In the midst of an insanely busy fall season, my darling friend Amy Parrish came to visit. She brought with her hugs and giggles, stories of her travels, and this beauty: a Yashica Mat 124 G camera, that she was just learning how to use. I asked to join in the adventure and we set off on a hike with a poofy dress and mud squishing between our toes.
I admittedly don’t know a lot about film, and the simple not-knowing that we all experience about countless things is too often what stops us from exploring them. I try to embrace the attitude of being willing to learn. After all, there was a time I had no idea how to work my digital camera – how to write, read, form sentences… The more ways we learn to express ourselves, the more outlets we have to be freely ourselves.
I took a film class in high school. The class and I didn’t get on too well. I didn’t follow the rules very closely, I didn’t enjoy the darkroom experience, and I decided I’d never be a photographer. Clearly that didn’t stick. And now, as I pick up a medium format film camera, I can’t help but think of that girl who wrote off photography because of one bad experience. I don’t want to be that person ever, ever again. I want to try everything at least twice. I want to fail at least once.
The unedited images.
The edited images.
As Amy taught me how to focus, how to load and wind the film, and each detail that goes into the process, I started thinking about my professors in college. They were film purists, didn’t believe much in digital alteration, and taught me a lot about motion picture film. Because of my experience in film school, I have often brought a sense of preparedness to my digital ways. I took those same skills back to my film roots, this time shooting stills for the first time since I was 16.
I kept remembering film shooters saying that it is best to over-expose your film rather than under, if you are going to do one or the other. I know a lot of rules, but I don’t follow them frequently. I decided I was going to shoot the film intuitively, instead of how I was “supposed” to, so I slightly underexposed each image. Part of that was necessity. It was dark in the forested area where we were shooting and I was toggling between 1/15 and 1/30 shutter speed, which was getting dangerously low for hand-held shooting.
We were positioned in the mud for my little series, so propping the camera up was out of the question. Amy held the camera for me after I composed and if the focus looked off, she fixed it for me. I told her when to click, and she clicked. I owe so much to Amy for sharing that experience with me – for getting muddy and adventuring and letting me be a part of her new creativity.
Unedited vs. edited images.
I tried out some slight editing in Photoshop to tinge them a little more to my color palette. I always have this problem, when I really like an image SOOC (straight out of camera), that I don’t know quite what to do with it. It just feels right. But these felt like they could be taken a little more out of reality, so I colored them.
Friends, keep trying new things. And remind me to try new things, too. We gravitate to comfort so often that we forget the exhilaration of newness. We are so afraid of being bad at something that we can’t see how incredible it is to get good at something. I used to think that growing up meant finally being good at what you are supposed to be doing. How wrong I was. Growing up means embracing the unknown and doing it anyway. As it should be, for an artist to grow.
How do you write about an experience so complex and impactful that the mention of it brings tears to your eyes? How should I explain a dream and a reality rolled into one, such that it gives weight to the significance of the dream and the dream of the reality? This year I hosted my third Promoting Passion convention. I named my blog after my favorite pairing of words – Passion, because it evokes a primal and I daresay sacred emotion within, one that perpetuates our need for meaning in our lives, and Promoting, because without this word the former becomes one-sided. If we don’t promote our passion, we lose the chance to inspire others through our craft – and life.
Promoting Passion is simple: gather creative individuals in one place to share a common idea, the idea that our lives are vastly different, but our emotions, our desires and our dreams are the same; that we can engage and encourage one another by example, and that instead of focusing on gear and technique we could focus on what really matters at the end of our lives, and that is how much we loved what we did with our time.
Promoting Passion is my home.
How many of you can say that you have experienced deep, meaningful, and lifelong relationships formed in the span of three days? How many of you can say that you actively, without boundaries or ties, give yourself over to growth? This is what 100+ of us did this year in the middle of a reddening forest in New York.
I ran frantically around Buffalo, NY in the days before, buying far too many supplies from Target and hoping that I was accurate in my assessment of things I needed for my attendees. I am a worrier by nature; I over-plan. I do not strive to under-promise and over-deliver. I over-promise and over-deliver. It is in my nature to be more and do more and make sure that I inspire others to be the same. I do not always succeed. But I do try, and in such a fashion I tried to create the best possible experience for my family of Creatives.
Things went wrong; they always do. And experiencing things going wrong is my way of growing, of being challenged, and of learning to be better than I was before. I remember the first year I hosted Promoting Passion – it was fall of 2015 and one of my speakers couldn’t come last minute. I had to figure out a plan overnight. I cried, I panicked, I shook, I collapsed in an unrecognizable version of myself. I was broken from the fear of letting people down. I felt barely able to manage myself.
Fast forward to this year, 2017, when one of my speakers couldn’t make it last minute. I panicked for about one minute, and then composed myself. I breathed deeply (a lesson I learned from my yoga practice), and I experienced two simultaneous emotions: confidence, and peace. What will happen will happen, and without belief in my abilities the right solution will not form. So, I believed I could make everything better, and I did. I let myself be human. More than that, I let others see me that way.
It rained on our bonfire, but we played games until it stopped. Our projector broke three times, but we worked around it with grace. A model got stuck floating in a boat in the middle of a lake, so I swam out to get her. Almost simultaneously a woman fainted and another sprained her ankle, and a quick ambulance ride and urgent care drive later, everyone felt taken care of and loved.
Things go wrong – it is not in our power to stop them, but it is in our power to grow from them. To give love in those moments. To be human and embrace it.
And so many things went right. A seemingly endless array of beauty and light and magic danced in front of my eyes. My speakers showed up ready to give, and every single one of them went to every single workshop and lecture. They sat with attendees at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They stayed up late by the fire talking to those who needed them most. They gave like I have not seen people give before. And even I, who felt so unworthy of even writing that first email to these people I have admired more than anyone, got hugs – they talked to me in such an honest way – and declared us friends, declared that we are soul-connected and better for knowing each other.
Unworthiness. What an interesting human emotion. That we can be so filled with multitudes and so certain, at times, that we are filled with nothing. This duality plays at my heart too often than I like to admit. Promoting Passion is about eliminating that feeling, or accepting it. Which of the two I am uncertain of at times, but either way, it is necessary and beautiful.
I called Vivienne Gucwa, one of my immediate soul-friends, to fill in at PPC this year. She came with a gorgeous story about her current artistic transformation and shared her willingness to shift. I worriedly hit send on an email to Ryan Muirhead, fearing his genius (as silly as that sounds), and he broke the room down into tears with his story of raw, honest human emotion. What drives us to create? Our very being, and all the mess that comes with that. I called upon Jesh De Rox to speak about connection, and I was moved to laughter and tears as he shared about the ways in which we find connection to our work, to others, and beyond.
My friend Dracorubio came to teach Photoshop, but under the technique was the idea that you can create anything if you can dream it. My heart Joel Robison did what he does best – shared himself, in his beautiful, bashful, open way. He showed how he works, how he thinks, and most importantly, how he gives…with his whole self, in ways that touched every single person there. Jessica Drossin came out to show us how you can build a life for yourself out of the vision of the world you are attracted to, and in doing so created some of the most beautiful images I have ever seen. Mindy McGinnis, a writer who I created book cover art for, came and gave us the deepest insights into how we experience imagery, symbolism, and how that relates to the world. Her way of seeing is significant and remarkable (in the truest sense of that word).
And finally, perhaps the most emotional and humorous part of Promoting Passion, was having Jeremie Saunders share his time with us – which, if you know anything about him, is limited. He shared how he lives with Cystic Fibrosis, how his life expectancy when we was growing up was 30 years of age, and how he is now 29.7 years old. He showed us how precious life is, how none of us know how much time we have, and how the combination of humor and passion can create a life worth living. What’s more is that he modeled for attendees, had important conversations, and even jumped into the pool with me so I could photograph him.
These humans are the most giving I have encountered, the most good-natured, the most concerned about making sure others are living their best lives – and that is not just a phrase or a silly motivational quote, that is their life’s dedication. That is their soul.
And, I think I can finally say, without looking down at myself, that it is also my mission. That my life is dedicated to giving other people the best lives possible.
My time is always so short at Promoting Passion – how do you give over 100 people your undivided attention in the span of three days to have conversations that are meaningful and intense? On the last night I finally got to let my guard down and not worry about everyone and everything, and I talked to so many people with so many stories. I met a new friend who had a quote of mine tattooed on his arm. I have my favorite writer’s quote tattooed on mine, and it was really moving to see that something I said could move someone that much.
There were many people who touched me, many people who showed their souls where often they put up walls, and they were gorgeous, and unrefined, and honest.
On that last night I got to speak to someone who I wanted to set aside proper time to talk to, someone who I had been conversing with for the last few months. After the lectures ended and I spent over an hour in a sea of people hugging each person closely, I snuck away to sit with this friend who I had wanted to spend time with. He and I had never had a proper conversation before in person. Immediately he started sharing a story with me, tears running down his face, holding my hands. He told me of a time when he tried to end his life, and how close he came to succeeding, and how, just at that moment, an image of mine flashed in front of his eyes and he felt connected.
And he didn’t jump.
And there we sat, one year after, at Promoting Passion. Our hands locked in each others, both of us crying the most sincere, life-changing tears; both of us needing the other in a profound way. And there we sat, embracing, until suddenly, we each had what we had come for. We felt released. And then we laughed, and smiled at each other, and I knew that something transpired between us that I could never properly describe.
Here is my message to you, my friends who maybe I have never met: There is hope in connection, there is soul in art, there is beauty in sadness and there is life in each of us that means more than we know. I share these experiences with you because my life is dedicated to the promoting of passion so that we may all be uplifted by the example of those who pursue what they love.
Life is too short not to.
Please allow me to thank our sponsors very publicly and widely for their contributions to Promoting Passion this year. Without their support I could not have created this event, and it is because of them that I grow in confidence every year that we are doing amazing things for our community.
The incomparable KIM WINEY took all of these incredible images in the span of 3 days. She is an amazing photographer/artist and friend, and I highly recommend you take a moment to give her some love for the beauty she brings into the world. She is based in PA and is hirable for her gorgeous photography services.
Revelation sharing time. I had a thought today that transcended any anxieties I have been having about my work, what I will create, and what I will share:
I choose to let you see me.
I often ponder if I would still create art the way I do if I had no one to share it with. The answer is almost definitely yes, but a very large part of why I love creating is because I love sharing. I used to think that made me selfish. I thought I had to hide that because people would think I was an attention-seeker. But now I realize that it is an integral part of my process. The more we recognize important parts of ourselves, the more we can grow with them rather than push against them.
I spent my whole life hiding from people – in school, choosing to sit alone rather than talk to anyone, and even now, going to stupidly weird lengths to avoid eye contact in grocery stores. I grew up believing that I wasn’t special, not because of anything anyone told me (quite the opposite), but because I simply wasn’t particularly good at anything. I struggled through school in a big way my whole life. I never made the top sports teams. I was never the fastest or the smartest or the tallest or the skinniest or the bravest. I always felt normal, which, for someone who has desired to be abnormal, is like a cage.
Sidenote: I remember getting braces and I was excited to finally have straight teeth. About a year into have them, I completely regretted it. My desire to find something that made me different took hold in a bigger way and I wished I could go back to having four teeth where there were supposed to be two. (I had vampire fangs, and it was freaking awesome). My parents deemed that ridiculous and since so much money had been spent to correct my teeth, there was no way I was going back. Now I’m holding out hope that I lose a tooth so that my teeth shift back to some strange configuration.
Enough about my teeth. Back to my revelation.
I have been so worried lately about creating new, darker work that I couldn’t see this new way of thinking. Now I do. And it goes like this.
Artists have a choice: let people in to see their creations, or not.
In fact, people have the same choice. Let others in to see who they are, or not.
And really, that is the heart of the artist’s crisis – what if no one likes my art actually means what if people don’t like me? After all, our art is a true representation of a piece of ourselves.
I never before thought of sharing as a choice. I have always done it, I never questioned it, it was a reflex. But it is a choice, and the more conscious we can be of that decision, the more we can control it, own it, and define it.
I choose to let you into my world.
I can choose to let you out of it, too.
But I won’t. Because, now that I am older, now that I’m not as scared, now that I am as abnormal as I want to be, I can make choices that are braver and bolder and more empowered.
I choose to let you into my world because it is honest, and kind, and vulnerable. Take a look at who I am, beat me down with your words if you must, I won’t break.
And, after my last blog post I am certain, I’ve got a herd/gaggle/murder/group/FLOCK of individuals behind me, holding me up and reflecting my own courage back at me in their faces. You are my soul-family, the ones who tell me to be myself because everyone else is taken, and, and, etc., etc.
I have a new definition of creative bravery. It is not only looking within and creating what you see, but taking control of your creativity in every facet. It is not leaping with blind faith into your work, but taking control of the work you do, how it is pieced together, and the way it is presented.
It is incredible to me that after so many years of creating, the acknowledgment that I have control is a revelation. Why should it be? Why did I not realize that ages ago? The answer is simple: the Internet would have you believe otherwise. Not “the Internet” as in a big monster that hides in your computer, but the very nature of how we interact online. You feel that you have to share, because that is the culture we are all living in. There is a push and pull of your creative energy to produce, create, share, do MORE.
And on top of that, there is a semi-problematic view that what we create is ours and ours alone, despite our constant willingness to share it. So, I am changing two ways of thinking from here on out.
I choose to let people into my world.
When I release my art, I truly release it.
I’m not saying I’m letting go of my copyright claim, or that it is any less mine, but simply that it is equally everyone else’s. Not only do I invite you to see what I’m doing, I invite you to feel how you want to feel about it. Be as angry as you want, as understood and delighted as you can be, but for goodness sake, do it wholly.
Thank you for your indefinite and unwavering support of what I’ve done so far. This is going to be a wild journey.
At the end of 2015 I conceived of a new photo series and I spent all of 2016 creating what ended up being 9 images in that series titled “Fourth Wall”. I loved [almost] every moment of creating that series and it felt amazing to finally have it produced and hanging on walls. I stopped myself from thinking too deeply about my next project until Fourth Wall was finished because I have a tendency to bounce around between many ideas and never fully dedicate myself to one of them.
When my show hung in January this year I let myself breathe and explore my imagination again. I thought, after so long focused on one project, a new idea would come to me immediately. The funny thing about creativity, though, is that sometimes the longer you practice it, the longer it takes for ideas to come. Let me clarify – the longer it takes for GOOD ideas to come, and even longer for GREAT ideas to come. (And THE BEST ideas may never come, or we may not realize they have come until after they are born and grown and out of our hands).
Come see this series exhibited and meet me at the JoAnne Artman Gallery in Laguna Beach, CA on October 5th! Details on my events page: http://brookeshaden.com/events/
I decided not to rush my newest series. I decided I would not force myself into an idea. I had a sense that something big was brewing based on events in my life this past year and where I find myself in my own private thoughts. I knew something would emerge. Each time I thought I saw it’s little head peaking, it turned out to be a false alarm. Every idea I had was stale or a version of something I had done before. Everything felt contrived or boring or not good enough.
I think part of artistic maturity is knowing when you are NOT ready to create yet. I used to throw myself into ideas and I had a lot of fun with it, but now it isn’t as satisfying that I can find an idea with almost no effort. That is not bragging in any sense, and in fact it is the opposite – an admission, that I too often fall back on ideas that are recycled and simple. The ideas are not hard to find; the good ones and great ones and best ones hide deep and deeper and deepest.
I was talking to my friend Amy about some things that had been on my mind when I was traveling in Thailand in May – I didn’t say anything particularly spectacular, but I think that letting out some of my recent story triggered something in my mind. A few hours later I listened to a song off the album “I Can Spin a Rainbow”, Amanda Palmer and Edward Ka-Spell’s newest collaborative record, and I felt the words in me. The music felt true to my life right now.
A few minutes later, reflecting on that music and on my recent thoughts I had spilled to Amy, I had an all-consuming vision. It was perfect. It scared me. I immediately got butterflies in my stomach. I was nervous and anxious and I had trouble breathing. I was excited and elated, even. I had a new idea.
And that idea wasn’t stale and it wasn’t easy and it made me feel sick.
That was how I knew it had to happen.
I started explaining it to Amy, who I knew would or could appreciate it, and in the middle of my sentence I noticed a shift in my mind. The idea went from hypothetical to already happened. I believe in manifesting your desires, or thinking of them as already finished. That happened naturally and without warning as I told her about my idea. I felt that it already happened.
I won’t say what the idea is yet, as it will require some legal hoop jumping and a massive look into the eyes of my fears, but I will say – it is different and dark and deeper than I’ve dared to look.
And that brings me to the question I wanted to ask, and why I am writing this to you.
If you had an idea that you knew
would offend and upset some people,
would you do it anyway?
I am going to create my new series. It will offend people. And I am afraid of that – I won’t act like I don’t become anxious (and sometimes even non-functioning) at criticism. In fact, it is my worst quality and biggest inhibitor on my life. And that is precisely why I feel I need to do it: partially because it is already in me, partially because I feel the need to be honest in my creativity, and partially because the series itself is about directly confronting fear.
I already feel uncomfortable writing this. I never mind if people don’t like my work, truly, as I’ve far outgrown that fear. But I am highly sensitive to personally being a source of unpleasantness for someone.
Logic says that the whole world cannot love us,
Reason says that our best chance at a fulfilling life is an honest one,
My heart says that I am not ready to confront my honesty,
My willpower says that I will do it anyway.
Thank you for following this newest journey. I hope I can push through to make it a reality. All my gratitude.
It felt weird writing 31/31, and timely, too. As I reflected on this past month, there were so many sentiments I wanted to talk about. My personal growth, which was tremendous. The amount I learned about my craft. The amount of new skills I acquired. The amount of spider webs I walked into, and so on.
What stood out most, though, was the word commitment. I kept coming back to it. Sure, the commitment is obvious: I committed to 31 days of content. A photo, video and blog every day. That’s 93 pieces of content in one month. It is a commitment in every sense of the word. But the word commitment feels hollow if I don’t pair it with community.
I am part of this community, and you are, too. Every day I woke up with a desire to share my life, my unfolding story, with anyone who wanted to listen. Because, at the end of the day, I am not creating solely for myself. I am creating to unleash my imagination, to understand myself more deeply, but also, and equally important to me, is that I am creating for those who feel they cannot. I am creating for those who need to feel connected, who need to feel those two most beautiful words rising in their throat:
I don’t take this community lightly. This is my life. This is my craft. This is my soul. I am sharing it because that makes me complete. I am sharing it because if I can do some good in this world, I will try with everything I have. This month took everything I had; every ounce of energy, every bit of patience, and a lot of miles on the road. But it also brought me so much beauty. I was incredibly present. I was connected. And now that the end is come, I desire more. I want to help more people. I want to be a light for someone who is in darkness. And one day, when I am the one in the dark, I know someone from this community will be there to light my way.
Thank you for your support this month. This image is a representation of how I have felt – held up by hands stronger than my own. I owe you.
Today is the last day to sign up for the 15 Day Content Creation Challenge. We begin tomorrow! This is a creativity challenge for any type of artist. You will receive a 52-page e-book, content creation chart, daily challenges and emails, and a supportive Facebook group. And, there is no set cost. You pay only what you can. And 40% goes to charity, so win-win! Registration closes at 5:00pm PST, and emails begin at 5:00am PST on August 1st!