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Why I Tried and Failed at Instagram

Social media can be tiring...(sorry...I had to...) ;-)

Social media can be tiring…(sorry…I had to…) ;-)

I’ve written before about how much I dislike my smart phone. And I really do. I don’t like it. I don’t get notifications on my phone and I try to use it as much like a regular, non-internet, semi-non-functioning phone most of the time. When I travel I find use in it so I can keep up with emails, but even that makes me a little queasy.

So, when I started hearing the word “Instagram” float around I was confused, as usual. I only found out how to download an app in September of this year. I only found out what an app was in June. So, needless to say, I’m usually behind on the times. Back in January this year I was with my friend Olivia and she managed to download Instagram on my phone. I only had a smart phone for a couple of weeks at that point. She showed me how to take pictures with it, how to download and upload pics from the internet. Basically, she set me up to be an Instagram QUEEN.

Of course, things didn’t actually happen that smoothly. I didn’t like it. I had my account, I figured out where the little IG button was hiding, and I clicked it every now and then. I managed to upload 50 pictures this year. I even got into a groove at one point, uploading daily. But that did not last long.

I was introduced to an internet culture that I had not properly experienced before. It isn’t just an Instagram thing. It isn’t, and can’t be, tied down like that. It is a way of using social media that I don’t find personally fulfilling, though there is nothing inherently wrong with it. I became disenchanted by: people uploading for the sake of getting views. People celebrating half naked pictures of young women without thinking about the consequences of celebrating that type of beauty in that way. People who are focused on trends instead of self-expression. And that, too, is my problem for not digging deeper. I found I was lacking time to invest in it, and it just didn’t suit me.

If someone is in this for the fun of it – have fun! Not everyone has to be so serious (nor should everyone be), and not everyone has to use IG or any other site for the potential to share art. In fact, that probably isn’t even the point of it. It is what it is, and what it is is probably not for me.

I saw some of the good side of Instagram as well. I saw the people who were doing amazing things with their phones, who were editing on iPhones and uploading to IG and getting the praise they deserved for their truly unique images. I even enjoy following certain people just to see their day to day lives. I like that kind of thing and don’t always have to be focused on Art. The biggest problem with me was that I don’t like to share my day-to-day life. I can be quite private, and wanted to use the platform to share my images. I actually think Instagram can be pretty darn cool, but I’m just not a very cool chick.

Sometimes it is easy to get sucked into the idea that if a social network exists, we must be a part of it. Join or perish. Tweet or die. Instagram or insta-gone.

I felt that push. I created an account even though I didn’t have any interest in it. I thought it was the right thing to do (right for who, though?). And in the mess that was my Instagram experience, I learned a valuable lesson about myself: I would rather have exactly ZERO Instagram followers and not worry about fitting in than to feel the pressure of social media to conform. I still love social media. I love interacting with people. I love making those human connections. I love the feeling of knowing that I can talk to a group of supportive and loving individuals should the occasion arise. What I do not like, however, is the pull of social media to be BIGGER than before, or to gain more followers exponentially.

A lot of this comes down to the idea that we can choose positivity in our lives. We can choose to focus on the good rather than the bad. We can choose to see the beautiful side of life. And I found that Instagram was something that continually presented a side to life that I would rather be blind to, and so I stopped looking. Simple as that. It is no one else’s problem but my own, and for that I am grateful.

Speaking at Country Day School

I had the great pleasure of visiting my home town to give a lecture. While I was there I taught 2 workshops, and after that I did a lecture at a high school. I’ve never lectured  at a high school before, so I was a little bit nervous but mostly excited to donate my time to a good cause. I love inspiring anyone, and to be in front of an audience that wasn’t fully expecting to get anything out of my lecture, I knew it would be a good challenge.

I found myself planning in a different way than my usual lectures. I asked myself what I should say to a group of people who is not necessarily “into” photography, and I found a good medium between talking about the technical how-to along with the conceptual side of photography. I wanted to put the point across that no matter how much you know about photography, you can still be a photographer. You don’t have to own fancy equipment or have taken classes…you can go out and shoot, no matter what.

At the end of my lecture I challenged the students (of which there were about 100 – assembly style) to go out and shoot. To find whatever camera they could and to take pictures of their imaginations. To tell stories. To come alive. And then I said I’d put them on my blog, and I couldn’t be more proud to do so. The images here are indicative of their adventures…and I have to say, I am hugely impressed. Some of these people have been working at it, some are new to it, and all have a great amount of potential. There are so many ways to express yourself, and all are equally valid. I am just happy to have been able to introduce one of those art forms to the students at Country Day School.

Thank you for having me, and specifically to Donna who gave me a call out of the blue and asked. I am honored and hope I can visit again sometime soon.

Victoria Willis

Photograph by Victoria Willis, student at Country Day.

Chandler Scull

Photograph by Chandler Scull, student at Country Day.

Chandler Scull

Photograph by Chandler Scull, student at Country Day.

Chandler Scull

Photograph by Chandler Scull, student at Country Day.

Fisher Lisk

Photograph by Fisher Lisk, student at Country Day.

Fisher Lisk

Photograph by Fisher Lisk, student at Country Day.

Charlotte Scott

Photograph by Charlotte Scott, student at Country Day.

 

 

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Reconnecting With My 9th Grade Teacher

Embrace and be embraced.

First of all, Mr. Kneier, please don’t judge me too harshly based on my grammatical errors. Grammar was never my strong suit. Spinning a yarn, though, now that I can do.

A few months ago I got an email that surprised me. It was my 9th grade English teacher. For some backstory, this was me in 9th grade: extremely shy, very into writing but quite quiet about it, and, in no small way, extremely different than the person I am now. My 9th grade English teacher has, very honestly, no reason to remember me. And yet, out of the blue, there he was, emailing me. He had been following my photography and keeping up with my travels. I nearly fell out of my chair.

The point of me telling you this is not to gush about how exciting it was to reconnect with my English teacher. The point is one that took me a few months to come to the realization of. I got to sit down with Mr. Kneier, or David, as I am now allowed to call him, for tea when I visited my home town for a lecture 2 weeks ago. How strange, to talk to someone who you previously had to guard yourself against, to see a person in such a new way that it makes you rethink all of your previous interactions. My English teacher was no longer my English teacher. He was a peer, someone who I could talk to normally and insightfully. Someone who I only truly saw for the first time.

How true is this for all of our encounters in life? We meet new people all the time: the cashier at the grocery store, the salesman in the department store, the random passerby walking his dog, or the customer service rep while on the phone (for hours) with your insurance agency. Whoever it is, we meet people all the time. The only thing is that we don’t often think of these interactions as “meeting people”. They are just little blips in our day, small interactions that amount to little else than the customary “Hi, how are you?” and so on. We ask, but we do not care for the response. We answer, but we do not answer truthfully.

How often do we pass these situations by without considering the possibilities that lie within them. Every single time we come into contact with another person, we have a choice to make. We can delve down deep to interact with that person, or we can pass them by. We can choose to make a connection, or choose to ignore it.

There is no right or wrong answer to this everyday interaction. Not every bond need be welded tightly. Not every interaction must be carried out to friendship. However, I want to bring up one very important point that took me a long time to learn, and I will tell the tale through a story of my own interactions.

There was a time when, if at a photography event, I would want to meet the celebrity of the hour. I genuinely care about all people, and I do not say that lightly. It makes me ache sometimes. But still, I would have the tendency to look at someone speaking at an event and think “wow, I’d love to meet that person”. If I were being honest, and if I translated that statement, it would read more like “wow, that person could help my career”. This is a terrible thing to admit. This is something that I didn’t even realize I was doing until fairly recently.

Here is the problem with this way of thinking: by focusing attention on one person who seems to be doing great things, we lose focus on all of the other people in the room. We fail to see the people who might not be in the spotlight at the moment, but who have the potential to be. By ignoring all of those other bonds, we fail to connect with people who could enrich our lives. Who says that the person with the microphone is the most interesting person in the room? I have learned that all people are equally interesting if you ask the right questions. You never know just how someone can touch your life in the future.

I was at Photoshop World in September, and a really great guy named Robert came up to me and introduced himself. All day after we had a conversation I was struck by him. I can’t put my finger on what, but something about his genuine spirit and amazing presence had me captivated. I knew nothing about him or his photography, but I wanted to. We chatted for about 2 minutes. We knew very little about each other, but the right questions were asked. I kept the thought in my mind that, despite knowing nothing about him, I would get to know him further. Imagine my surprise when, the next day, he was up on stage winning the most prestigious award for his photography that the event had to offer. I did not know that about him when I met him, but keeping an open mind about anyone you meet can open up endless opportunities. I can now say that the amazing photographer who first captured my attention through his willingness to be nice and giving is now my friend.

So, back to Mr. Kneier…I mean, David. When I sat down with him to chat at Panera Bread the other week, I got to see my former teacher in a way that I had never seen before. I realized, much to my surprise, that he is only 9 years older than me. That I was only his 2nd class to teach. That he is extremely insightful and curious. That he reads poetry all the time, and loves to write haikus, and some of his favorite books included The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. And that, above all, he loves Doctor Who. Bond made.

I realized, when I got to talk to my 9th grade English teacher, that I was fortunate beyond my understanding. To be able to go back in time, at least in mind, to talk to a ghost of your past, is not something to be taken lightly. It is a gift that I will treasure, an insight that I will look deeper into, and it is an opportunity. Opportunities are everywhere. They exist in every person, every interaction, and every fiber of the universe. That might seem like an exaggeration, but the truth is evident in all that we do. We create opportunities. We create bonds and friendships and careers and experiences. We are capable of so much, and through connecting with others, no matter their social ranking, we create endless possibilities.

A haiku for my 9th grade English teacher:

Unsure of her name,

a leaf falls in the silence.

He calls to no one.

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The Concept: Episode 1 – Entrapment

Model is the FEARLESS and *super funny* Carson Lewallen who became part of our [F] family :)

How do I begin to describe this experience that I had, week by week, when looking back on it now the whole time we spent together feels like one run-on sentence? The time I spent in New York was, quite nearly, indescribable. Some back story…I have worked with the Framed Network several times in the past, and Melissa Niu is a good friend of mine who I love collaborating on ideas with. We were having a phone call, mostly just a girly chit-chat, when she mentioned that we should do a longer-running show together. Lindsay Adler and I have been friends for years now, and a while back we did a fun little video on Youtube showcasing how different our styles are no matter what the circumstances. That video became the basis for The Concept, the 6 part series that you will see airing on the F Network.

Okay so, week 1: the theme was entrapment. Lindsay and I had to create our own unique images based around that one idea. My ideas are not very literal most of the time, and this is no exception. I got to pick the location, and going into the experience I remembered a shipwreck that Lindsay had previously shot at. It made perfect sense to me: to be trapped in space and time as a ship is when wrecked…so I went for it.

The 6 amazing people that you see sitting on the couches in the beginning of the episode are now my life friends. We video chat each other, text, and see each other whenever possible. We encourage each other, grow together and learn together. And even though you didn’t hear a ton from them during this episode, know how important they are. I adore them.

For the theme of entrapment I decided to put my subject on top of the shipwreck. This was after changing my whole idea upon actually seeing the location. I was lead to believe the location would look like a traditional shipwreck, but due to a recent hurricane, it was in shambles. There were hardly any recognizable ships at all. So instead of going with my original idea, which consisted of burying the model in mud, I tried to think fast. I cut Lindsay’s shirt up and wrapped it around the model. I thought to myself, “If I were stranded on a shipwreck with little to nothing, what would I use to clothe myself and survive?”…and so the red shirt comes into play.

It was a thrilling day. What you don’t see in this episode are all 15 of us traipsing through the mud, weeds, thorns and ticks to get to the location. It was such a journey. I got to spend a lot of time climbing the shipwreck, at one point going waist deep into swamp water to scout. I cut my leg on a nail (I’m fine though! Tetanus shots all the way…) and fell in the mud, but wow it was worth it. I felt like a kid, giddy with the excitement of adventure and discovery.

And more than anything, excited about making new forever friends. It doesn’t matter if you hate the resulting image, or if you give a point to Lindsay on this one: we all had such a blast, we got to share our process, and in the end, we created with passion and determination. That is the true joy of being an artist. I hope you like the episode!

Each week I want to feature an Assistant Producer from the experience (those forever friends I’ve been talking about), and so this week is the very special Al Ebnereza who I just recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend with. To say that Al is an amazing person is an understatement. So giving, and so loving…his hugs are the stuff of legend, and his friendship makes me so happy. A true gentleman, and an amazing talent: Al Ebnereza 

Final image by Al Ebnereza of colordropstudios.com

Images/BTS photos from the Assistant Producers from The Concept, Week 1:

Final image by Al Abnereza of colordropstudios.com

Final image by Bonnie Al-Rifai of twocreativebirds.com

Final image by Bonnie Al-Rifai of twocreativebirds.com

Final image by Ashley Petersen of ashleydawnphotos.com

BTS image courtesy of Ashley Petersen.

BTS image courtesy of Ashley Petersen.

BTS image courtesy of Bill Persons.
Some extra fun at a graveyard we found outside of the shipwreck location. Featured are Bonnie and Gabe of 2BirdsPhotography shooting until their hearts were content!

BTS image courtesy of Ashley Petersen.

BTS image courtesy of Bonnie Al-Rifai.

BTS image courtesy of Bonnie Al-Rifai.

BTS photo courtesy of Gabriel Al-Rifai.

BTS photo courtesy of Gabriel Al-Rifai.

BTS photo courtesy of Gabriel Al-Rifai.

BTS photo courtesy of Gabriel Al-Rifai.

 

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Capture Inspiration Photo Retreat in Los Angeles: New Year’s Style!

Congratulations to Farraha of Farraha Lynn Photography – I can’t wait to spend time with you in Los Angeles in January! Thank you to SongFreedom for agreeing to fly her out to spend the weekend with us! The video Farraha recorded is private and will not be shared, but suffice it to say she melted my heart and I truly believe she is going to soak up this weekend. She is someone who wants to change, who wants to grow, and not just for herself but for those around her as well.

All year I’ve been daydreaming of hosting a retreat to kick off the new year. These retreats are my all-time passion rolled into one weekend: bonding, teaching, having adventures, and making new friends. As I thought more and more about how I would like to start my new year, I knew it has to be with a retreat. I just knew it.

And so I am announcing the Capture Inspiration Photo Retreat: New Year’s Edition! You can read all about the retreat in the downloadable information packet on my website, but I’ll give a brief overview and leave you with some pictures as well as testimonials from my last retreat.

I’ll be teaching everything from image compositing to storytelling, self-confidence to finding your style. The entire 2 1/2 day retreat is catered, accommodations are taken care of (take a look at that fancy house!) and you will have nothing to worry about aside from having fun and relaxing. This is not meant to be stressful in any way…we’ll shoot together, we’ll edit together, and we’ll do so in an environment that is 100% loving and helpful.

We have some amazing people coming to help on this retreat. One of my best friends for the past 11 years is flying in to assist, and we even have a model coming all the way from England to partake in a weekend of creativity and make herself available for your creative whims. All together there are 10 spaces available for this event (5 left). There will be 4 models at your disposal for shooting, and 2 assistants to help with anything you might want help with. Oh, and me. I’ll be there too ;)

I hope you can join in the photo retreat…I will do everything in my power to make sure it is a time we will all cherish.

The house we’ll be staying in/shooting around for the retreat!

You can bet we’ll be shooting in that pool!

Some testimonials from my last Capture Inspiration Retreat held in Chicago, IL:

“Anyone who has the opportunity to attend a Brooke Shaden workshop go for it, don’t think twice. In my case it is one of the best investments I had make. Brooke Shaden is more than an amazing artist she is a wonderful teacher, she makes complicated stuff so simple to understand and learn, Brooke is this kind of person who has no secrets because everything she knows she shares it, anything you ask be sure she will answer it, no kidding. Plus Brooke has this thing, well I don’t know how to explain it, but it just feel good to be around her.”

Mariely Martinez

“I walked up to the door feeling nervous and telling myself to be brave. I knocked on the door and Brooke answered, I extended my hand out and instead she gave me a hug. That was the beginning of a memorable, inspirational and stress-free weekend. I am someone that is often riddled with anxiety and fear, however at the retreat I felt that I was in a safe zone. Brooke is super sweet and she is also passionate and a strong confident woman that is not afraid to walk her own path. Brooke was easy going yet enforced us to be decisive, which is exactly what I needed.

A couple hours into the first day we had our first exercise, we had to create an image …blind-folded. We had to tell Brooke exactly how we wanted the image, what dress the model should wear, what props, etc. I was blind-folded and Brooke asked me, “landscape or portrait”? I replied, “oh I do not care. ” Brooke replied, “yes you do care, landscape or portrait.” Then after I chose landscape Brooke asked me, “what color dress”? I replied, “it does not matter.” Brooke replied, “yes it does matter, which dress”?

Why didn’t I care? Why wasn’t I decisive about what I wanted? After all, this was MY image, right?

I came to the retreat broken, flame was blown out a long time ago. I was looking for something, someone to make me love photography again. Guess who is up at midnight editing from a self-portrait today? “This girl”, who is slowly falling in love with photography again.

This retreat was exactly what I needed, it was relaxing, inspirational and I feel excited again to pick up the camera again. Brooke is an open book, she loves to teach and it shows. What I learned from this retreat is to not be afraid what other people think of my images. To produce art that I love…period. To be confident, hold my head high, not be afraid to take chances and to look for inspiration everywhere.

Thanks Brooke.”

Amber Iverson

“Just last month, I was lucky enough to share a house with 12 inspiring and talented photographers. It was an epic experience that could not have been possible without the amazing leadership of Brooke Shaden. She had the vision and the passion to lead one of the most creatively impactful weekends I have ever had. 

12 photographers, one house and one honest, creative and passionate teacher.
The result was, 12 new friendships, and a weekend that never stopped feeding my creativity. 
 
It was perfectly organized and scheduled, with models and locations set up. It was structured enough to keep us on task and get work done, and flexible enough to mold to our own needs for an individual shoot.
 
Brooke, always available and constructive, smiling and pleasant, did not stop for a second. She was focused in pushing our limits and help us find our voice. A true professional and endlessly inspiring. Not a single minute of those 2.5 days was ever wasted. She shared her entire process willfully and selflessly. Helped each one of us individually, respecting and supporitve of our own individual style. It was more than I expected, and I learned more than I have in a long time. Technically, as well as about myself and what moves me as a visual artist. 
 
I came out of it, more inspired, more open and more willing to push my limits as an artist. The key is to never stop evolving and to continue to grow creatively. I will always be thankful to Brooke Shaden for opening a part of my creative process that I had not yet explored.”
Maite Benito Agahnia

“When I signed up for your retreat, I had hoped that I would find a more in depth look into your process and into your thinking, and I had hoped that this would help me to focus down on some pieces of my own process that I had been massaging into more complete thoughts.  I was not disappointed by any means.  Your clarity and open, honest nature engaged and excited me, and your gentle questioning and leadership pushed me to work toward my artistic heights during the retreat and beyond.What I didn’t expect from the retreat were the mingled feelings of regret and fulfillment that I experienced when I left.  The group of powerful and brilliant women at the retreat was truly astounding.  While I don’t know that you cultivated all of us in any purposeful way, I do feel that it was your presence and your leadership that allowed us to mesh together in the ways that we did, and to find something of each of ourselves in one another.  Ten different female personalities can be quite a handful, but you never skipped a beat, introducing each of us to sides of ourselves and to facets of our work, that blended us in such a way as to create a sisterhood; almost from the first hello.Brooke, my darling little muse, you have a gift.  And to say that I am grateful for having met you along the road creativity is an understatement.  I believe in fateful events and in purposeful meetings, and I am humbled to have been able to share in ours.  May there be many, many more to come.”

Vanessa Powell

“Serendipity played a big role in my finding Brooke’s Chicago retreat. When things work out like that you just have to believe you are meant to be somewhere for some reason. The reason was obvious from the moment my friend dropped me off at the house. Brooke and Olivia made me feel so welcome from the moment I crossed the threshold. And then the other attendees were just magical, I learnt from all of them and we have now got a group that is continuing to encourage and develop our artistic endeavors.

Brooke had carefully planned the entire weekend, we covered a lot of ground and information but it also felt like there was plenty of downtime and time to interact with others. The information was so well organized and presented clearly with time then to practice what we were talking about. I loved the first exercise of blindfold shooting – brilliant!! It drove in the concept and thought process from the get go.

The models were wonderful, so accommodating and so willing to do anything for anyone. Brooke’s wonderful pure energy had kept manifesting itself and we had no group hijacker, it was a wonderful weekend of collaboration, learning, exploring and making new friends. I learnt so much, I left so inspired and I have found myself so excited about my art in a new way that I am smiling all day every day. It felt like there was no competition during the workshop,everyone followed Brooke’s sweet energy and encouraged and helped each other. Its scary to step into a new artistic role and to show that to others, but with this retreat I felt no fear only excitement and pure support from all.

Thank you Brooke for facilitating such a great weekend of learning and renewal.”

Crackle Bingham

“I recently attended Brooke Shaden’s retreat in Chicago and to say it was life changing is a truly an understatement. I am usually very skeptical of workshops in general. It only takes one to leave a poor taste in your mouth but Brooke’s workshops always leave me feeling refreshed and inspired. Brooke is the only photographer I choose to continually learn from. I first met Brooke when she came to Toronto last year. I learned so much from her in one day. She stripped everything down. No question was off limits. And so reasonably priced. So when Brooke released details for the Chicago retreat, I knew I had to go despite being in Toronto. Spending a full 2.5 days in a beautiful home with Brooke and a group of creative people from all levels of experience really spoke to me. Brooke and her assistant KD went above and beyond to ensure that everyone’s needs were met. Having access to Olivia to model for us whenever we felt creative was also a huge bonus. It wasn’t just the opportunity to learn again from Brooke, it was to do it in an intimate setting

Brooke a sweet and genuine person who truly cares about your journey. You’ll learn a lot about your craft and fine art photography, but you’ll also walk away learning about yourself while in the company of others who have similar interests and goals. Her retreats are unlike anything out there right now in the market for photographers. Brooke’s retreats are designed primarily for learning but it also forced me to think outside of my comfort zone. I felt safe exploring ideas and brainstorming the things that were kicking around in my mind. Brooke helped me bring that to life. Brooke explained her process but in a way that everyone could understand. We were able to watch her shoot while shooting ourselves. We watched her edit, which is always such an interesting part of the day for me and we also talked about the business side of photography, such as pricing, printing, and how to exhibit in galleries. She was happy to critique our portfolios and gave us time to edit an image to present to the group before we left. I was amazed at the growth everyone showed in just a couple days of learning. Brooke left nothing out. She opened up her heart to us and for that, my group will have a special bond forever. Only Brooke can inspire a group full of women to be up for 600am to shoot self portraits in a swamp. Only Brooke. She is that good.

If you can attend one of Brooke’s retreats, you will not be sorry. She picks gorgeous locations and models (we had several, Brooke included). The food and our accommodations we had were amazing; we really couldn’t ask for more. It definitely exceeded my expectations yet again as I am now back at home living and breathing the techniques and words Brooke instilled in us during our time together in Chicago. I cannot thank Brooke enough for her generosity, time, love, and dedication to her craft. You will never meet a more committed artist than Brooke. That alone, for me, is priceless.”

Robyn Russell

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Textures of White Hill Mansion – Free Download

“I get by with a little help from my friends…”

And in that spirit, I wanted to give these new textures to anyone who would like to use them. They are free to download by clicking the image, or by clicking this link.

These textures were all shot at White Hill Mansion in Fieldsboro New Jersey while I was teaching workshops there last weekend. I had a blast shooting them and I hope that you find them useful in your own creative endeavors! I got to shoot them with some new friends and old, some that I will have forever, and I am grateful to have had that experience.

#shadentextures

 

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Floating on Clouds

These pictures have multiple motivations behind them. The first is to continue my series titled “Pictures from the Sewer” in which I take photos in a place that most people would find disgusting and dark, and try to turn them into something beautiful and whimsical. The series is shown in its entirety below.

My other motivation was to lend a visual interpretation to things that might sound cliche, but are on such because they are so paramount in pushing people to the limits of living. Following your dreams, helping others and lifting them up, allowing others to lift YOU up, and reaching further than you ever thought possible.

When I was a child I wanted to be able to walk on clouds. I remember vividly laying on my back and staring at the puffy white clouds on a blue sky and wondering what it would feel like to touch them. As I grew older I realized that it feels like nothing; that clouds are air and air is not tangible like many other things in life. And even further on in my life, I realized the magnitude of that thought…that a cloud does not have to feel like something to touch it. That you do not have to see your dream right in front of you to make it reality. That the important things in life are so often hidden from view, and it is our job to find them, as invisible as they may seem.

In my art I am able to transport myself to another world. I am able to believe that I can walk on clouds, that I can be lifted up to infinite heights. As long as I can conceive of it, it can be my reality. Did I really spent time walking on clouds under the night sky? It depends on how you look at it. I took pictures of clouds while soaring in an airplane high above the Grand Canyon. The pilot came on the loudspeaker and said that if it weren’t so cloudy we would be able to see the great wonder below us. People were disappointed, but I was too busy snapping pictures for my next photographic adventure to care. In fact, just knowing we were above the Grand Canyon made the trip seem that much more magical.

I woke up early one morning more inspired than usual. I ran to my local sewer and went about creating these images. One on one day, the other the next. I created with excitement , knowing that I would soon have all the pieces to walk in the clouds. Hair flicks, fake snow, and dress tosses later, I had the start of the images…a girl walking on clouds. Not me, not anyone I know, just a character that I can fall in love with.

The third night I went out and took pictures of stars. I got to stand on my own balcony, a surreal feeling as I am a recent first-time homeowner, and take pictures with my husband. The stars were so incredibly clear, I felt like I could reach out and touch them. I imagined my fingertip burning as I reached closer. I live in a neighborhood with no street lights and the darkness engulfs us. We realize how bright the moon is, and how perfect it is for guiding us through the night. The stars twinkle and we nearly think that some are airplanes, but they are not. The sky is quiet and ready to finish my plan.

I put these images together never deciding which came first and which came after. There is a positive message to be taken away and one of sadness, though the beauty still comes through. To walk on clouds and then fall from them, or to ascend to the clouds and then become them; these are the ways in which I read the images depending on the order in which I view them. There is no right answer. I do not have an answer. I will never have an answer.

The series, so far, “Pictures from the Sewer”

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A Little Smile Goes a Long Way

A little smile can go a long way; let happiness be the ultimate weapon against meanies.

A little smile can go a long way; let happiness be the ultimate weapon against meanies.

I’m going to write about something that might not be the newest of topics, but since I felt the need to say it and hear it, I thought maybe someone else would benefit from it as well.

The internet is a polarizing place. There are people who are positive and happy and there are those that are not, and I find, fairly consistently, on any issue, that there will be some of both kinds. I think that paying so much attention to the negativity is the first misstep that we take in eradicating it. Paying attention to it only sheds light on it, making it grow brighter and bigger in our everyday lives. Isn’t it strange, how we can see tons of nice things everyday online and yet that one negative comment can stop us in our tracks and still be on our minds as we go to sleep?

I try not to listen to negativity, whether it is in person or on the internet. I was doing an interview a few weeks ago in which someone asked me about my favorite artists. And after I answered, they asked me who I think is least deserving of their recognition. I was shocked and quite frankly horrified. Placing emphasis on the bad only makes that kind of negativity more prominent, when we need to put our focus elsewhere. I don’t think the interviewer meant to put that part in the interview or that they meant harm by it, but I felt uncomfortable the whole time after. Sort of like gossip 101.

Why do we have a fascination with drama? I often tell my husband that if we could simply watch a movie where nothing bad happens and lots of happy things carry the movie along to the end, I would be a very happy girl. I am afraid of drama, confrontation, mean spirits and nasty words. I shy away from it naturally. Seeing it makes me sick to my stomach and the one word that comes to mind is “disgusting”. And even though I have these reactions to negativity, that doesn’t mean that I am a saint. I have done things in  the past that I would likely do differently if given the chance.

I think that this is the important thing to remember about negativity: we have all been there. We have all said something mean, or done something less than honorary. It might not be something that you view as “that bad” but remember: you never know how your actions affect another person.

Think about a simple comment that someone could leave on a picture. They might say “I don’t like this picture”. Nothing too horrible about that, in truth. They have their opinion, and they didn’t use any mean words to express it. It is what it is. But in a photographer’s mind, so often, we would take that sentence with us to bed at night and stew over it. We might perceive it to be mean. We might perceive them to be correct. Whatever the case, those five simple words could have meaning beyond what the writer intended. Never underestimate another person’s feelings.

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten upset at someone not liking a photo of mine. That is not where my pride gets hurt because I don’t make images that are meant for everyone. They are images that create tension in viewers and because of that, I expect people who have varied reactions. What does get me very upset is when my character is judged, and I perceive it to be judged wrongly. There are two things that I need to take into consideration. First is asking if the commentator is actually wrong. There are some comments that are made to hurt, and others that are made to be constructive. It is important to differentiate between the two.

Then there is understanding that people who are commenting just to bring others down often need to lift themselves up. I truly believe that, for most people, if you were to get out of the computer and step into a coffee shop and spend an hour talking, things would be much different. We have to remember something very important: those people making negative comments don’t know us. They are judging based on the smallest snippets of information from our lives, and those small pieces do not necessarily reflect the larger whole. We are unique and diverse people. We have depths that the internet often fails to show. We cannot be judged by singular negative comments, and we must not let them define us.

The thing to remember is that you never know someone else’s complete story. You never know how someone is feeling in “real life”, and that, I believe, is the difference between those who see and promote goodness on the internet verses those who do the opposite. There is always more to the story, and so whenever I come across someone who is being mean just to hurt, I try to remember that. And in a way, I want to meet those people just as much as anyone else. I want to give them a chance to show me more so that I may understand why they showed me less in the beginning. There is often more to it than a single sentence written on the internet. After all, so often those who are most negative just need more positivity in their lives.

I urge you to fight negativity with positivity; to fight a mean comment with a happy one; to fight an incorrect statement with facts and nothing more. The more we dwell on negativity, the more our lives are infused with it. I want to fight the mean with the nice, the sad with the happy, and in the end, create a kindness revolution. And why not? Why should that seem so naive and far fetched? We are a kind community of people. I believe that those reading this blog are good, loving, and creative people. So let’s get creative. If you see negativity, do not be the first to start a war over it. Stand up for yourself or someone else, but do so with kindness in your heart and understanding in your tone. I think that even a small gesture of kindness to someone who is being less than graceful can truly change a life…and therefore many more.

 

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Capture Inspiration Photo Retreat Contest

Ever since having some really intimate and amazing experiences this year with other creatives where we could truly bond over a period of time and learn from each other, I wanted to replicate that situation in workshop form. I decided to start teaching photo retreats, where roughly 10 individuals could spend 2 1/2 days living together in a house, learning constantly, and connecting.

Beyond that, I want to give back to people who need weekends like this the most. I want to give back to those who support me so much. I am grateful for you, immensely.

That brings me to this contest! Here’s how it works:

WHO: Anyone in the continental United States who is 18 years or older can submit a video, up to 2 minutes long, stating how this retreat would help you personally and in your art. 

WHEN: January 3-5 (travel dates Jan 2-5)

WHERE: Los Angeles, CA

WHAT: Capture Inspiration Photo Retreat: 2 1/2 days of learning practical tools to find inspiration, gaining new perspectives on your own photography, learning image compositing, editing, and shooting, along with the ins and outs of storytelling. We will take risks, support each other, and be present in the moment to enjoy our time together. 

HOW: If you are chosen, your airfare, travel to and from the retreat, workshop attendance fee, and meals during the workshop will be covered. You will be traveling January 2, 2014 to Los Angeles International Airport and leaving from the same airport on January 5, 2014. 

Please EMAIL a LINK to your video (you can upload it anywhere [youtube, vimeo, instagram, etc]) to contest@brookeshaden.com. Deadline is Oct. 20th.

The “Capture Inspiration” Retreat contest is all about lifting others up when they are in need and giving back when it is possible…and not just this contest, but the whole retreat and those who sign up…it is amazing what 3 days can make you think and feel…and what it can inspire.

To be eligible you must be 18 years or older and living in the continental United States. I hate to limit the participation, but funds can be a bit tight when planning a cross country trip. No worries though, I’m already planning a European retreat and am hoping to get a sponsor on board for a similar contest next summer. If you are in Canada and can get to a US city, we can fly you from there, so please feel free to submit!

A word about our sponsor, SongFreedom. I texted my friend Matt over there a quick little message about getting them on board and the mission of this contest. I received a text back almost instantly that said “Done.” That tells you something about the generosity of SongFreedom. I won’t partner with just anyone. I like to surround myself with people of integrity and kindness, and they have it tenfold. They make songs available to license for videos. I use songs from them in all of my behind the scenes videos.

Some testimonials from my last Capture Inspiration Retreat held in Chicago, IL:

“Anyone who has the opportunity to attend a Brooke Shaden workshop go for it, don’t think twice. In my case it is one of the best investments I had make. Brooke Shaden is more than an amazing artist she is a wonderful teacher, she makes complicated stuff so simple to understand and learn, Brooke is this kind of person who has no secrets because everything she knows she shares it, anything you ask be sure she will answer it, no kidding. Plus Brooke has this thing, well I don’t know how to explain it, but it just feel good to be around her.”

Mariely Martinez, Berwyn Illinois

“I walked up to the door feeling nervous and telling myself to be brave. I knocked on the door and Brooke answered, I extended my hand out and instead she gave me a hug. That was the beginning of a memorable, inspirational and stress-free weekend. I am someone that is often riddled with anxiety and fear, however at the retreat I felt that I was in a safe zone. Brooke is super sweet and she is also passionate and a strong confident woman that is not afraid to walk her own path. Brooke was easy going yet enforced us to be decisive, which is exactly what I needed.

A couple hours into the first day we had our first exercise, we had to create an image …blind-folded. We had to tell Brooke exactly how we wanted the image, what dress the model should wear, what props, etc. I was blind-folded and Brooke asked me, “landscape or portrait”? I replied, “oh I do not care. ” Brooke replied, “yes you do care, landscape or portrait.” Then after I chose landscape Brooke asked me, “what color dress”? I replied, “it does not matter.” Brooke replied, “yes it does matter, which dress”?

Why didn’t I care? Why wasn’t I decisive about what I wanted? After all, this was MY image, right?

I came to the retreat broken, flame was blown out a long time ago. I was looking for something, someone to make me love photography again. Guess who is up at midnight editing from a self-portrait today? “This girl”, who is slowly falling in love with photography again.

This retreat was exactly what I needed, it was relaxing, inspirational and I feel excited again to pick up the camera again. Brooke is an open book, she loves to teach and it shows. What I learned from this retreat is to not be afraid what other people think of my images. To produce art that I love…period. To be confident, hold my head high, not be afraid to take chances and to look for inspiration everywhere.

Thanks Brooke.”

Amber Iverson

“Just last month, I was lucky enough to share a house with 12 inspiring and talented photographers. It was an epic experience that could not have been possible without the amazing leadership of Brooke Shaden. She had the vision and the passion to lead one of the most creatively impactful weekends I have ever had. 

12 photographers, one house and one honest, creative and passionate teacher.
The result was, 12 new friendships, and a weekend that never stopped feeding my creativity. 
It was perfectly organized and scheduled, with models and locations set up. It was structured enough to keep us on task and get work done, and flexible enough to mold to our own needs for an individual shoot.
 
Brooke, always available and constructive, smiling and pleasant, did not stop for a second. She was focused in pushing our limits and help us find our voice. A true professional and endlessly inspiring. Not a single minute of those 2.5 days was ever wasted. She shared her entire process willfully and selflessly. Helped each one of us individually, respecting and supporitve of our own individual style. It was more than I expected, and I learned more than I have in a long time. Technically, as well as about myself and what moves me as a visual artist. 
 
I came out of it, more inspired, more open and more willing to push my limits as an artist. The key is to never stop evolving and to continue to grow creatively. I will always be thankful to Brooke Shaden for opening a part of my creative process that I had not yet explored.”
Maite Benito Agahnia
“When I signed up for your retreat, I had hoped that I would find a more in depth look into your process and into your thinking, and I had hoped that this would help me to focus down on some pieces of my own process that I had been massaging into more complete thoughts.  I was not disappointed by any means.  Your clarity and open, honest nature engaged and excited me, and your gentle questioning and leadership pushed me to work toward my artistic heights during the retreat and beyond.

What I didn’t expect from the retreat were the mingled feelings of regret and fulfillment that I experienced when I left.  The group of powerful and brilliant women at the retreat was truly astounding.  While I don’t know that you cultivated all of us in any purposeful way, I do feel that it was your presence and your leadership that allowed us to mesh together in the ways that we did, and to find something of each of ourselves in one another.  Ten different female personalities can be quite a handful, but you never skipped a beat, introducing each of us to sides of ourselves and to facets of our work, that blended us in such a way as to create a sisterhood; almost from the first hello.

Brooke, my darling little muse, you have a gift.  And to say that I am grateful for having met you along the road creativity is an understatement.  I believe in fateful events and in purposeful meetings, and I am humbled to have been able to share in ours.  May there be many, many more to come.”

Vanessa Powell

“Serendipity played a big role in my finding Brooke’s Chicago retreat. When things work out like that you just have to believe you are meant to be somewhere for some reason. The reason was obvious from the moment my friend dropped me off at the house. Brooke and Olivia made me feel so welcome from the moment I crossed the threshold. And then the other attendees were just magical, I learnt from all of them and we have now got a group that is continuing to encourage and develop our artistic endeavors.

Brooke had carefully planned the entire weekend, we covered a lot of ground and information but it also felt like there was plenty of downtime and time to interact with others. The information was so well organized and presented clearly with time then to practice what we were talking about. I loved the first exercise of blindfold shooting – brilliant!! It drove in the concept and thought process from the get go.

The models were wonderful, so accommodating and so willing to do anything for anyone. Brooke’s wonderful pure energy had kept manifesting itself and we had no group hijacker, it was a wonderful weekend of collaboration, learning, exploring and making new friends. I learnt so much, I left so inspired and I have found myself so excited about my art in a new way that I am smiling all day every day. It felt like there was no competition during the workshop,everyone followed Brooke’s sweet energy and encouraged and helped each other. Its scary to step into a new artistic role and to show that to others, but with this retreat I felt no fear only excitement and pure support from all.

Thank you Brooke for facilitating such a great weekend of learning and renewal.”

Crackle Bingham

“I recently attended Brooke Shaden’s retreat in Chicago and to say it was life changing is a truly an understatement. I am usually very skeptical of workshops in general. It only takes one to leave a poor taste in your mouth but Brooke’s workshops always leave me feeling refreshed and inspired. Brooke is the only photographer I choose to continually learn from. I first met Brooke when she came to Toronto last year. I learned so much from her in one day. She stripped everything down. No question was off limits. And so reasonably priced. So when Brooke released details for the Chicago retreat, I knew I had to go despite being in Toronto. Spending a full 2.5 days in a beautiful home with Brooke and a group of creative people from all levels of experience really spoke to me. Brooke and her assistant KD went above and beyond to ensure that everyone’s needs were met. Having access to Olivia to model for us whenever we felt creative was also a huge bonus. It wasn’t just the opportunity to learn again from Brooke, it was to do it in an intimate setting

Brooke a sweet and genuine person who truly cares about your journey. You’ll learn a lot about your craft and fine art photography, but you’ll also walk away learning about yourself while in the company of others who have similar interests and goals. Her retreats are unlike anything out there right now in the market for photographers. Brooke’s retreats are designed primarily for learning but it also forced me to think outside of my comfort zone. I felt safe exploring ideas and brainstorming the things that were kicking around in my mind. Brooke helped me bring that to life. Brooke explained her process but in a way that everyone could understand. We were able to watch her shoot while shooting ourselves. We watched her edit, which is always such an interesting part of the day for me and we also talked about the business side of photography, such as pricing, printing, and how to exhibit in galleries. She was happy to critique our portfolios and gave us time to edit an image to present to the group before we left. I was amazed at the growth everyone showed in just a couple days of learning. Brooke left nothing out. She opened up her heart to us and for that, my group will have a special bond forever. Only Brooke can inspire a group full of women to be up for 600am to shoot self portraits in a swamp. Only Brooke. She is that good.

If you can attend one of Brooke’s retreats, you will not be sorry. She picks gorgeous locations and models (we had several, Brooke included). The food and our accommodations we had were amazing; we really couldn’t ask for more. It definitely exceeded my expectations yet again as I am now back at home living and breathing the techniques and words Brooke instilled in us during our time together in Chicago. I cannot thank Brooke enough for her generosity, time, love, and dedication to her craft. You will never meet a more committed artist than Brooke. That alone, for me, is priceless.”

Robyn Russell

Crackle Bingham

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The Thing About Smart Phones…

I say, without reservation, that I am the worst multitasker to ever appear on planet Earth. In fact, just before writing this blog post, I was supposed to answer emails while simultaneously checking on dinner. But then I got frustrated, started daydreaming, and ended up here, writing in my blog. It’s not that I can’t focus. In fact, I am pretty good at hunkering down and getting something done…but only that one thing. Ever since I can remember I have had a hard time doing two things at once: using a phone and walking, driving while listening to music…really basic things that I should probably not screw up.

But, in other areas of my life, I embrace this part of myself. Especially when it comes to creativity. I am wholeheartedly dedicated to the idea of focusing on something that is important to you. Here are some examples that repeatedly get me in trouble but I refuse to change.

The first is emailing while traveling. When I travel, I dedicate myself wholeheartedly to the task at hand. If I am teaching, I am present and wholly available to the students. If I am on an airplane, I give that time to myself to read or relax. If I am out of my house, doing anything, quite frankly, that is what I am doing. I rarely even take my phone out with me. I just plain don’t like it.

Which brings up the necessary yet EVIL invention of the smart phone. Oye. Just kidding…sort of.

With all of the ways that I could be keeping up with email, I just plain don’t. And it isn’t because I am not grateful for emails or that I won’t respond eventually…it is just that I value my time spent in other ways. I value my shooting time and don’t want to be interrupted by an email sound effect. I value my time with my husband and want to be fully present in those moments. I value the time that I take to travel and teach, and without being 100% there in those situations, I would not be able to make solid connections.

All the time I hear friends or family complain about how I was unreachable on such and such day, but I can’t quite figure out why that is such a huge problem. We place a huge amount of emphasis on getting everything we want instantly. But, sometimes, that instant communication comes at the cost of being in the moment you are living, not seeing what is around you, or not connecting with the people that surround you.

I appreciate technology, but I do not love technology. I would not be able to do what I do without a camera and Photoshop, but I do not want those things in my life all the time. In fact, I almost never have a camera in my life. 99% of the time I forget to take it with me. I don’t even know where it is right now. And that is okay with me. I use it when I have an idea, and when that occurs, I dedicate myself to that task. I am present, I appreciate it, and I don’t need it the other 99% of the time.

This kind of life is not for everyone, and I don’t even think one lifestyle is better than another – not at all, actually. I only know what makes my heart happy, and that is to be present in a single moment, to dedicate myself to what is in front of me. This is how I appreciate the everyday moments of life. This is why I feel rejuvenated and free. This is my passion – to be present, to feel moments as they happen.

I may never be able to rub my belly and pat my head, and I’m okay with that.