A year ago I traveled to France to shoot in the most spectacular location I had ever seen. I got there, concepts planned, props in hand, and I shot all day long, for hours and hours straight. I took the images home, proud of what I had done, and yet I had no desire to edit them. The longer I waited the more I came to terms with the fact that I would never edit them. They had lost their magic. They weren’t as special as I thought they were. They were complicated and the lighting wasn’t right, and I felt really down about it. I could have edited them and I could have created something from what I had, but I knew that I was going to go back, and so I didn’t touch them.
A couple of months ago I did have the chance to go back. I went in with an idea but didn’t put too much pressure on myself to do what I had sketched out. Instead, I helped other people shoot throughout the day and contented myself with enjoying the moments I shared with my friends. At some point in the day someone found a dead bird. I went to the attic where the bird was resting and I sat with it for a long while. I pleaded with someone to let the bird stay where it was for a time. The truth was that I wasn’t finished with it. I have a very deep and sincere connection to animals and death, two things one wouldn’t normally pair together, and I am inspired by separately. But put together, I become overwhelmed with emotion – and inspiration.
I find beauty in death, light in darkness, and inspiration in the macabre. This is how it has always been. I embrace it. It makes me who I am. And so I found beauty and inspiration in that tiny bird and what it meant to me, in my life, at that time. To me, inspiration is how we most authentically manifest our truest self. It is why we create. I took that little bird with me throughout the day, carrying him as I looked for locations to create self-portraits, while coming up with a narrative for him, and for myself.
I challenged myself that day. I went into the chateau with ideas in mind that were safe and easy and would guarantee results from the shoot. But when it came time to shoot, I didn’t do what was safe or easy for me. I did several things that I almost never do, as a rule for myself. I shot directly at light sources. I shot in harsh light. I didn’t overcomplicate the work with a lot of Photoshop or heavy editing. I kept it simple, posed how I felt, and embraced the emotion of the day. It felt right. It felt respectful, in a way, for my little co-character. It was all perfect, no worries and massive inspiration. At the end of the day my friend asked if I had anything solid to take away from my shoot. I said I had no idea, and I didn’t…and I didn’t care. It felt wonderful to do what makes my heart soar, to try something new, and to connect with my deepest inspiration.
While shooting each of these images, I exposed for my skin tone. Because I was so often shooting at a light source, that meant that windows were blown out and the surroundings were bright in order to see detail in my skin and dress. I shot each image underexposed as well, so that everything but the light source fell into darkness. While putting the images together, I used a manual HDR type of stitching process, matching up the darkened window with the nicely exposed images and combining them.
In Photoshop, I spent a lot of time refining the light. In each image, I identified the light source, chose how soft I wanted the light to be and began to create softer light coming from those sources by adjusting my curves layer like this:
I added vignettes to each of the images to make the light stand our more.
I spent a good deal of time selectively changing colors. For example, in the image with the red floor, I had to selectively enhance the color of the floor. It was naturally orange/pink, so I made it a more uniform color and enhanced the darkness and saturation of the red tones. In others I selected the dress to change or enhance the color, and in others still I selected walls/doors to change colors.
To finish each image I softened them to give a more painterly look, since the light spoke to me as being like something from a classic painting.
When I found the bird, I wanted to create a small series that would honor his life while also speaking about the fragility of life and how heavy death can feel. The first image I created was the one where I’m standing next to the large feather. In it, I wanted to show how small we can feel around death, and how looming it can be. In a way, we shield ourselves from death so that we can experience life, but it is only when we accept our imminent demise that we can appreciate the impact our life can have.
The second image I created was the one laying down with the bird on the floor. I really pushed myself with this one and the lighting, but I felt it was important because that particular lighting spoke to me about fragility. It seemed so perfect, with the way it raked across the subject and bird, highlighting the shape and form of the lifeless pair. I wanted to pose like the bird, solemn and asleep, eternally or not, to embody the beauty in death.
The third image I went about creating was the white feather on my back. I posed in that space first sitting up and realized quickly that the light would not allow for such a pose, with it being so directional and harsh. That was when I decided to take a concept I had planned for a different room and try it out here. To show the weight of death (and life) was something that was important to me. Death weighs heavy on us all, whether it is thinking of our own or dealing with that of a loved one. All of these images speak to both instances.
The fourth image was taken in the room with the red floor and black dress. I wanted to dress in mourning, yet also like a blackbird – ominous and strong at the same time. Foreshadowing death perhaps, or mourning someone’s life, was what I was thinking of when creating this image. When I started editing I was thrilled with how stark of a contrast it presented in color and light, and I thought that appropriate in such a dark image.
The fifth picture was the one on the bed, looking up at the feather. To me, death feels like a dream – it is something we consider but cannot imagine, something we dream of but cannot feel, and something that is, often, better not to think on. I personally struggle with many dreams of death and darkness, and this felt an appropriate connection for me, visually, to the theme at hand.
The sixth picture was meaningful to me because of a memory I have. When my grandmother died I remember lying on a set of stairs, I couldn’t even say where now, and looking backward out the window, feeling the light on my face, and wondering if it was my grandmother touching my face. I saw these stairs and the light shining down and wanted to create an image in that fashion, looking toward the light with the little bird in my hands, as if offering him up to the light. All of these images deal with light and darkness in a literal and metaphoric way.
I hope that you can find something in one of the images that speaks to you.
She is filled with heaviness
like rain water sitting on a window sill,
cracked wood, fogged glass, unseen.
She is filled with heaviness
like autumn leaves under a long winter snow,
waiting for the melt to breathe again.
She is filled with heaviness
like a small dead bird filled with worms,
under the weight of a feather.
robin spalding - love these images brooke. the posing is just gorgeous and helps express tour story/concept brillently! the series im most connected to is actually partially two now. the theme of infertility that i suffered for a little over three years affected me greatly but the images were the only way i could cope and get through it. its such a ” quiet” subject that the loneliness makes it even worse but sharing the series i found my own strength and then found others with it which helped me geel less alone. now i am happy to say i am pregnant and i am creating a series of this but trying to keep it visually similar to some of the infertility images. by using the same props, eggs, nest etc…
cynthia dickinson - Love the new work Brooke!
I have an ongoing project “crimes passions consequences”. It came out of the loss of my father and friend of mine for 20 years leaving my life. Didn’t know what to do with so much grief and love at the same time.
The series is on my website
Thank you for sharing all of yourself in your work!!!
Christina Witham - Beautiful series
Paulo Carvalho - What a great set of images! I love this series. Very well done, Brooke. Loved!:) Thank you for sharing this post. I do not know if you’ve seen, but my last work is related to a poem and the next will also be about a poem. Let’s say I’m in a wave of poetry! I have also in mind a new series, but for now, I do not want to say too much, because it is still very fresh in my mind. 😉 I wish you a beautiful week.
Amani - These images are SO beautiful <3 your poses are just incredible.
Right now, the one theme I'm playing around with a lot is of feeling trapped and being in one place for just way too long. I love that theme because I often feel this overwhelming desire to travel and go somewhere new.
FIT BMX - I have been feeling that exact same way for about six months, I just need to be somewhere new. So I have been hike in my spare time, just taking photos of whatever jumps out at me, although on my last hike it was a Raccoon that jump out. But i got the photo of her! 😉 LOL
FIT BMX - Absolutely wonderful set! One of my goals is to buy a chateau in France, so this set was really wonderful. (Quick side question, how did you like it in France?) I am very new to theme photography, so I don’t really have anything in the works. 🙂
Jillian Merlot - Brooke what an amazing series!!! When I watched your video I was quite emotional…not sure why but it obviously spoke to me deeply and powerfully. Showing our vulnerability is rarely encouraged in our world. So thank you so much!
Hanna - Your images in this series are so beautiful, Brooke, and the story and writing that goes with them is just amazing. I love writing, especially poetry. That is what these images are, poetic in the most beautiful way.
A theme that comes back to me is dealing with the past. My past is not so pretty emotionally so I often create images around that. A series that I am still working on with this theme is a series shot in my basement, called “beneath the shadows of time”. Not finished yet, only two images are done but I have many more ideas to execute: http://www.soulconceptsphotography.se/portfolio/beneath-the-shadows-of-time/
Sabine Jacobs - Brooke, I love this series so much. They beautifully tie together but each one of them is telling its own unique story and conveying a different mood.
I’m planning a little series and the main prop will be a clock. I’ve had to deal more than usual with time constraints and the pressure that schedules etc put on us. So far I have shot two and am about to start editing the first one. Oh, and then I’d like to finish the book series as well 😉 At some point…if time allows 🙂
Have a wonderful day!
Crackle - Hey Brooke, you continue to amaze me with your vision, inspiration and talent to share… I want to be the little spy in your pocket just silent but being carried around for a week, seeing what you see and sitting watching you transform your vision to your image via photoshop… Thank you!
Simon - I love your work as a whole, it is so imaginative and you are so generous with how you achieve something with workflow and process.
The photography I do is very different in approach, but with some common ground, in the end we are looking for a interesting way to tell a story, like two sides of the same coin.
I’m not that good with series, in truth, more like I start them but they can take years to complete, here is one that made it!
Christina Witham - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IV8pfb1hEmU
Christina Witham - These images i created during a very sad time in my life, and when i shoot a person i feel in my soul seems to always come out in my work, it’s as if i am not only capturing a person in my camera but also a piece of my soul , i named this series Solace, because it was a time of finding myself…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IV8pfb1hEmU
Anne Parsons - Could you please explain this process— “I used a manual HDR stitching type of process.”?