pupil who seeks to understand every gift. This is what I’ve gleaned.

30 Lessons From my 20s

  • 1. Choose carefully those who surround you.
  • 2. Being a good person is the best life and business advice, consistently.
  • 3. Organization and respect are essential for business.
  • 4. Sharing your authentic voice sets you apart.
  • 5. Age is irrelevant.
  • 6. Ask for help when you need it.
  • 7. Never put deadlines on your dreams.
  • 8. Seek to set yourself outside of the center of your universe.
  • 9. Create as honestly, unapologetically, and powerfully as you can.
  • 10. Find humility in your mistakes and pride in your successes.
  • 11. Smile when you’re crying.
  • 12. Jump in every cold body of water you see.
  • 13. You don’t have to be naturally good at something to master it.
  • 14. See small wins as massive successes.
  • 15. Never treat anyone like they are less important than someone else.
  • 16. You are never only one thing.
  • 17. Feed your inspiration or it will die.
  • 18. All of the things you wanted to do will fall away unless you actively pursue them.
  • 19. When you hug people, hug them so genuinely that you pass your joy to them.
  • 20. It doesn’t matter how great or weak you think you are, we are all equals.
  • 21. We all have a gift to give.
  • 22. The more you go your own way, the more you’ll inspire others to do the same.
  • 23. If you believe in something, speak your truth.
  • 24. Never put yourself above learning new things.
  • 25. Stop glorifying being busy, it is not attractive.
  • 26. If something is important to someone else, it is important.
  • 27. You can never fully know someone else’s situation, so act with compassion.
  • 28. If someone doesn’t like what you create, create more of it and know that your tribe is out there.
  • 29. Just because you aren’t good at some things doesn’t mean you’ll never be good at anything.
  • 30. Begin, or begin again.

Which do you connect with or what would you add?

As I’m sitting as my desk writing this, I keep pausing to think about the most important moments in the last decade. I remember times when there were awards or prestigious shows or accolades, but they are not the moments that bring me joy or that get me lost in the memories. These are the times that stand out….

Running through a corn maze with my family who all complained about going, but I made sure to infect them with my joy. By the end we were all laughing.

Being pushed down the street in the dark in a shopping cart when I accidentally went miles away on a photo shoot with my friends and only after they left realized I had the car keys but no car. My husband started walking toward me and I toward him and we met in the middle where we packed all of my stuff, myself included, into a discarded shopping cart and he wheeled me all the way home.

Realizing that the people I’ve looked up to my whole life are fallible and human, and the mess of emotions that come with that realization.

Sleeping in my car at the beach overlooking the Pacific ocean the first night I drove out to Los Angeles to live. Our apartment was in such a scary neighborhood and it was half the size we were expecting (only one room) and had cockroaches all over the place, so we drove until I couldn’t stay awake and fell asleep looking at the ocean.

Creating a self-portrait while standing waist deep in the glacier lagoon in Iceland.

Writing my first novel.

Sand dunes.

Creating portraits with my sister on a beach in Australia.

Using my hair to express myself.

Countless strange things for photo shoots.

Teaching self-expression to survivors of human trafficking and starting a photo school in India.

…Memories I hope I will never forget.

If I had to sum up my 20s in a few words, I would say:

Embracing my weirdness
Cultivating community
Becoming a leader
Finding my compassion
Being an unwavering optimist.

I feel like I lived so much. Since I was 20 years old I…

Married my best friend
Started taking photos
Started a photo business
Wrote 3 photo books and a novel
Taught workshops all over the world
Gave motivational speeches to huge crowds
Visited 18 countries 
Bought my first house
Exhibited my art

Started my own convention
Met the cast of Doctor Who…

…and so much more. This life is a beautiful one – not without hardship, but I did mention my unwavering optimism? The bad stuff has no place in this blog post. If I could go back and tell my 20-year-old self what lies ahead, I wouldn’t dare. “Spoilers”. It was an incredible decade.

What lies ahead? For me a sign that I am doing what I love is wishing the future will hold more of what I’m already doing. I hope for more travel, more intimate time with my family (this year I’m traveling to Brazil with my dad and the UK with my mom, sister and aunt), more photo opportunities and platforms to express myself, more community…

But I also have big dreams. 

To publish my novel.
To make a documentary.
To create a more personal art series.
To be a represented motivational speaker.
To write more poetry.
To expand my charity.
To know myself.

I vow to always, always be open to becoming whomever I feel I should be, even if that person doesn’t align with who I thought I would be.

On to the unknowable, incredible future,
where though heartache waits
in the echo-chamber that I dare not dwell,
so too, and more so, the piano plays my sweet dark song
that beckons me on through the mysteries.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
– Walt Whitman

  • February 20, 2017 - 7:47 am

    Paulo Carvalho - Wonderful post! You are beautiful and a huge and lovely person! Brazil! If you want to learn a few words in Portuguese, you know who to ask! Have a good week!:)ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:23 pm

      brookeshaden - Ah yes I will have to ask! Like “no butter, milk, eggs or meat” – that’s always a toughy but most important! 😀 Thank you for your kindness!ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 8:34 am

    Elou Carroll - I think this post was exactly what I needed to see today, so thank you for that. Thank you for continuing to inspire.

    If you’re planning your first trip to England, I would recommend you make sure you go to at least one incredibly old place. There’s no inspiration quite like the old, ruined places over here. They’re also all incredibly beautiful. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:24 pm

      brookeshaden - Aww thank you Elou! Ah this will be about my 5th or 6th trip I believe, but I agree with that recommendation 100%! My favorite parts of England are the oldies 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 8:57 am

    Colman Love - When you are feeling low/alone/self pity, go serve someone else…ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:24 pm

      brookeshaden - I LOVE that. So true in so many ways.ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 11:13 am

    Linda Drake - You are wise beyond your years and have one of the most beautiful souls I have ever come across. Happy Birthday!! Your 20’s have produced some of the most captivating images. I am curious to see what your 30’s will bring!ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:24 pm

      brookeshaden - Aww thank you Linda!! That is TOO nice of you! I can’t wait to see what it brings as well 🙂 Hugs!ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 11:45 am

    Dave - A few things I’ve learned: 1) Everyone on the planet has some crazy part of their thinking or life. We’re all screwed up in some dimension or another. It’s ok. We can work through and adapt. 2)Don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to your best friend. No, you’re not fat/a loser and always will be/stupid/you didn’t deserve it/ugly or whatever else. Certainly don’t be listening to yourself saying it over and over in your own head! 3) You only need permission from yourself. If you want to do something, make it happen. No one will stop you unless you let them. 4) Turn off the TV and social media. Your peace of mind depends on it.ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:25 pm

      brookeshaden - Those points are so well taken. Especially being kind to yourself. It makes me incredibly sad when I see that point falling apart for some people. It takes practice. Thank you Dave, for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 4:39 pm

    Fit BMX - Beautiful post! (Huge!)
    I love your list of 30, it is great and dead on. I turned 29 a month ago, and I feel like it took me 28 of those years to get an idea, so I am hoping this year is the best yet. 🙂
    I have also never tasted alcohol, smoked, and have never been to a party. I avoided them all like the plague!
    Thanks for the hair color photos, I have always wondered what your natural hair color was! LOL
    You look tired, but very cute in that shopping cart! 😉ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 7:35 pm

    Lisa R. - What a beautiful post and full life you’ve already lived. I am excited for you and the amazing things to come. Many blessings to you in all that you do!

    P.S. The shopping cart – priceless! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 7:52 pm

    Yuliana - You are an inspiration for me! Thank you for this post, I hope all your personal and professional life goes well!

    Greetings from Venezuela 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 8:09 pm

    Katie - Thank you for your amazing spirit and openness- needed these little reminders badly!! Keep that flame roaringReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 11:02 pm

    David Limrite - You are amazing and I am thrilled and lucky to have crossed your path. Thank you for this post. Happy Birthday. Your 30s are going to be fantastic. Enjoy every moment.ReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 1:25 am

    Maria Paz Fernandez Garcia - Thank you so much Brooke, for another great inspiring post. I am twice your age, and I have learnt that when you get past a certain age, you need to start undoing the age barriers even more! I look forward to seeing you in Madrid next month! If you need any advice about my birthplace do let me know! Feliz cumpleaños! Happy birthday! xReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 8:14 am

    Alice Solantania Saga - you are SUCH an inspiration to me brooke. THANKS FOR BEING SO WONDERFULLY BEST! i will share your wisdom in my next blog post. i need to take them all to heart. all 30 of them. happy birthday to you (in advance). i am in the midst of your challenge, and i am loving it. i do take my time though since all has to take its own time once in a while. much love to you. aliceReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 10:21 am

    Amani - I love you so much Brooke <3 Happy birthday in advance. I'm sending you the BIGGEST hug!ReplyCancel

  • February 24, 2017 - 9:56 am

    Sandy - An amazing read Brooke and some wonderful Take a ways. Number 9 and 19 resonate with me! Thanks for sharing with us!ReplyCancel

I waited 14 months to share my “Fourth Wall” series with you, and longer if you count the time conceiving of it. It was difficult for me. Up until this point in my career I have released every image I’ve created instantly. “Instantly” isn’t the right word, but I never had anything holding me back. I would wait a day or two, or maybe a week, and then share what I had made. It felt natural to create and share because that is the reward system that social media has put in place. I create something and then I share it, naturally, for feedback. The more positive the feedback, the more we want to share, and more frequently.

Therefore it was a step in a totally new direction for me to create without sharing. And it felt amazing. There were images I wasn’t so sure of and was happy to keep them to myself, and other images that proved to be a true lesson in self-control.

May I interject here and say that I am proud of the work I created. I wish more people would come out and say that they are proud of themselves. We should love the work we do. We should be proud of the work we do. If we aren’t, how can we expect anyone else to be? During all of 2016 when I was creating Fourth Wall, I wanted to share because I was proud of what I was doing and you are my community. It felt great though to let that part of me slip away. To acknowledge my happiness within the work I was doing and to let that be enough.

I found that the longer I waited the more I could go back and tweak them – and sometimes overhaul them. I would re-shoot an image if I knew I could do better, and time – months – gave me that gift of understanding. I started to realize the layers that I wanted to go into each piece and I was able to digest that and then create it. Time is such an arbitrary thing. We push and press ourselves into the future so quickly that we forget to see the present. We set deadlines for ourselves that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life and if we don’t meet them, we believe we have failed. It is a terrible thing that we do to our creativity when we put a timestamp on it. Letting these images breath was like giving them life.

It took me a whole year of creating to fully understand why I wanted to create this series. There were three main reasons.

One was for a new creative direction. I had never built anything before and had always failed when trying, and I needed to know that I could do it.

Another was to go in a different business direction to attract a New York City gallery.

And the third was powered by my love of theme and a desire to portray ideas that we keep hidden yet all connect with.

Those three motivations made for a great way to actually get me to create. I have had a photo business for seven years now, and this is the first time where I have followed through in creating a series that I would package and sell as such. It was a really interesting direction to go in and one that I enjoyed immensely.

One of the most common comments I got on the series was “Why didn’t you just Photoshop it?”. For the key image, I did. It was a financial necessity for me. However, the rest were done in camera as much as possible. There was certainly still post processing on all of them, but not to the extent I had done in my previous work. The reason is simple. I wanted to be there, in that space, spending time with the idea as much as the material that created the idea. I wanted to spend hours upon hours gluing yarn to the floor. I wanted to feel what it felt like to really be trapped in a flooded room. It was important to me to be there.

That made the series ephemeral as well. The sets I was creating were temporary and would not be duplicated. Each image has a timeless quality to it that I associate with building something in the space, physically.

The big reason why I laid off of Photoshop and did the series at all is: CHANGE.

It is so easy to forget that change is part of the human experience. What we will all do, inevitably, is change or perish. I would rather change willingly instead of by surprise. I want to be in control of my creativity, my self. I want to explore my depths, knowing that they are infinitely long and I will never reach the bottom. I want to go as deep as I can while I still breathe on this Earth.

Is that not the true soul of an artist? To desire to work. To never be finished. To seek to know oneself intimately so that we may create meaningfully? That is my why. Do you echo that?

At the end of the creating process, and while I was preparing for the gallery debut, I decided to submit to some awards. I am not the type that does this usually but I wanted to prove to myself that I was proud of the work I did, so I submitted. To my astonishment the series has placed in a couple of those awards so far. It recently got 2nd place in the International Photographer of the Year awards for Fine Art: Conceptual. It got 1st place at the ND Awards for Fine Art Series and won the grand prize in those awards as well.

I don’t share that to brag. If you know me you know I’d rather fall into a flaming pit of hot lava (a totally normal scenario) than believe that what I do is “better” or “more deserving” than another persons. I tell you this so that you believe in yourself. Learn from my journey. Belief in yourself shouldn’t be waited for. It is here for the taking no matter if you’ve never won an award. It is here if you feel so far behind everyone else. It is here if you feel that you’ll never create your best work.

I called my mom a few days ago to tell her that the series had placed in these awards, and she said something to me that I had been thinking: If only I had known earlier. She said that if only I had known in high school that I would succeed in something.

She said it so lovingly, though it might sound weird to you. I grew up loving to write and, I felt, being fairly good at it. But when it came to things that all the other kids my age were doing, I just couldn’t compete no matter how hard I tried. And trust me, I tried harder than everyone I knew. My grades were below average, I consistently made the “B” soccer team, and I had a hard time with most new things I tried. Nothing ever came easily. I am so glad for that. It taught me that talent or not, we can build our dreams if we choose to work at them. It might take countless tries and a lot of years and heart-tugging failures. It might mean that we have to continuously re-define what is important and how we will see a desire through. Eventually though, we make it. “It” may not be the place you always thought it would be. “It”, that elusive “successful place” that we all so desire, is nothing more than a mindset.

It is taking pride in what we do. It is not the awards we win or the circus that is social media telling us that we should love what we do. It is a genuine and irreplaceable bliss that we feel so fully when we engage in something that shares our soul with the world. What a beautiful “it” to find.

There were many images that I ended up not using in the final series. Here are a couple of them that I never quite finished, but simply knew that they didn’t belong. In the past I never had to curate my work. I simply released it and put it in galleries when asked and it was simple. But for this series I wanted to be absolutely certain that the images in the show truly reflected my intention in every aspect – visually, conceptually, and how it was created as well. I debated with these images extensively. The cobweb photo was my husband’s favorite. But I knew instinctively that it wouldn’t make the cut. We simply wrestled too long together.

Other images that I created but didn’t make it in…

I wanted one to look like a girl was frozen underwater. This is a picture I have wanted to create for a very long time. I bought a giant piece of plexiglass and cracked it, and then put my model underneath. It was difficult to stop getting glare while having enough light, and in the end it wasn’t the right time.

For another I put hundreds of pounds of dirt on the floor and planted flours. I thought it was going to be great. It turned out that I couldn’t quite get enough flowers in there to look vibrant enough and the dirt looked too much like mulch. By the time I had realized my errors the passion for the image was gone and I never reshot it.

One of the most difficult things about scrapping an image is the loss of money and time. It might sound arbitrary, but I don’t have a lot of money to spend on creative endeavors. In fact, I have spent the first many years of my career creating with no budget. It was hard to let something go that cost me so much, but in the end it wouldn’t have been true to my purpose if I had kept them in.

I have published over 700 pictures in the eight years I have been shooting. These nine images rank above my favorite for so many reasons, not least of which being the effort and the love in each one. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at creating some of the images from the series. It was a wild and beautiful ride.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, and for your ever evolving kindness that gives me the courage to create something new despite previously earned acceptance. It is a freeing thing, to be able to create anew without fear of rejection. Though it will come, and does, there is solidarity in our community.

If you are interested in obtaining a print from this collection, please email the JoAnne Artman Gallery for details.

42×42 inches, Edition of 2
8×8 inches, Edition of 3

Printed on Elegance Velvet Fine Art Paper, archival certified, signed with certificate of authenticity.

  • February 15, 2017 - 11:46 pm

    Natasha - So lovely! Thank you for sharing the photos that didn’t make it, too.

    Our society is full of conflicting messages, especially for women: be pretty, but not too pretty; be smart, but not too smart; be successful, but not too successful. I think that mentality leaves a lot of us feeling like it isn’t okay to be proud of our accomplishments, but that’s silly. Thank you, also, for being vulnerable and proverbially standing up to say you’re proud of your creation!ReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 7:39 am

      brookeshaden - Oh Natasha, thank you so much for this comment for so many reasons. Yes, we must be proud! It is important that we love what we do – is that not the dream? I can’t say I always creating something I’m happy with, but that is the journey and beauty of it. You are so lovely.ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 3:42 am

    Delphine - Oh Brooke! This post makes me smile so much and be so proud of you.

    Yes change is very difficult, and especially when you have an “audience”, people who know you for a certain type of pictures. But you took the risk, to try something different. And at the end, like everything we create it’s different but it’s still you. No matter what you do, if you do it with your heart, it will still be you.

    <3 <3 <3ReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 7:39 am

      brookeshaden - Delphine, I love you. That is so true – what we do with our hearts is truly who we are. A beautiful statement. I miss you and hope to see you soon!ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 7:50 am

    Heather - This is amazing, Brooke!
    The whole series turned out beautifully and you should be proud of what you have built with your own two hands.
    Thank you also for showing us some of the behind the scenes photos of the ones that didn’t make the cut. When we set out to create something we never really know if it is going to work or not, and when it doesn’t work, we can sometimes feel like we have failed. It’s nice to be reminded that sometimes even the people we’d call our heroes have photos that do not work out, but they plug away anyway to success.ReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 8:03 am

      brookeshaden - Hi Heather! Thank you for your kindness, it means so much to me! I love the not knowing process in creating, though it is annoying at the time, it is so illuminating. XOXO!ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 9:05 am

    Surekha Shrestha - Wow I’m so happy I came across this post. I’m currently a senior in high school feeling the same intense passion and drive for the artwork that I do & have yet to do. I agree with you completely on the subject of taking your time to create meaningful pieces without a set deadline to pressure the creative process. Around summer of 2016, I started a 365 day project whete I posted a work of art a day. However, when school started I was having less time to create which hindered the quality of work. I can see & feel the focus, concentration, love, & time you put into your pieces. It inspires me to continue to do the same, to never give up on a vision. To also have a conceptual idea for the point you want to get across in each piece, and to not be afraid to feel fulfilled at the final piece without needing only external validation. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 10:29 am

      brookeshaden - I am so happy to hear from you! How inspiring that you are wanting to push past your constraints and create. I can’t wait to see where life takes you! Keep me posted!ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 10:17 am

    Fit BMX - It is really a incredible series, and the write up has been just as good!
    So what’s next? Maybe a series to go in a high end gallery in Paris??? I got a big show in New York, so this seems like the next logical step. 😀
    It has been truly great reading all of the behind the scenes stuff.
    Can’t wait for your book to come out, I am looking forward to that. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 10:30 am

      brookeshaden - Aww thank you!! I’ve so enjoyed creating/releasing this series. As for what is next – more creativity! I certainly hope 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 3:13 pm

    Paulo Carvalho - OMG! I loved watching this BTS! I thrilled myself! So awesome Brooke! Congratulations! Very proud of you.ReplyCancel

    • February 16, 2017 - 3:56 pm

      brookeshaden - Thank you Paulo!!ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 5:39 pm

    Nath - Gracias por permitirnos ver el -detras de- ha sido una experiencia maravillosa apreciar el trabajo que lleva realizar tu obra.
    Exito y salud
    México/España =)ReplyCancel

    • February 17, 2017 - 8:10 am

      brookeshaden - Gracias!ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 8:06 am

    Alejandro Molina - Thank you for “you”.ReplyCancel

    • February 17, 2017 - 8:09 am

      brookeshaden - Very much the same to you, Alex <3ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 8:08 am

    Dave - There’s going to be a book, right? :}ReplyCancel

    • February 17, 2017 - 8:09 am

      brookeshaden - XOXO 😀ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 8:18 am

    Su Hall - Brooke, this series is absolutely the coolest I have ever seen! I mean that in that we got to see how it came together, how you envisioned it and the results, as well as, the fails. On top[ of that, we get a glimpse of your emotional journey, to an extent, through the process. I admire you so much for going after your dream, for putting your all into one shot!
    You inspire me!

  • February 17, 2017 - 9:14 am

    Anne Parsons - Brooke: your visual writing offers such a fierce impact on the emotions. With female characters that are incredibly alive, even when distorted, they brilliantly capture one’s deepest desires and fears. Not only that, they appear to represent a reality that we hide, especially behind our social construct. I applaud how you explore the complexity of being human, and our evolvement in life’s odyssey. More importantly, when you share your gifts, and inspire each one of us, you create your best work. Namaste!ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 11:07 am

    Pam Sogge - Incredible series Brooke. Thank you for waiting! I am sure it was periodically painful not to share your progress. Seeing it all together allows us to have such a fuller experience – the pieces as a collection, the images of pouring wax and sand, gluing all that yarn!

    It is fascinating to consider how your physical connection to creating the space effects the final image.

    I love your quote “Is that not the true soul of an artist? To desire to work. To never be finished. To seek to know oneself intimately so that we may create meaningfully? That is my why.” It’s so brave.ReplyCancel

  • February 17, 2017 - 12:25 pm

    Ronne Pierce - Brooke I can’t tell you how much the behind the scenes video means to me. I knew that these took a tremendous of amount of effort and care but seeing you in the process of bringing an idea to fruition is just so inspiring and moving. My nearly 8yo (going on 40) daughter just watched it with me and she was blown away. I love her seeing someone putting forth so much effort to make what they envision. She understood that it was “worth it”. Thank you for sharing this so I can share it with her <3 And she wants me to ask you, "How in the world you all get the wax out of the model's hair?" 🙂ReplyCancel

“Flood”, 42×42 inches (edition of 2), 8×8 inches (edition of 3)

From Day 1 of starting the Fourth Wall series, I declared: “I am going to flood the room!”. My friends looked at my like I was nuts. After all, I had just signed a contract for a studio on the second floor. My room was being built inside of another room that wouldn’t allow me to easily move it. And there was no way anyone but me was going to risk getting in massive trouble by pumping hundreds of gallons of water into a second story room.

I kept trying to figure out how we would do it. A long vacuum, I said! Lots of buckets! A huge tarp that would catch the water! A portable swimming pool! But nothing seemed realistic enough to not severely damage the old floors we were standing on.

Finally I came to terms with the situation. I had three options: I scrap the picture entirely, I Photoshop water into the room, or I painstakingly disassemble the room and rebuild it outside in a pool. I went with the latter.

When the day came to create the image I asked some friends to come help. Two of them were hours late, but it turned out to be an easier job than I thought. I had stressed for months about the difficulty of the situation, but with a few good friends we were able to have almost the whole job done before the rest of the crew got there! It took one full day to take the room apart, set up the pool and fill it, and rebuild the room inside of the pool. Thankfully I sweet-talked (that’s how I like to see it) the manager of the studios we rented and he let us set up the pool (15 feet in diameter) in the parking lot near my studio. Even so, we loaded the pieces into a truck and drove it closer, since the wood I used was so heavy.

We even strategically build the pool right next to the dumpsters for easy disposal of the room.

The pool took a lot longer to fill than I anticipated. The morning was spent taking the room down and moving it, while the whole day was spent filling the pool from hoses. Lunch came and went and we all took bets on how much longer the water would take. Just when the light got really good outside (toward the end of day with mountains blocking the direct sun), the water finished and I was ready to shoot.

I knew that I wanted very specific looking props in the water. I chose the yellow chair which I had in my studio the whole time. I got it just to sit on and because it looked neat, but I realized it was perfect for the flooded room I was creating. I went to several thrift/antique stores to find this painting, which had the right colors. Everywhere I went I asked for paintings of a ship, and this was the only one that was the right time period and color palette. Finally I brought an old book to submerge.

I went flipping through the book to find the perfect page and there it was. I sunk the book and took some shots, making sure you could read the book page if you looked closely enough. It reads: “Epidemic of Fear”.

Everything was in place. The only trouble was that I didn’t have my normal setup. I put my ladder in the pool just outside the room but there was no ceiling to attach the camera to. Further, this image was going to take longer to shoot to try and get the water moving in the right way with the subject. My friend started out holding the camera, which I attached to my tripod and had her lean over the walls, holding it up as high as she could. It wasn’t an easy task, since it was heavy on the end of the camera (thank goodness I had switched to a mirrorless camera so at least it was lighter!). Eventually she had to take a break and switch off.

Because of this the image was shot closer than the rest, so I expanded the frame outward slightly. There wasn’t a lot of editing that needed to happen in this image to get it to where I wanted it – mostly color enhancement. I remember the first 15 minutes of shooting the shots were all out of focus. I couldn’t get a good measurement on the distance between camera and subject and the person holding the camera kept moving up and down out of exhaustion from holding the camera. Eventually we got it!

This image was very special to me. I have always been afraid of water and have always had problems with fear of any kind. I even have “Fear is the mind killer” tattooed on my arm to remind me to face my fears. It is a quote from Dune by Frank Herbert. I think that fear is a fascinating topic. The fear of being trapped, of feeling out of control, of being in a space that is invaded by something else entirely. These are all natural fears. This is what many of us try to avoid. The book sank to the bottom of the water after about 10 minutes of shooting. I remember feeling that it was a beautiful sign – the book about fear suddenly lost it’s boyancy. It lost the battle with the water.

As Frank Herbert writes in Dune – “Where the fear has gone there will be nothing, only I will remain.”

I hope you enjoy this new series which is on display and represented by the JoAnne Artman Gallery until February 18th. It is showing in New York City (Chelsea).

Very limited editions. Each print is offered at 42×42 inches with an edition of 2, and 8×8 inches with an edition of 3.

You may contact the gallery for purchase requests. Each print has been proofed, signed, and numbered by me, and comes with a certificate of authenticity.

Photographed with a Sony a7ii and a 25mm Zeiss lens.

Model: self-portrait

Assistance: Tim Condron, Wakyna Fullington, Kelly McGrady, Matt Force

  • February 15, 2017 - 7:59 am

    Ellie Chavez - This is magical. It gave me goosebumps. Your whole series has left me entirely speechless. Thank you for creating! <3 So much love to you!ReplyCancel

    • February 15, 2017 - 11:03 am

      brookeshaden - Aww thank you Ellie! I am really grateful for your kindness!ReplyCancel

  • February 15, 2017 - 9:35 am

    Kyle Studstill - Fantastic notes on an incredible photo—thanks for sharing, and I particularly love the note about the book sinking!ReplyCancel

    • February 15, 2017 - 11:03 am

      brookeshaden - Thank you so much Kyle!ReplyCancel

  • February 15, 2017 - 9:04 pm

    Erin Applebee - This is my favourite from the whole series. I just love every little detail. I have a fear of water mainly because I can’t swim very well but I love the way water looks in photographs and paintings so I would love to let go of my fear and shoot some photos in water one day. hopefully sooner rather than later 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 16, 2017 - 8:47 am

    Fit BMX - A few weeks ago when you originally said you put the room in a small swimming pool, I was really hoping you didn’t put a swimming pool in the second story studio! LOL
    It turned out so beautifully, it just looks perfect! 🙂ReplyCancel

Left: “Locked”, 8×8 inches, Edition of 3 | Right: “Remain”, 8×8 inches, Edition of 3

I created these two images as some of the last in the series. I had gone through my mess-ups and test shoots and everything falling apart with the set and putting it back together. And then, like magic, these two images came together so easily.

When I started the series I had begun collecting dead moths. I would search everywhere – literally – anywhere I went to try and gather them. It was a difficult task that was taking a very long time. Eventually I realized I would not be able to gather enough, and they were each so unique that I didn’t want to shortchange the image by manipulating it later in post. So, I gave up on the image (for now) and I set my sights on another picture.

They may not seem connected, but these two images were what I thought of in place of my grand moth image. The keys satisfied my desire to fill the room with 1,000 moths. Instead I ended up with 4,000 keys. The branches were my ode to nature which was missing from the series thus far and I felt was needed to satiate my natural tendency toward the great outdoors.

The keys were an interesting dilemma. I knew that, over time, I could procure enough keys to make the image happen. What I did not have, however, was the budget for it. At anywhere from $2-5 per key I found, and calculating enough keys to cover the space I was filling, my estimated cost for production would have been about $8,000+ (on the less expensive side!). It wasn’t an option for me. I was already breaking the bank creating this series that I didn’t know if anyone would even care about. I knew I did, but it isn’t always easy to justify an expense if it appears frivolous and self-serving.

I used five keys instead of 4,000. I photographed them in many different positions all around my frame and then edited them together in Photoshop until my computer wanted to lay down and die.

The sticks were much easier and I was very in my element. I went running down the street and began gathering every stick I could find. I brought some from my favorite spot in the forest and others were discarded in piles at people’s houses. Getting them arranged inside the box was difficult, but I made it out with only a few scratches and bruises.

I found these to be some of the simplest in the series not only for the visual component (the sticks) but for how quick the shoots were. They exemplify perhaps one of my greatest joys in the Fourth Wall series, which was combining how I naturally work with where I wanted my photography to go. These were images that felt very natural to me and simple in their thematic planning. After all, I have used sticks and keys extensively. The difference was the application. When I look at them, I can feel the forward progression of my work this past year, and that is priceless.

I hope you enjoy this new series which is on display and represented by the JoAnne Artman Gallery until February 18th. It is showing in New York City (Chelsea).

Very limited editions. Each print is offered at 42×42 inches with an edition of 2, and 8×8 inches with an edition of 3.

You may contact the gallery for purchase requests. Each print has been proofed, signed, and numbered by me, and comes with a certificate of authenticity.

Photographed with a Sony a7ii and a 25mm Zeiss lens.

Models: Kyna Lian (keys), self-portrait (nest)

Assistance: Kelly McGrady

  • February 14, 2017 - 9:03 am

    Margherita Introna - Dearest Brooke… That key shot is pure epicness!!! It must look divine as a print… which makes me long to see it and all the others in print. Sigh! I am so thrilled you have done a few self portraits for this breathtaking series. It would have seem at a loss otherwise <3 And the nest is so totally you. Let me know if you want me to send you some moths. I have a small collection of them… Yes, I collect them (along with other little treasures) in a little box of inspiration. My friends even bring me such things as gifts 🙂 🙂 xxReplyCancel

  • February 14, 2017 - 9:14 am

    Fit BMX - I wish I would have known you needed moths, I have a bug zapper outside of my greenhouse. Moths lay their eggs on tomatoes (and other plants) and when they hatch the larvae will eat you out of house and home! So the zapper nails the moths before they get to the crops, so I end up with tons of dead moths under the zappers. It was funny, it only took my chickens a day to find it, they thought the were in heaven! LOL But anyway, I have access to a LOT of dead moths. 🙂
    Love the photos. It is so nice when things come together easly, they look great!

    Lover your hair! LOLReplyCancel

    • February 14, 2017 - 10:00 am

      Margherita Introna - You see Brooke? You could have your moth image done sooner than you thought 😉 xReplyCancel

“Fragile”, 42×42 inches, Edition of 2

When I began this series, I didn’t pull a lot of themes from my life personally. There were a couple here and there, and I believe that each of them touches our lives in some way, but only one that was truly me in every sense. I wanted to portray a fear that I have for “Fourth Wall” so that I could create it as a self-portrait and truly feel the moment of creation.

This was that image. This was a deeply personal piece to create. It started with a big ceramic egg in the hallway of my studio, which was part of a whole building of studios. I don’t know who made the egg, but there it was, sitting in the hallway. My friend brought up how neat it would be to do a photo shoot with eggs. I kept the idea in my mind. And then it hit me that I had to do it, because it so perfectly illustrated something I feel.

The only problem? I don’t buy eggs since I practice a vegan lifestyle. So, instead of buying a couple hundred eggs, I made them out of plaster. I blew up some balloons with a little bit of air so that they were still tiny, and then I mixed some plaster in a bowl. Once the plaster was the right consistency, I dipped the balloons inside and laid them out to dry. I popped them when they were firm and what was left was an eggshell.

It didn’t all go so smoothly. The plaster was very difficult to mix. If it was deep enough to accommodate the balloons, it would coagulate too fast and I could only get about 8 good balloons in a time. It required a lot of patience and re-mixing of plaster and frustrating eggs that were just too thick. After many hours of creating eggs I finally had enough to shoot with.

Since I created this one as a self-portrait, I decided to transform myself a little bit. I bought a bald cap, which was very funny to put on. I painted my whole body white which helped the bald cap blend into my skin and stick to my forehead. I stuck bits of “eggshell” on my body and onto the picture frames that I painted to be the same color as the eggshells.

This image meant a lot to me because of the theme: fragility. I have always been very sensitive to being thought of as fragile. It started with physical problems I have. I never wanted anyone to think I was less than capable. This resulted in many frustrating trips where my friends wanted to help me but I would refuse. It resulted in me hurting more than ever because I couldn’t accept help. It resulted in being more broken than I was. I have learned to shed that word in some ways. I accept help now. I try to remember that just because I can’t do one thing doesn’t mean everyone sees me as weak.

But it also stems from simple things that many people deal with, like being a tiny person. Generally I love it. For example, when I go to events I love getting hugs and being swung around in a circle. But sometimes, rarely, it rubs me the wrong way. The way a man will pick me up around my ribs without permission and comment on how tiny I am or how he could crush me, or the like. Sometimes it puts me in a position where I am made to feel out of control of my body.

I recognize that none of this is life-shattering, but it is something that I remain very sensitive about in many ways. I try not to be, I know I shouldn’t be, but there it is. So I created this image that deals with the theme of fragility. In doing so, I realized there is much more to say on this topic. I have been tossing around the idea of creating a new series as my next project in this vein. We will see what comes of it!

In the meantime, I hope you like this image. It is a personal favorite and I’m proud of how it turned out. It felt good to create from a personal place, since I don’t typically approach my art that way. It is also the first print that sold in the new series, and as such leaves only one left available at the large size. My gallery representative and I made the choice to print one of the editions as a triptych, furthering the fragile and broken theme, and I love how it turned out!

I hope you enjoy this new series which is on display and represented by the JoAnne Artman Gallery until February 18th. It is showing in New York City (Chelsea).

Very limited editions. Each print is offered at 42×42 inches with an edition of 2, and 8×8 inches with an edition of 3.

You may contact the gallery for purchase requests. Each print has been proofed, signed, and numbered by me, and comes with a certificate of authenticity.

Photographed with a Sony a7ii and a 25mm Zeiss lens.

Model: Self-Portrait

Assistance: Kelly McGrady

  • February 13, 2017 - 11:46 am

    Britt M. - Again such stunning and moving work! I really love this series!

    And thank you for sharing your thoughts behind every individual shoot, it is very interesting and inspirational! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 13, 2017 - 2:59 pm

    Ronne - I love this one so much and the thoughts you shared really resonate with me. Even people who don’t appear fragile on the outside are often very fragile on the inside. Love the idea of exploring that feeling more, can’t wait to see what you make <3ReplyCancel

  • February 13, 2017 - 5:18 pm

    Vicki Kurasz - Very cool. I really like the triptych. Gives it more depth and it makes me feel like the subject is more trapped.

    For the record, you have every right to feel sensitive about your size or anything else for that matter. 🙂 Don’t apologize for it. If people wouldn’t be rude (grabbing without permission and saying those types of things) you wouldn’t feel that way. I have taken the same comments as threats in the past. Sometimes for good reason.

    Keep being the wonderful artistic you!ReplyCancel

  • February 14, 2017 - 8:12 am

    Fit BMX - It isn’t just you, nobody should pick you up just because you are smaller than them, it is very inconsiderate. Plus there is such a thing as personal space. 🙂
    Yesterday I was working with some plaster to make a mold, it took me three tries before I finally got it. So I know what you mean, plaster is a pain in the neck!
    The triptych framing works great for this photo, what a good choice.
    Glad to hear that nearly all the large prints have sold, now you can go buy yourself something fun! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 15, 2017 - 6:50 am

    Alice Solantania Saga - i love love love adore this:))) such beauty. thanks for sharing brooke. thanks for being part of our world. you are such an inspiration.