White Wall Wednesday: Alone in the Desert in the Dark

“I Am Made of Stories”, self-portrait, November 2018 |  Available through my galleries at: www.brookeshaden.com/prints

Although the name of this post is a literal representation of what our video shows today (because I’m an early bird and I am constantly early to everything, including the sunrise)…it is also a metaphorical nod at what I really want to dig into.

Working alone.

And I don’t just mean physically. In this new video we take a look at how I work 100% alone when I go out on shoots. That means using myself as a model while thinking about everything a photographer must consider: light quality/direction, background, lens choice, angle, wardrobe, props, pose, exposure settings, etc.

But the video covers that pretty well. Let’s talk about the other end of working alone.

You work alone. I work alone. At some point, we find ourselves utterly alone.

Even if not literally – maybe you work in an office with people or have a loving partner or friends – but eventually, you will find yourself with a dream that only you has, and you won’t know how to achieve it. Your friends will think you’re a little nuts, the internet won’t give you any great answers, and you’re left alone.

That is the darkness I’m talking about. The want-it-so-bad-but-can’t-find-help kind of darkness. What to do? I think I’ve made a game out of working alone, or at least that’s how it feels. I’ve done it for so long and in so many ways.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs
and developing our wings on the way down.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve put together a list of what I’ve learned from being a professional loner.


1. Your mistakes will not break you.

The first time I wrote to galleries I was 22 years old. I put 100 gallery emails, after a ton of research, in the TO line of my email. Not the BCC line…And I hit send. It was a terrible move, the kind that many less optimistic people would give up at after receiving some very harsh emails back, such as I did.

Here’s the point in my telling you this. Nothing really matters. If you mess up trying to walk through one door, the world doesn’t close all other doors. I messed up a lot. I did stupid things like that mass email. I made prints and dented and scratched them. I misprinted. I broke frames in transit. I didn’t insure my pieces and they got damaged. I didn’t know how to talk to galleries. I wrote unprofessional emails. And despite making a TERRIBLE impression on a LOT of people, I still managed a career.

Please, please, I’m begging you: stop believing that one mistake will lead to your downfall. In my experience, the easiest way to fail at your goal is to stop trying because you made a mistake, not because of the mistake itself.


2. No one knows anything.

People look like they know a lot. People want you to think they know a lot. And some people do. About their industry, about their journey, but not about yours.

You know how we’re all adults pretending to be grown up but we’re not really grown up, we’re just pretending? What’s that? You don’t know what I’m talking about, and you really are a grown up and an adult at the same time? Well then, I misjudged you. But for the vast majority of us, we’re guessing. We’re playing this game where we look like adults and so we try to do things that make us adults, but really we’re children inside navigating a giant and scary world.

Don’t count on anyone to guide you. Don’t count on anyone to know your path. Just guess at it, like we do everything else.

Let’s get that straight right from the get-go. Yes, some people have been successful. Maybe even in what you’re looking to do. Yes, some people make a lot of money. Maybe even in what you’re looking to do. But if you try to pursue the same avenue they did, it won’t work. The more creative your endeavor, the more solidly you can expect that to be true.

Let’s take my journey as a fine art photographer. My dream was to exhibit in galleries. I asked around and couldn’t find any consistent advice.

“Make a ton of prints at once and then try to sell those over a few years,” one person told me. “Make prints as they are ordered and don’t waste your money,” another person said. “Number your prints out of 200” versus “number your prints out of 5″…and so on.

And yet, it worked out.


3. Could you please commit to being weird already?!

The most successful people (and I’m using successful not only to mean monetarily, but also through innovation and creativity) are people who did things differently. They thought differently, created differently, and dreamed differently.

You are an artist. You are already different – other, unusual, outside – so you know what it means to think differently. If someone said to you, “Your art is the same as everyone else’s art,” you would take that as an insult. But if someone said, “Your business is the same as everyone else’s business,” you might feel relief that you’re doing it “right”.

Something is broken in how we work. Artists should embrace the unknown in every aspect of what they do.


4. Stop searching the internet. Search your brain instead.

This will sound harsh, but think about it before you judge me:

How often do you reach for the closest search engine when you have a question, be it the never ending wait, what is that actor’s name?! to how do I become a professional artist?!, or some variation thereof?

Classes, workshops, mentors, Google searches, emails to professionals…it never stops.

What if you gave yourself a challenge that for one month you had to make every decision based on really and truly thinking it through with no outside aid, not even running it past a friend, coupled with a little help from your guts – your intuition?

Could you get through a month like that? I don’t think I know many people who are willing to make big decisions, especially about their creativity and business, without looking up something comparable.

I think this is severely hurting our ability to take risks and be confident in ourselves. We are so constantly looking for validation in our choices that it has become part of our habitual process. This needs to stop.


5. Failure to Fail.

I believe that because we are so unwilling to fail at so many things, we have developed an ironic failure to fail. Call it F to F syndrome. It happens when we are so afraid of messing up that we a) do nothing at all, or b) look for an exact roadmap until we start becoming someone else.

The shoe doesn’t fit. Stagnation does not become us. And the only way out is to make time to fail, and recognize that we will also, most likely, find the time to succeed.

I am most proud of my willingness to fail.

I fail at photo shoots about once ever 2 weeks or more. I fail at business attempts a few times a week. I receive rejection emails, I am told no often. I hear silence most of the time when I send an email out into the void.

Sometimes I end up covered in molasses half naked in the woods with no one around to help me and a picture that looks like crap.

You know, normal stuff.

And despite that…

No, because of that…

I feel that I am more successful than I have ever been, and certainly more so than I ever expected.


Listen, a lot goes into success. It isn’t just trying hard and trying often, trusting yourself and making mistakes. It is about producing great work. It is about developing a great work ethic. It is about learning and education – yes, take those workshops, put in those hours. But don’t let it be a crutch. Be great in your own right, not in someone else’s.

Today for White Wall Wednesday I celebrate this unique, personal, fulfilling and difficult journey we are all on. Today is another day. A day to say:

Screw this, I’m making choices for myself and by myself.
My failures will not end me and my successes will buoy me.

How will you proudly push
forward in your own darkness?

Leave a comment.

 

  • November 21, 2018 - 6:39 am

    Charles - Brooke I absolutely love your way of putting this in to perspective.ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 7:18 am

    Turla Peterson - Like you I worked best being alone and by myself. I can pose the way I want, I can think quickly of what I need, and best of all my creativity really shows with nobody telling me on what I need to do.
    What really stop me from pushing forward is impostor syndrome. I always feel I am not good enough on anything I do. I always put myself down and self defecate. I am working on it very hard and my goal is at the beginning of next year is to put myself out there regardless of what might happen. It will be very very hard but I have nothing to lose and hopefully I can overcome my fear of rejection.ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 8:19 am

    Kristey Fritz-Martin - This is just perfect, and as always, it is like you can see into my soul with your amazing Brooke magic. I can’t even put into words how much I needed to hear all this! I have been slipping into a rut lately and I know the Sony thing didn’t help (that mentorship was like all my hopes and dreams tied up into a beautiful package with a bow on top) but I just realized that I already kind of have it. . . We all do. You are so open and giving of yourself and “mentor” us all every week with your inspiration and openness. You truly are such a shining light!

    Alone is my jam. There is such a calm freedom in not having to “perform” and just letting your imagination go wild and take shape. Thank you again for the reminder and priority shift!ReplyCancel

    • November 21, 2018 - 11:43 am

      Gallagher Green - Most of Brooke’s post are like this for me, she seems to always know what we need to hear. It’s really her superpower. 🙂
      I checked out your work and love it! <3ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 8:28 am

    Gallagher Green - Do you normally take photos in the same area of the roadway? I am just envisioning some commuter say “Hey look, camera girls out today.” LOL

    To me, failure is how the world works, all of it. Look at evolution, plants, animals, people, they all fail over and over, and evolution keeps making little tweaks and changes until success happens, this has been happening since the beginning of time. Who are we to now say “I can’t fail!” Fail is what made us all.

    I will take your bet! I will try to go one month without searching online! Of which I am sure I will fail at! But according to the post above that’s okay. 😉 LOLReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 11:36 am

    Gallagher Green - I forgot, as for being an “Adult” there is no such thing, and anyone who thinks they are is lying.
    I am nearly 31 years old and I hurt my shoulder a little bit a few nights ago while doing front rolls in the living room while swinging a fireplace poker.
    I was writing the last fight scene in my short story and needed to find out the best way to roll with a machete. I enjoyed the whole process quite a bit!ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 11:56 am

    Karen Olson - Brooke I truly loved your video today and post. Having just lost my husband of 46 years I find myself feeling very much alone. But your post has given me much encouragement, as always. Fact is, I am proudly pushing forward in many ways artistically and owning it all! I will search deep inside for what wants to come out and do that!ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 6:36 pm

    Jon Miller - Hi Brooke, I found this to be most enlightening. I work alone on my art shoots, I find I can think openly and freely, i.e. without judgment. I do use a model on 100% of my shoots and it may take me weeks to get to the shoot date. I prep my shoots way in advance and discuss with the model on several meetings how the shoot will proceed. I feel it’s important that the model I use to understand my vision as much as possible. Yes, I have my darkness that I’m asked about both from friends and professionals (due to an injury, I cannot walk far (max 200m) so they have me seeing a psych, who has taken a keen interest in my work). I do enjoy working alone, I think it’s due to what had happened in the past when everyone had an opinion that was not in sync with me and it just caused problems. Do I fail at my shoots, of course, I do, but those failures are not negatives they are lessons in what not to do again. or lessons in maybe I was a bit short-sighted and failed to look at the situation from other angles (meaning not be so stubborn in thinking it has to be done from a certain pov).
    Bottom line, I’m glad to have read this and as always you have given more food for thought… thanks and have a wonderful day.ReplyCancel

  • November 26, 2018 - 8:37 am

    Chrystal kelly - Hey Brooke! Yes you are right on the money, waiting to do something right gets in my way often, pausing to often makes me feel backed up, looking at other people’s work sometimes gets in the way of my own creativity, because I don’t want to be too influenced, as if the purity of my work will be effected(that’s why I didn’t look at any other photographers while I worked to develop my own style). I often miss being in school we’re i was pushed to create and get criticized, because that felt good and not so alone, I had a huge source of models to work with too. So I say yes to your do not search for a month, December is my bday month and it will be my depend on my brain month . I stopped using myself as a model because I have gotten older and gained weight… I did work really hard to loose the weight tho I can’t move the hands of time back, I am gonna give it a shot again, for my bday on December 3, I will be ….more then 40. Once again thank you for your ability to make so many myself included feel supported and understood!ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 11:42 am

    Jim Duffin - “Stop searching the internet. Search your brain instead.” This is my biggest artistic hurdle, so simply stated. Thank yo for sharing your thoughts.ReplyCancel

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