“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”
– Mary Shelly, Frankenstein

As I drink in Frankenstein, a true classic and purveyor of great human truths such as Mary Shelly reminds me that there are mysteries of our nature that even hundreds of years ago people were grappling with. What changes with us, at the most fundamental and basic level, is universal. Time passes and science moves forward, but what we feel, what makes our essence (which is to say, in part, the curiosities which give us momentum), is the same as it always was.

The quote above gave me pause and took up a great deal of time on my flight from New Jersey to Zurich. I found myself continually going back to reread it, and to wonder what my life would have been in the event that I had listened to that advice.

I remember, growing up, that I was never a person who desired to leave her hometown. I never fancied myself a world traveler, never considered I would have a profession that dealt in intangibles and conceptual follies. I was always grounded, stable, safe. So, so safe.

My sister, ever the dreamer, couldn’t wait to get out of our town. But I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to upset my parents, didn’t want to venture into the unknown. I wanted a safe life.

What changed in me? What made me dream? What made me want more? And if I had listened to Victor Frankenstein, would I have stayed?

Once you discover that the place you’ve always known is not all there is, you cannot un-know that. It is a pervasive knowledge that seeps into your understanding of all things.

But this knowledge goes beyond place or thing. It is inside us.

I am not all that I can be. I can be more. I will be more.

That is the true knowledge that drives us forward to discovery.
Perpetual discovery is the forward motion of humanity.
Continued curiosity is the growth of an individual.

Now on the other side of the knowledge that there is always, always more out there, I wonder: How many people will never discover this? Like Victor says, are they happier?

I have witnessed the turmoil that some people experience at being awakened to the vastness of life. It is the weight that crushes us if our position does not match our desired rank. I have watched people cower in fear at the idea that they might have greatness in them. I have watched people deny their gifts in favor of avoiding disappointment. If you do not believe you are special, you do not have to live up to that standard.

I was sixteen when I was awakened to my potential, when I started to become aware that there was more in the world than what I knew or saw or felt.

Two things happened then.

One, I took a filmmaking class. I started to consider where films were made, the history of film, what my imagination might possess, and where that might take me. I made films about death, films that were unknowingly noir and filled with montages of darkness and turmoil. I unleashed an imagination that I was only peripherally familiar with, and I loved it. I loved my imagination like it was my greatest gift (and, I believe, it is).

Two, I met my husband. I don’t know if any one particular thing happened, if any singular event awoken me to the world, except this: I knew that I was beginning a love so great that it didn’t fit in between the cracks. It was explosive.

“…the history books forgot about us, and the bible didn’t mention us, not even once…”
– Samson by Regina Spektor

What awakens us might be something small and seemingly insignificant. We might not be remembered for what fuels us. But if you find a semblance of your place in the world, and if that place exceeds what you have been taught to live within, break free.

Break free.

Have you had a moment where you realized
you wanted to do or be something more?

What was that defining moment in your life?

  • March 9, 2018 - 5:30 pm

    Laila - The picture you started this blogpost with, just says is all… Climbing out of darkness, to discover the opportunities of the world, is the starting point of so many creative souls out there… and not just the starting point. I believe that we always come back to this view, this horizon. We discover our strengths and our desire to create, to do something extraordinary, to be something extraordinary, but then life catches up and keeps us busy with other things for a while. Luckily, we always come back to this origin point, knowing who we are, and why we are here. To think that we can always be more, is inspiring, scary or comforting, depending on where we are at this exact moment.
    Right now I am at the point of climbing out of darkness, trying to remember how to be the fearless version of myself who enjoyed skydiving from 15000 ft on the other side of the planet on the 9th of March many years ago….ReplyCancel

  • March 9, 2018 - 9:17 pm

    Gallagher Green - When I first listened to “Frankenstein” (audiobook) that exact quote really grasped me hard, it is really incredible! Thanks for reminding me of it. 🙂
    To things popped into my head when I read this post,
    #1 The song “I want to break free” by Queen.
    #2 Have you ever read “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin? If not, you should. It is one of my all-time favorites! And also a true classic.
    I don’t know if it was ever one or two things that changed me. I was just like you though, was perfectly happy with the idea of staying where I grow up in Kansas my whole life. But something inside of me gradually started waking up, I don’t know what it is, or even when it started. But now I am planning on settling in France now, I have never been there. But something just keeps telling me that’s where I belong, it’s just a gut feeling, but that enough.
    A big change was when I started to write, I sure didn’t like writing when I was school age. But I did a group story thing on a forum once to waste time in the winter, and I really liked it. Then it turned out that one of the people on the forum is a very successful writer, she said my wright had a lot of potentials. Now bigger story ideas got to writing and the little ones for photos. That was a big pivot for me.ReplyCancel

  • March 10, 2018 - 1:35 pm

    Julie - Brooke, as always, I love reading your blog. You are always so inspiring on so many levels. While reading your blog, I’m thinking, “Oh, this person would benefit from this read, and this friend will totally be inspired, oh, and wait, this other friend, she will truly be uplifted.” So, I usually forward your email to friends, and yep, I’m always on target with those feelings. So, hmmm, I remember the first time I felt like there was something out there I was supposed to embrace. I wasn’t completely sure what that looked like, or even what words to use to describe that thing, that purpose, that me. I can confidently say that I’m still searching for what that looks like and how to embrace it. I know for sure that people will not write books about me, or get an affirmative answer when someone says, “Hey, do you know Julie ….” But, I do know that I need to create art, put a piece of my soul within the creative process, and move forward with love and passion. Well, there is loads for me to ponder on and how to propel myself forward. Blessings on your endeavors in Greece and Thailand; what a great adventure you must be having.ReplyCancel

When I began making images, it was entirely selfish. I wanted to have control over my creativity, I wanted to see how much I could learn. I enjoyed the process and soon I learned that I wanted a career. Half a year into creating, I knew that photography was becoming a much larger portion of my life than pure selfishness would allow. I wasn’t only creating for myself, I was creating for others.

For all of my creative adulthood I’ve been told by professors, other creatives, friends, etc., that you should ALWAYS create for yourself and not for others. After all, the hallmark of an Artist (with a capital A, of course), is that they create because they are compelled, because they have the muse within them, because they must.

As I became more motivated by creating for others, I started to wonder: Does that make me less of an artist? Does that mean I’m selling out?

[Which, if you’ll allow this side-note, I am DONE with the word “sellout”. Way too often we use that word to describe other people we are jealous of. Or a situation we don’t understand. Sometimes it is applicable, but it is too negative to fit into my vocabulary. End side-note.]

It took me years to reconcile these questions. And it took me years to train myself to create for the right reasons.
[Ie: Not the social media attention. We’re being honest here.]

Recently I was at an event where I was chatting with someone I would see occasionally at such events. Our conversation really stuck with me. This person praised me for really creating art for myself. I countered by explaining that I actually really love creating for others, too, and that a big motivating factor in my creation process is wanting to make something someone else will be touched by. I’ll never forget the look they gave me that was surprise mixed with a bit if disgust.

Reading between the lines, the word sellout formed in the air.

We had a discussion then about what it means to create for others vs. yourself, and there was a definite feeling that if you are a real artist, you create for yourself. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered that way of thinking. I used to believe in it vehemently myself.

And, let’s be honest – I benefit tremendously from my art. On a personal level, of course, by feeling fulfilled and working my imagination. Financially, by affording a house. Energetically, by setting my own schedule. Spiritually, by traveling and learning about new cultures. My art is selfish in those ways, and I don’t want to trade that in.

But I would be lying if I said that I would have created everything that I’ve created if it was purely selfish. I am motivated by how much we can change the world through our actions. There are days when I didn’t want to create but the thought of who I might touch roused me into creative motion. If that sounds delusional, or self-centered, let me say two things:

  1. It took me a long time to develop enough self-esteem to love my art and believe in the power one individual has to change the world.
  2. I have witnessed how impactful art is for people, from fellow Americans in my workshops to girls in India who have never witness art like that, who understand the stories I’m telling even though our circumstances are radically different. I’ve seen art heal.

I think back often to 2009 when I had just started creating and I removed an image from the Internet because it didn’t have enough likes. Then my friend emailed asking where that image was, and I told her I removed it, and she told me I shouldn’t have because it brought her such peace after having a miscarriage.

I remember hearing from someone that they were going to take their own life, but after seeing an image of mine, they felt understood and didn’t go through with it.

These are stories I hear too often. And I’m not the only one. I’m not trying to insinuate that my imagery has magical healing powers. I’m not even trying to say that it is special in the grand scheme of the world. Who knows.

What I am saying is this: What we do with our time will touch the lives of others. We might as well create with the greatest impact for good.

That doesn’t mean what you create has to be cookie-cutter if you don’t want. My images are WEIRD, CREEPY, and UNSETTLING for many. Sometimes, most of the time, it is those exact qualities that resonate.

I remember being told for the first time, but absolutely not the last, that my work has no place in the art market. That no one would want to hang what I create on their walls. Whoever dares to tell an artist that doesn’t understand humanity. There is something out there for everyone. Right now, there is someone in the world who will benefit from seeing your art. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, how weird it is, or how normal. Someone out there needs you. Period.

1) Do you believe you have the
power to change the world for the better?

2) What value do you believe your art adds to the world?

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:16 am

    Alan Baily - First an aside. This is the first time I have written my website address for anybody.

    Question 1. I absolutely feel that I have the power to change the world. It may not be with my artwork as my life has many facets. I may feel like I am tilting at windmills but I feel compelled to act.

    Question 2. I’m not sure it is up to me to decide what value my art, and any of my actions in the world, has. I do what I do and let other people decide how it affects them. Once art is created and put out into the world, I have no control over how it is received.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:26 am

    Sabrina-M - I’m one of those people who create for myself in the first place. It helps me a lot with dealing with my depressions i had for years. Since I started making art slowly the depressions disappeared. Now I create to ventilate my feelings which I can’t express otherwise. It helps me to deal with my asperger.
    The strange thing is that most people who like my art or connect to it in some way always say to me that they first likes my art (I can assure you not everyone likes it and that’s fine) and then they read my bio and are surprised that I’m open on the fact that I have asperger and they themselves have it or their kids. So for some kind of reason it attracts.
    It doesn’t only attract them they often tell me it helps them to vision their inner feelings, and that’s the biggest compliment I could get I think.
    So yes, art can make the world better, it’s makes people see things form a different perspective. What’s the value of my own art in the world? Well lets not talk about the whole world but if I can make if it’s just one person feel better that’s my ultimate achievement.

    • February 23, 2018 - 7:47 am

      Kathryn - Your work is really beautiful. It has a real sense of hope amongst feelings of being enclosed.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:33 am

    Kathryn - Firstly, I’d love to hang your art on my walls! You always have my love and support for your work. I believe everyone has the power to change the world, you just have to be passionate about the solution (future) rather than the problem (past). I’m at a crossroads to bring meaning to my work. I very much hope my new ventures will bring strength and healing to the soul as well as bring inner beauty to the forefront.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:59 am

    Tim Stephens - Yes to all of this post, Brooke! I believe that for art to make the world a better place the artist must see and acknowledge it’s faults. So coming from a place of privilege, as a white male in a prosperous country, the work I create that is important to me can’t help but be for others, whether the few or the many. I will also say that creating *with* others – participating in the creative dance – is equally important to me. When used judiciously, collaboration adds to the relevance and meaning of the finished work. And the work becomes more than the sum of it’s parts.

    And an unequivocal, resounding, “Yes!” to the belief that any individual, me included, has the power to change the world. I firmly believe we can’t *help* but change the world *every day*, either by intention or by accident. When we engage with intent, that’s when the magic happens. When we create art, we may say, “Here is something beautiful about our world. Recognize it and seek it.” Or we may say, “Here is where the world is broken. Recognize it and fix it.” And when we do it well it triggers an inner dialogue with the viewer that results in an aha moment. And when we do it best that dialogue is triggered over and over as the viewer grows and matures. (That’s why it’s so important to actually own art, not just see it, say “Wow, cool!” and then leave it behind. But that’s another comment for a different post. 😉

    #2 is harder. What value to I believe my art adds to the world? Other than at the highest levels I really have no idea. And I likely will never truly know if I was successful or not. But that’s OK. I guess I mostly hope it starts a conversation about things to easily ignored – both within and between individuals. I hope it makes people reflect on the past and the future and see the present for what it is – an opportunity to accept our agency in life and make the most of it.

    Thanks, Brooke, for an especially lovely post that made me stop and think! I am so excited for your trip to Greece!! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 9:38 am

    Rachel Strickland - 1. YES.

    2. At the very least, permission.

    Short and sweet. Love your work.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 10:17 am

    Samuel DiPaola - I totally agree with this post, Brooke. Thank you for it. I think most artist start by creating for themselves, but then when the art is release out into the world it takes on a life of its own. I’ve definitely experienced this with both my photography and with my writings over the years. I am always surprised when I get comments on specific pieces that I didn’t think merited the response. Don’t get me wrong, I only post what I feel is my best work, but even then I do have my favorites, and I am always surprised by what actually gets comments compared to the pieces that I thought would get comments. I read somewhere that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because he needed the money and thought it was just a fluff piece. He never anticipated what would become of it. So, I think whether we create for ourselves or for the public, it doesn’t really matter because once it is released into the public domain it will always become something other than what we intended and therefore can potentially change the world.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 10:31 am

    Louise Hill - #1. Yes, I do and hope that my images can provoke some emotional attachment by stirring up memories and drawing the viewer into my artwork.

    #2. Of course, I create for others and not only for myself. I might not be conscious at that time which way I am doing it but in the end, I can see how I have been influenced.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 12:53 pm

    Denise Neale Jensen - Beautifully said Dear Brooke. Your words are as powerful as your art. Thank you for the morning ‘Kickstart’. Reminds me of an image I created of a horse in surreal lighting. I had a Picture Framer criticize the reality of the piece when I went to pick it up at their shop. I was surprised that he seemed so outspoken and almost irritated by it. However this same image later promoted a stranger to reach out to me. She was the mother of a young autistic girl who upon seeing my image suddenly verbally communicated for the first time. Her Mother wanted me to know this and that whenever her daughter gets distressed they pull up my image on the computer to calm her. Point being, art is powerful, and if it comes from your heart you can become an open channel to all kinds of responses. Carry on working for yourself to draw up the magic, and know it will find its purpose for others, and that’s a good thing, others count too.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:16 pm

    Ava Peterson - Oh yes I hope so!!! And as far as value, I can share from my side of the lens, what my mind sees in the beauty of creation. The world is moving so fast that many don’t take time to “see” the goodness that “is” around us, even if they are in the dark. They might find value in that but it’s really up to them to find it. ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 9:34 pm

    Gallagher (Fit BMX) - I normally create for myself, but the best feeling in the world is when someone says they were not having a bad day, but when they read my post it helped them. That makes you feel so great!
    And to be honest, if making art for the pure reason of making others feel better makes me a “Sell-out”, then I am more than happy to be a “Sell-out”!

    Great post!ReplyCancel

  • February 24, 2018 - 4:06 am

    Ellen - Great post. Absolutely,I feel like my art can change the world. For if art doesn’t evoke a emotional response did we as artists really do our job? One of my favorite pieces that I created is called “Tears For Our Mother” because I was feeling so bad for Mother Earth. I created it to heal my soul and hoped it helped others stop and think. People tell me all the time how it makes them feel. Is it technically a wonderful piece of art? No, but it strikes a cord with people and makes them stop and think and to me that’s important. Right now I am creating art about climate change, I want to make people take notice and maybe change in little ways. Thank You for posting this.ReplyCancel

  • February 24, 2018 - 9:43 am

    Moon - I don’t usually contribute to blogs but I liked what you wrote and your work and I enjoyed what others have shared.

    I believe that if someone gains a small amount of pleasure from looking at one of my images then that in itself changes their, and thus the, world for the better.

    I’m not sure my art adds any value to the world, and to be honest, I don’t care. If it does that’s great, if it doesn’t, thats okay. The important thing is that the process of producing it adds value to my world.ReplyCancel

I declared 2018 my year of NO travel, and that will be true…after June. So far I’ve spent a month away in India, Sri Lanka, and Florida (that sounds a lot less exciting after the other two). Soon I’ll be heading to Tennessee and Wisconsin before going to Greece and Maine. That’s all by the third week of March.

With that pace it is extremely difficult to keep up routines. I find myself in airports, hotels, Airbnbs, grandma’s houses. I move so quickly from one place to the next that they barely have time to stick in my memories. When your circumstances change, how can you keep a routine? I do my best. Yoga everyday, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Lots of water. Emails every morning. Reading everyday. Outside of that, nothing is the same.

I’m home for a few days in between trips, exhausted from traveling, body aching, but all I wanted was to create – freely, without interruption. Instead of pushing myself beyond what is wise into the cold for a photo shoot, I searched my computer for long-forgotten images. There I found the spark of something interesting. I didn’t know what it was, just that it could be.

I found an underwater image that struck me as graceful and full of emotion. I had already edited those up for the most part, wasn’t interested in redoing them. I wanted something new. I started to look at the image differently, thinking that the bubbles looked like stars. And so I began creating what I knew could be something interesting. Watch the editing process here:

It is wildly important to act on our creative urges, in whatever way is available to us, in whatever way feels right. I find it necessary to keep motivated. So often we talk about what is recommend to stay healthy: good food, exercise, fresh air, etc. But something I vehemently believe we need to add to that list is creativity. An outlet for our imagination. And I would put that before most else.

How often do you exercise your imagination, release your creativity and make something for yourself? 

I’ve spent a long time letting go of the word “good” in this context. I bet everyone here has had the experience of not creating because what you were making didn’t seem good enough. Now that I’ve had some distance from my process of creating, from my body of work, I can see much more clearly. There are works I create that are good and bad. Some that will remain, others that will be forgotten. In the moment they all feel so important, and they are. But what is important is not how they are judged, but how they made you feel while creating them.

When was the last time you did
something completely for yourself?

Do you notice a change in your health
when you set your imagination free?

“Moonrise”, February 2018

Model: Sara Silkin
Dress: Michelle Hebert

  • February 18, 2018 - 9:08 am

    Paulo Carvalho - You know that my imagination is always exercised and creativity is ready to jump from the mind, but I confess that lately I have not given life to my imagination and creativity. Unfortunately I cannot remember the last time I did something entirely just for myself! OMG! I have not even run, which is something I love doing! However, I’m still recovering from one week with influenza (H1N1) and if you do not mind, I’ll go now set free my imagination to see if I feel better. 😉 I hope your friend spent a pleasant time at ibis. Stay well! xxReplyCancel

    • February 18, 2018 - 12:24 pm

      Gallagher (Fit BMX) - Hope getting creative makes you feel better! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2018 - 9:29 am

    Su Hall - Hi, Brooke,

    Just read this in newsletter, so, thought I would comment. I do so in hopes someone else will understand. I know you do.

    If you don’t take care of YOU, first, you will eventually not have any ‘you’ left for you. LOL

    I spent a lifetime taking care of others – three children, 2 husbands, various assorted friends, family and pets. I’m older, now. I’m 63. It has come to me, finally, that I need to take some time for ME!

    And, you know what? I AM!

    I carved out MY time for getting on Photoshop and having a good play first thing (almost) in the morning! It works for me, as I have no one to be responsible for, now, but myself. I have made my art my priority. Even then, obligations to friends and challenges I participate in, I have to make time for just being ME!

    If you don’t find this self-preserving realization soon enough, one day, you’ll wake up and realise, you’re 63, as I am, and have yet to realize MANY of MY dreams! It’s NEVER too late, but, thank the goddesses I even came to this awareness!

    Your words, and the words of like-minded gurus like you, helped me to do it, finally, Brooke!

    For that, I am grateful.


    • February 18, 2018 - 9:32 am

      Su Hall - My apologies! Your artwork is beautiful, Brooke! I love your idea!ReplyCancel

      • February 18, 2018 - 12:47 pm

        Gallagher (Fit BMX) - I am 30 and have made others my priority all of my life, and I am now changing that for the same reason you said. So thank you for the well said inspiring words! <3ReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2018 - 1:13 pm

    Gallagher (Fit BMX) - I love this photo, I would never have thought to use the bubbles as stars, and they look great!
    I try to make sure I always create for myself, but as my career advances, it could get hard to stay with that.

    Florida sounds really boring after everywhere else! LOLReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2018 - 4:03 pm
  • February 18, 2018 - 4:23 pm

    Justine Hammond - Good day,
    My name is Justine Hammond and I admire your work and would be interested into collaborating. Please inform me on your thoughts and I look forward to it.
    Thank you,
    – Kamoni Collection
    Instagram: KamoniCollectionReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2018 - 8:38 pm

    Vicki Kurasz - Beautiful. Would love to know how you shot the underwater scene.

    What will you be in Wisconsin for? Seminar?ReplyCancel

  • February 19, 2018 - 9:14 am

    Jennifer Arnold - Brooke, your work inspires me and so many others! I see you’ll be in Tennessee. Is it for a workshop? I live in coastal north Carolina and would definitely make the trip for a workshop or just a chance to hang out and learn or assist!ReplyCancel

  • February 28, 2018 - 7:35 am

    Geetha - Last year I had so many projects, so many things I was going to do and all of a sudden I ran out of fuel. Due to dayjob-stress and mental exhaustion I had to take some time off and just relax. All day-job issues are fixed now and I’m finally in a good place again where I can feel my mind being active. So two days ago I headed to the woods and tried to create and everything felt so yuk because I wanted to end up with a perfect first picture of the year. I tried to let it go and tell myself it didn’t need to be perfect. I just spend 2,5 hours in a sunny forest by myself and it was worth it because I’m just getting myself back in the swing of things. It’s a work in progress. Sorry for the rant. I love your creations and this piece resonated with me even if you made it for yourself, for the sake of being creative

    Take care Brooke! And good luck with your travels!ReplyCancel

I am a selfish artist. I have no problem admitting that, as well as the ways in which I am selfish.

  1. I create for myself. I am interested in satisfying my curiosity.
  2. I create by myself. I like to work alone.
  3. I create because I love to test my potential.
  4. I create I hope people will like what I contribute to the world.

Up until a certain point, those were my reasons for creating. I started noticing a pattern in how I was working. I was rushing to get an image finished, excited to see the finished product, ignoring the idiosyncratic pieces of the process. I was addicted to sharing.

When that realization hit me, I had to take a step back from what I was doing. I realized just how un-lasting that finished product truly is. It may stand the test of time, or it may be gone with a hard drive crash. It may be remembered in museums or forgotten in a matter of days. Once you finish your art, it is released. It is not yours to control, it is for the public (if, of course, you are sharing your art at all). What remains, despite anything, is the process.

That was when I began thinking about CREATION in a different way from CREATING.
One puts emphasis on the product, the other on the action. 

In no way do I think it is bad to enjoy the product of your efforts. You should.


But, what about cherishing the in-between? What about the moments, minutes, hours, days, months, years it takes to create your art? As time moves on, even the mundane experiences build up to influence what you create and how you create it.

How often do you find yourself rushing through the creating process to get to the creation? I’ve done it hundreds of times. Hundreds. I’ve rushed through thinking deeply, rushed through creating with care, overlooked editing mistakes, and all so I could congratulate myself for making something. Tangible. Physical. Finished.

What an error in my judgment these years past. What an error in my life.

Over the past nine months I’ve been planning a new photo series. For most of that time I didn’t have a single vision that stuck, not a single sketch made that would lead to something finished. It scared me. I felt like a fraud. I felt like a lair of an artist. I felt like an imposter.

I mean, look at the facts. I am an artist who has created quickly, churning out a lot of work in short periods of time. I became addicted to the pace, to the praise, to the CREATION. It was time to learn how to love CREATING.

So I had a talk with myself. It went something like this:

Brooke (Subconscious): Slow down. Let’s take a while to think through what you need to say as an artist.
Brooke (Conscious): Nope. Let’s make something every single day to prove my worth as an artist.
Brooke (Subconscious): Wouldn’t you rather find your worth by creating meaningful art?
Brooke (Conscious): Nope.

It was somewhere around month 5 of thinking about my new series and coming up empty that I had a breakdown. I felt like such a failure as an artist. I felt I had let myself down.

What I had really done was let myself go.

I let go of the artist I was.
I let go of the expectation I put on myself.
I let go of the expectation I felt from others.

And I opened my mind to the idea that thinking is an art form in itself. That being with my thoughts and letting them play their course is just as valuable, and often more so, than churning out work.

That was when my mindset changed. I no longer wanted a CREATION, I wanted to CREATE. I have never felt more clear in my intent, more centered in my message, more secure in myself as an artist.

Do you create for the product or for the experience?
(This is a really difficult one to admit.)

How do you see yourself as an artist?

  • February 3, 2018 - 8:26 am

    Stacy Honda - Hi Brooke! This is interesting to think about. I definitely love to see a vision that was in my head on the screen in front of me (though I keep trying to learn, so I always want to go back and change something). And I start to worry when I haven’t made a finished product in a while. I’m not sure why. I guess I feel like time is passing me by and I haven’t done so many things that I want to do. Or something like that : ). If I’m working on something that is meaningful to me, I find the shooting process can be very therapeutic.Trying to capture certain feelings. And I have discovered recently that one thing I really love about the process is the problem solving. Not knowing how the heck I’m going to put something together, and then making it happen. I get a big thrill from that : ) Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but that’s ok!ReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 8:30 am

    Bill - I love your work. However, I feel you over think what you are doing. When I pick up my camera and go out to take pictures I don’t think of myself as a photographer or artist. I think what looks good today. Are the roses in bloom or is the sun back lighting a fern. I started taking photos with a Kodak 35mm camera about 60 years ago. Over the years I just took photos of what I liked. For a year I worked for a sign company and photographed their products with a 4X5 camera. That was very focused because the owner did not want to enlarge or shrink the images. When I came back from Desert Storm I went to collage and took three grad level photo seminar classes. During that time I did a series of female nude studies in B&W. What’s the bottom line? As you think about doing new a series start pulling together elements that you find interesting. Don’t try to design the final product. Let the elements you pull together determine where you are going. For example you might find a location that you fall in love with. Visit often and study it. Let’s say there’s a tree that leans through the site. Study how the light plays around the tree. Then, let’s say, you see something at a flea market. How does that fit in. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, it is what you see that speaks to you. Don’t get hung up creating–you are creative, just let it flow. Don’t be afraid of changing what you are doing because something new pops up. Just because it doesn’t work the first time doesn’t mean you are a failure–it just means you need to keep moving forward. As I look at your work I like the bare foot outdoor organic images the most. I think that is a direction you should keep following. Keep up the good work. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 8:37 am

    Norma - This is why I hardly ever make the deadlines when I join challenges. I don’t just want to share images that arn’t really finished. It takes a long time for me to create. But.. I do understand the great feeling of sharing. I guess that’s also part of the “like addiction” social media gives us. It’s a reaction of our brain, we can’t help it. I have to stop myself often if I want to rush and share an image I made. Then I think about what’s it all about? A few likes or do I make something I want to create for myself? That helps me to slow down to my own pace. The thinking and investigating proces is very important and joyable for me. I recognize your points being a selfish artist.. It’s what I am too. Love your idea for the Greek refugees, keep up the good work. You may be a selfish artist but you are certainly not a selfish person. big hug from NormaReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 8:50 am

    Gallagher - I think I creat for the quality of the work, but it is also a little hard to know. This may be how I see it. But I can be a real perfectionist in my art, so that helps. I do consider myself an artist.
    Great post, good luck on your new series, I know it will be great!ReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 9:03 am

    Cindy - Wow, that is a really tough question. I have always thought I was enjoying the act of creating, but perhaps I have been deceiving myself. I am not sure, but I do know I enjoy experimenting with lots of ideas, techniques, etc. I let my muse decide what I am going to do each day without overthinking it too much. I love the spontaneity of that. But maybe I need to be more grounded. I have pondered the way I create art a million times, but that is something I think I need to let go of as well. My spiritual teacher says we think too much, so now I take a step back and just enjoy whatever shows up in my daily activities and refrain from judging it. For me, I just keep my eye on the bigger picture and I often see my life unfolding in the direction of where I am focused. I like Dr Martin Luther King’s quote: “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” I think that is difficult for a lot of artists because we naturally want to see that what we are doing is making a difference. It can be difficult to keep going down the path day after day, often blindly. Thank you for asking the big questions, it helps me evaluate the “why.”ReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 9:07 am

    Sara - In this age of instant gratification, it’s hard to take a step back and reflect on what is truly meaningful….especially for people like you who have such a dedicated group of followers. Being true to yourself is an important “rule” for all of us to remember. I think all creative people have an ebb and flow and shouldn’t try to force things.ReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 10:33 am

    Turla Peterson - Hi Brooke, interesting question you posted. Last year when I started to follow you and do composite images I had such a hard time coming up with the concept and how to do it. So I decided this year I will started taking pictures what ever comes in my mind and play with it in the computer. I would say that I create for the product as well as for the experience. I am very very happy when things all comes together like what I thought it would be. I feel very proud and accomplished.The feeling of seeing what I have imagine is second to none and no one can explain it but me. Shooting every day is starting to give a toll on me. After I shoot, I go to my computer and started working on it. Sometimes I spend all day just sitting on the computer trying to figure out how and how, and more how to make it. I decided to shoot and only work on an image twice a week to get more time to recollect and gather my thoughts. Like what you have said, I need to slow down to really take time to think the concept and the idea, not just making it and then share.ReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 4:49 pm

    Anastasia - Hey Brooke, when I read your blog post just now….I just had to tell you that I felt the same about my work.
    Over the 3 years of creating, that was what I was doing. More so last year. I wanted to test shoot all the time, often 3 test shoots every week so that I can post and gain exposure or some sort of validation.
    When I went to France for a 10 day holiday, I got honest with myself and re-prioritised what I wanted to do this year and ask myself why I am creating ? Is all this stress of doing loads of tests to prove to the world that I’m good at what I do is worth it ? The fact that I hope that some of the images might make it onto a models Comp card, why is this so important ? Why am I trying to compete ? I wasn’t seeing that the model wasn’t suited to the concept, the styling was bad and realised it after post production, the lighting etc etc. I got addicted to posting quickly and not caring about the process or before that. Really creating something awesome and taking the time to bring it to fruition.
    This year I decided to take breaks off Instagram and shoot once or twice month.
    I’m a selfish artist too.

    Totally relate.

    Thank you for sharing Brooke. Thank you also for inspiring me when I first started out as a self portrait artist xReplyCancel

  • February 3, 2018 - 8:28 pm

    Deb - What a crazy life you live. Love it and love you.
    I like creating for fun. Some days I wish I had a photography business, but the pressure to live off that, stresses me out. I am loving a new creative process for me right now, making decorations for Post Prom for my senior baby boy.ReplyCancel

  • February 4, 2018 - 3:04 am

    Ruth - Hi Brooke,

    I create to prove myself that my thoughts are meaningful. Of course I love to hold the “product” in hands and show it around. Of course I love the applause. But most of all I love to see how I change through my art. It makes me stronger (no, wrong, I make myself stronger). It leads to a better versio of myself. Does that make sense? :o)

    Sweet smiles from Germany,

  • February 4, 2018 - 11:31 am

    Mumbi - Thank you for this blog post, I think that these are the hard questions that we should always be asking ourselves, how Elise shall we grow.
    create to see my creation, I have it my head and I add to it as time passes and I have these wonderful aha moments as I am driving and I want to see it. I create it in my mind and want to see it and show it. I have the experience in my heart and head, now I want to produce. I am still learning so I know that I need to be patient and allow my ability to produce to connect with my vision.ReplyCancel

  • February 4, 2018 - 1:52 pm

    Shelby Leeman - Hi Brooke! After years of lacking any creative inspiration, I’m trying to really expand my horizons. But it is still a struggle as I overthink every aspect of my work – usually focusing on what is wrong with it vs what I did right. Since I’d describe myself as unforgiving, I’d say I create for the brief sense of satisfaction (before I tear the piece apart). The fact that I am capable of pushing beyond the boundaries of these walls I’ve built…well it provides me with a great sense of pride. Currently I don’t see myself as an artist but as a student. I’m taking my expertise in photo editing and attempting to find a sense of purpose.ReplyCancel

  • February 4, 2018 - 3:47 pm

    Michael Snively - As an artist, one of our greatest challenges is to find a balance between these two aspects; creation and creating. Or as I refer to them as creativity and the artifact (with its rewards). This oscillation is part of the angst we live with all the time. Is the artifact and it’s rewards more important than our creativity? For myself the creativity is more important, yet to find some balance I have found the need for some feedback. To usually get the feedback you need to have a product, or artifact to share. Sort of a catch 22… Maybe in the long run, it is more important to live a creative life being true to our soul and spirit as artist!

    Brooke, the hardest part is finding that balance, and maybe slowing down a bit so that we truly see. Thanks for everything you do! The art, the charity, the teaching, the community awareness, and for just being you!ReplyCancel

  • February 6, 2018 - 7:39 am

    Leesa Voth - As a musician, the totality of my life experience as an artist has been the creation of intangible musical experiences, rather than physical products. I have worked hour upon hour, most times alone, for decades, practicing my craft for all the reasons you have listed in your blog post. My deep internal motivation for performing music has been for my own personal experience, even if I have served others graciously with my art. Is this selfish? Yes, in all the best ways. I love playing music, I do it for my own pleasure, and when I decide to share it with others, I create an experience for them as well. In fact, I believe our obligation as artists is to perform for our own personal experience. This will make our art truly authentic. The outcomes of that follow naturally. You will know when it is the right time to share, if even at all. Authenticity is not a race, it is a way of life, and so should your art be.ReplyCancel

  • February 8, 2018 - 4:15 pm

    Roberto Melendez - Hi Brooke, Thank you for your thoughts! As a weekend oil painter your words struck a cord. Since the 1980’s I always painted for myself, partly because I really never thought anyone would enjoy something that was so personal to me. Partly also because I’m an introvert and exposing myself , I thought , would be a horror. When I finally started showing my work, I liked the attention……and then came the failure. I found myself trying to produce what I thought people would like and did it quickly…..fail, fail, fail….did I say Fail! Stopped my art in its track! I knew it! I am an imposter! Were the words that circulated in my head. It took me a few years to get back on the saddle and not because I thought it out but because I needed to create. I didn’t know it till now, but now that you mentioned it , I am too a selfish artist, I create because I need too, for myself, at my pace and I love it. One of my cousins who is also a painter came over one day and exclaimed, “you have been working on that small piece for a month!” My reply was “Yes, going as planned!” He just shook his head, Lol. I still show my art, but don’t care who likes it! I think when your art is honest and true to you, there will always be someone who identifies with it. I will tell you that I’m very excited that I discovered you on CL. Love your work and your teaching! Having so much fun combining my painterly skills with my photography and I’m being selfish about it!

  • February 10, 2018 - 12:13 pm

    Freedom - So glad I found you <3ReplyCancel

  • February 13, 2018 - 9:34 pm

    Stephan Pawloski - As I re-read this, I wondered, is this getting stuck, failing, battling the fraud police in our heads, is all of this maybe part of what becomes our foundational life experience so that we may in fact create art?ReplyCancel

  • February 18, 2018 - 4:48 pm

    Maude - Thank you for this post. I think I started to make art because I liked creating. I think we all start like this. Then, somewhere along the way with the praises of other I think I started to make creations instead of creating. It is a long road to learn to create and love again. Right now I experiment with working slower and not showing what I do right away. Keep speaking, keep creating. MaudeReplyCancel

  • March 2, 2018 - 4:24 pm

    Amelia McLeod - Hi Brooke,
    i always love reading your words, i find them inspirational and very thought provoking. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about my own process when you asked the question, but, I am day 332 of a 365 day project which I started with naivety 332 days ago. It is getting hard to create for creativity sake, and I keep finding my ideas are getting bigger, requiring more thought and time. But I am ignoring them for the quick fix solution.Some days I am very lazy, some days I spend hours perfecting the image. some days I wish I could say I was a “sellout”, but to be honest I don’t think I figured out the Indtagram world very well, and still don’t have a great nu,her of followers. But it did teach me something. As much as I would love the accolades and following (doesn’t it make us all feel better), and I still have thoughts like, “why didn’t my image get more likes? It’s better than that one….”, it has toaught me that when one person tells you that you are an inspiration to them, it makes it all worthwhile.
    You are an inspiration to me, thank you. AmeliaReplyCancel

I’m in a small room in India – West Bengal. Outside the horns are blowing like crows, attacking. People are yelling down the street, their voices drowning together, indecipherable. This is a place that envelopes me the moment I step foot outside the airport, but it challenges me, too. The sounds, the people, the food, the smells, the stories. The stories.

When I listen closely through the mountainous shouts I hear cross-sections of lives; one man tells another to be careful crossing the street, not through his words, but through his body language. A woman kisses her child while a hundred people push past her, tenderness going unnoticed.

In my workshop I’m teaching self-expression through photography and movement, aided by Kolkata Sanved. The young women that sit in the room with me have pasts that I cannot imagine. I try, but it feels wrong to imagine my life with the same difficulties; disrespectful, somehow. I am ill-equipped to feel what they feel, at least precisely. My life has been vastly different and that shows in every minutiae when I travel in India. In the ways that I get irritated by people bumping into me, when I feel exhausted by the crowds, and especially when I feel trapped by the buildings and pollution. That is life here, though, and I am unaccustomed, even after five years of coming.

Today in the workshop we are learning storytelling. I explain why this is important –  because, after all, their story is theirs. It is for them to tell, not me. I never felt comfortable photographing people whose lives have been so uniquely different from mine, using my way of telling stories to tell theirs. This is for them to share. Instead, I teach storytelling. I teach how to use a camera. I teach self-portraiture. I teach them how to tell their own stories.

And so they do, effortlessly.

Because storytelling is the culture here. This is a place where stories pile on top of stories so that every object, every location, is imbued with the deepest stories.

Even more than stories, though, is the hope that permeates.

I’m in the Kolkata Sanved office and day one of my workshop is almost over. We are talking about our stories, but not in literal terms. I never, ever ask someone to share their past. Instead, we speak in symbols, in emotions. I ask them to bring me an object that represents their past. We learn symbolism in art.

They bring me water, as a symbol for constantly moving. They bring me a rock, a symbol for heaviness. They bring me a dead tree, a symbol unto itself. A box, to show entrapment. A match, to show danger.

We photograph those objects, and they learn the camera.

I ask them to choose an emotion that represents how they feel now that they have had education, now that they have found safety. Shanti, they say: peace. Aasha: hope. Curiosity. Learning. Happy.

As I listen to them sharing a symbol from their past, I do not have to use a lot of imagination to understand where they come from: darkness to light. The story is there, the details are not important for me to hear.

As I hear them share their emotions, representing who they are now, I see the shift from sadness to joy.

Everyone that I meet here is so open.

YES, I have had hardship. BUT, now I am free.

This is not true for so many. This is why the power of self-expression is so vital. When we give voices to those who feel they cannot speak they realize that their story matters.

It breaks me to think about how many people are living in poverty, enslavement, abuse, and more. How can we help them? I don’t know, myself. It is a problem the world may still be trying to solve a thousand years in the future. But, how can we help those who have been rescued, who have come out the other side? How can we heal them, give them strength, hope, determination? Empowerment. Education.

We give them a tool to tell their story. Because, so many – too many – have had their stories taken from them. Here, in this workshop, we try to give it back.

I have done many of these workshops over the past five years. Always, they say the same: we have come from ash and we have rebuilt ourselves. They tried to break us but we would not be broken.

There is hope. There is always hope.

This is a culture of light. Where there is darkness, light permeates.

I show them a camera. I show them a window. I show them a dark stairwell. The choice is theirs. Always, the image is the same: we reach toward the light.

They take their self-portraits. “Represent your dream for your future in a single image”, I tell them. A heavy thing to portray. They have never taken pictures before. And yet – beauty, hope, determination. The word of this workshop is: POWER.

“I am powerful!” one girl shouts as she takes her self-portrait.
“I am confident!” another girl says as she poses.
And finally, at the end, someone says: “I have learned how to tell my story. This is my story to tell.”

It is a culture of light.

And, can’t we all use that? No matter where you are right now, remember the beauty I have seen here. I need you to see it with me. I need you to feel this. The light demands it. Their stories demand it.

Will you try to reach for the light,
even when it is difficult?

  1. What do you consider to be ethical storytelling?
  2. How do you prefer to tell your own story?

I am currently in India teaching self-expression workshops to underprivileged communities. These workshops were developed by myself, Blossomy Projects, and Kolkata Sanved to blend movement with photography. I travel here to Kolkata, India once a year to help end gender-based violence and aid in the education and empowerment of those effected.

I am leaving for Sri Lanka in the morning to continue this work before returning home on February 2nd.



  • January 25, 2018 - 9:39 am

    Michael - Brooke you inspire through your actions. I think you will be remembered for your charitable works as much as you are for your art.
    God bless you.ReplyCancel

  • January 25, 2018 - 10:17 am

    Art H - Brooke, your words are LIGHT unto themselves; your actions, even more so.

    Light is hope. Light is what illuminates the darkest corners of not only our minds, but of the society in which we live and engage. Light brings clarity to a clouded situation. Light is what makes our hearts sing with joy and confidence.

    Not surprisingly, light is what a camera captures. Photographers manipulate that light into the image they see, but our passion is driven by light. This is my joy.

    Images are storytelling. I play with them, hammer them, caress and yell at them, Tell My Story. My joys. My fears. My worries. My anger. Sometimes they do; sometimes not. I am chastened by my limitations. But I continue to try, fueled by the passion to describe how the world is to me.

    Sometimes the image is conceptual. Other times its documentary. It’s what moves me at the moment. Ultimately it’s that itch that I can’t scratch until I pick up my camera and shoot. That’s when joy abounds, and I am free.ReplyCancel

  • January 25, 2018 - 10:53 am

    Gallagher - It is so empowering to just read about your work. Thank you for this empowerment, thank you for saving these people that needed help. <3

    "What do you consider to be ethical storytelling?"
    That is not easy to answer…. To me, I think it is a story being told without coercion, influence, or fear of others will think. Too often someone's story is twisted out of its truth, not by the storyteller, but by those that seek to manipulate it for their own gain.

    "How do you prefer to tell your own story?"
    I any way that feels right, I recently made my first painting because I didn't feel like I would be able to tell the story right with a photo. My preference isn't what's easy, it's whatever tells the story and express the emotion best.

    Have a good flight and a great time in Sri Lanka!ReplyCancel

  • January 27, 2018 - 11:14 am

    Rachel Strickland - What is ethical storytelling?

    I have a simple test for this myself- it has to pass two tests: 1) Is it true? and 2) Is it mine to tell? Those are my two parameters for if a story is worthy of the investment of telling it.

    How do you prefer to tell your own story?

    My most beloved mediums are circus and writing- my current challenge is to marry these worlds in my next work.

    Love what you do Brooke, and thank you for the prompt- excellent food for thought! xoReplyCancel

  • January 31, 2018 - 10:02 pm

    best resume help - As we know a picture is worth a thousand words. It tells a story or stories. Your words though gave it a deeper meaning. It encourages us to look at pictures in different perspectives. Everyone could be a photographer but not everyone can be a real photographer. People will be drawn to pictures and feel an emotion.ReplyCancel