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The Tide that Takes Us

The most beautiful thing has happened in my image-making life, and it has nothing to do with business opportunities, awards, exhibitions or success. It has to do with something entirely more important: creating. At the core of what every artist does is to create from the raw and unprocessed material that our imagination conjures up. Mine has been working on overdrive these past couple of months. I went through a transformation in the way that I think about photography and how I want to approach it. The biggest change that I accepted was to create less. It might sound very strange for an artist to actually want to create less, but I do have my reasons. I have always been the kind of person, and artist, to be constantly inspired. My imagination jumps around at hyper-speed and as a result I want to create often. I used to think the mark of a great artist was one that could create good work often, but now my views have changed. Amazing work is amazing no matter how quickly or slowly it is produced. What’s more, great work is not classified as such because others feel it to be so; it has to come from within the artist. The more pride an artist can take in a single creation, the more special that piece is.I realized that by creating very often (I was creating on average 4-5 pieces each week, but only sharing 1-2), I was putting less effort into each piece. Quantity over quality. I am proud of what I have done, as all artists should be, but I feel like I am at a point in my career where I can slow down, spend more time on individual pieces, and give some TLC to some really special concepts. This new piece that I want to share with you is the result of that way of thinking. I spent over a month creating this image. The conceptualization took weeks. I thought about it every day but did not push myself to create it quickly. I waited until my gut told me it was the right time to dive in. I thought about the technical process in depth, which I will share with you below, and that helped tremendously in being able to create a picture that worked not only visually but also logically. And finally, I thought very carefully about the story that I want to put into the world. Thus far I have left myself out of my images (not literally, but figuratively). With this new series, and this new photograph in particular, I wanted to put myself in the thick of it.

The Concept

This picture is part of my new series titled “Fears & Fairytales”. The concept for the new series is that imagination is just as powerful as reality. By putting my fears into physical form in these images, I confront what I am most frightened of while using my imagination and fairytale land to save the subject from the danger of fear. In the new picture, the subject is stranded in the ocean. Minutes before this moment in time, she was struggling to stay above the waves, gasping for breath, starting to let go of life as she sank beneath the water. Imagination prevails, however, when a boat of the flying variety sails past on the wind, lowers a rope, and pulls her up from the water. It was very important to me to capture the moment of most tension, where there is a distinct changing point in the scene. She is neither struggling to surface nor is she rescued: she is in the process of being rescued.

The Shoot

This picture was shot in four different parts, on four different days, in four different locations.

The first picture that I took was of the sky in an airport in Munich as I waited to board a plane to Berlin in Germany. The second shot that I took was of the ship, which I photographed on my patio with some white towels and fabric in the background as my “home studio”. The third part was shot in the ocean near Malibu, California. The final part was shot in a creek underwater.

4 days, 10 pictures, and many hours total.

Preparing to get in the water at the beach.

My shooting process is very quick. It always has been and likely will continue to be. I usually take about 5 shots total on average per shoot. I did the same for these, so once I started clicking my camera the shoot went quickly. But if anyone reading this also takes pictures, you know that there is more to it than the click of a shutter. Making sure that angles are correct, the lighting is right, the subject is emoting and your camera doesn’t break underwater is a whole other thing entirely…although the underwater camera thing probably isn’t as common.

Shooting in the ocean was an experience in itself. I am very frightened of the ocean, so I wanted to challenge myself and see how far I could go. It turns out that I will do just about anything for a picture, though not without some shrieking and shaking on my part. When we got to the beach to shoot, it was very cold. The air temperature was dropping. I tried shooting the underwater portion first in a small inlet of water, but it was too murky and I couldn’t see a thing under the water. Next we tried in the ocean. I spent 10 full minutes climbing over rocks with my camera inside my Ikelite housing. It was nervewracking since I did not know if I would drop the housing and break everything, but it turned out to be okay. We perched on some rocks in the ocean, got pelted by waves, and all the while tried to clear a huge amount of seagrass so that I could see the subject under the water. 30 minutes later and we realized it was just too much, so we had to abandon ship (pardon the pun).

The one and only shot I got underwater in the ocean. At least I tried! :)

As we got out of the water I said, “You know, the funny thing is that no one will ever understand how much of a struggle it was to try that.” We laughed about it. Ten minutes later a man walked up to me and told me how proud I should be for going in there and shooting because it looked very difficult. I think that has to be a highlight of my shooting experiences.

Preparing to shoot the rope.

After we dried off and waited for the sun to go down, we headed back into the water to shoot the above water portion with the model in the waves. I waited until the wave hit and snapped, capturing what I had hoped for the month before.

Under water shooting happened a few days after that. We got up in the morning, drove to a creek, and I shot in some of the coldest water I have ever touched. I had to dip my head in to see through my housing and got an instant headache. I felt a dull throbbing there for an hour afterwards. It was difficult, but I did get the shot that I needed and immediately rushed home to edit all day long.

I had Olivia hold her hand under the water so I could get focus. This water was intensely cold.

The Props

I decided that I wanted to really start investing in my photo shoots. My logic was that if I was shooting less, I could spend more money per shoot and really create the images of my dreams. The ship that you see in the final picture was the big prop for this shoot that I invested in. I found it at the most amazing antique/prop place in a suburb of Los Angeles. It was originally built as a model of an 1800s ship and used in a movie in the 1960s. I wanted the ship to be detailed, old, and decrepit. I wanted to find a ship with character so that it would stand out against the droves of miniature ships that are out there. And although this ship is also miniature, it is quite large, heavy and cumbersome. I was not able to lift it myself, so my husband had to move it around for me. Taking it to the ocean was out of the question given how heavy it is and how well I would like to preserve it. I hope to show it off at a gallery show next year along with my new series.

After I finished shooting the ship, which I had to shoot in two parts because of space constraints, I decided to document my favorite prop ever!

The rope was easy to find and inexpensive. I shot it in three parts for the final picture. I shot it attached to the ship, being pulled taught so as to give the illusion of a girl hanging off of it. I shot the rope in the ocean as well, with it pulled tight to continue that effect. I photographed it one last time there with slack for the underwater portion.

The Pose

One of the outtakes from shooting that I loved because of that wave. What I did not love was that wave pummeling me after I snapped this ;-)

I went back and forth with my husband on this for a long time, mostly because he is the logical one and I am the impulsive one. I wanted to make sure that logically, physically, this image would make sense. In the end, I decided that the girl would get pulled straight up and out of the water. I wanted only one hand held onto the rope, with head tilted to the side and other arm hanging. I thought this would give a ragdoll look to the image. I was looking to create a character that looked young and innocent, and most important fragile. I took some images of the model holding onto the rope with both hands while shooting just in case it created more drama, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t need those shots.

The Final Image & Close-ups

{ 11 } Comments

  1. Venkat | November 12, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    As a photographer, I can understand the painstaking efforts to create this masterpiece. It’s a WOW image and I am sure it has taken you to a new different level altogether :)

    All the best!

  2. Becky | November 12, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Your work is incredible Brooke, never ever fails to disappoint. I can see why you’re so proud of this, well done – really :)

  3. Betty Wisse | November 12, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Love the final photograph. I really appreciate all the behind the scene narrations. It’s good to know how much work it really takes to make this kind of photo.

  4. Teresa | November 12, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing yet another incredible image….

  5. Paige | November 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Really love your work, another great piece!

  6. sarah | November 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Masterpiece. Perfect word. Your photography utterly enchants me.

  7. randy | November 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Great… I Love your stream on flickr.

  8. Bryan Thompson | November 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Brooke, Thanks for sharing the inspiration part of the image, always very interesting to hear your thought process. I will miss listening to you at After Dark. Love the image.

  9. Melissa Dupree | November 15, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    This is breathtaking. It’s so wonderful that you would share your process and experiences with us. It makes me feel more connected to the image. I love your new series and can’t wait to see more of it.

  10. Brandie Minchew | November 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been just fascinated by this image. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Kate Bush’s album, The Hounds of Love, the second side of which is a progressive conceptual album called “The Ninth Wave”. It is about the plight of a person who has gone overboard from a ship and is waiting for rescue in the dark water. This image recalls the album to me, and I though I’d mention it to you in the chance that you hadn’t heard it and might be interested in it.

  11. George Greenlee | August 1, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Bit late to the party but what a great image. I love the effort and thought process that went into this.

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