Beauty in Shadows: A Talk With Brooke Shaden

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Photographer Brooke Shaden creating a self-portrait

You could say that fine art photographer Brooke Shaden is living the dream, literally. Her images — often self-portraits — have a dreamlike quality that's gorgeous, moving and sometimes a little unsettling. We connected with the artist to learn where all that passion comes from.

Q. Where to do you find your inspiration?

When I was young, I was inspired by anything around me, by nature, by dreams. I went into any craft, whether it was writing or filmmaking or photography, with inspiration in my back pocket from the forest, from rivers, from anything in nature, and having this innate sense of darkness within me that I find to be the most fascinating.

Now I love to look at other artists now as inspiration, especially illustrators and painters. One of my biggest influences has been pre-Raphaelite painters. The way that they use color and light has directly influenced the way that I edit my images.

Q. There's a darkness to some of your work. Could you talk about that?

I tend to see anything like pain, or setbacks, or whatever someone has to deal with as the most inspiring thing in life. I think that when you deal with something a little bit darker you get to know who you are in a way that you just don't get offered as an opportunity any other time. So the more we can look at pain and obstacles as a source of inspiration, the more we can look at life with more passion.

Brooke Shaden's process starts with daydreaming and making space for ideas

Q. In Spark, you talk about starting your art with daydreaming. How does that work?

I just sort of slip into it, but it does take training. I've spent about three or four years now practicing this on a daily basis where I close my eyes and I allow myself to literally fall into a daydream. I believe that our imaginations are a muscle that has to be exercised and if we aren't forcing ourselves to dream in that way ,then we're not utilizing it to its fullest.

Q. What do you say to artists just getting started?

It's so valuable to look inside yourself and ask, what would I create if I could create anything in the world? When I started my photography, I had one single idea, and I wanted desperately for this idea to look the way it looked in my imagination, but on paper, on the screen. And I started to ask myself, what's one tool that I can use to make that come to life? And I mastered that tool. Then I asked, what's the next thing it needs to come to life? And when you break it down like that it doesn't feel so intimidating.

Q. Do you work every day?

Not every day. I love what I do, but I'm also very much a creature of self-care and routine, and I love to make long dinners, and do yoga, and go on hikes, and I have an extremely well-balanced life at this point.

Brooke Shaden's responses have been condensed and edited for length.

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Beauty in Shadows: A Talk With Brooke Shaden