“You know who that model is don’t you?”
“Um, no” I admitted, “I don’t.”
I was at a photography meetup arranged by Brooke Shaden and we were traipsing over to a patch of long, parched grass in the otherwise manicured green of one of London’s Royal Parks. Surrounded by about seventy other photographers, the immediate group around me hummed and whispered about one of the models in particular.
“That’s Jen Brook, haven’t you read her blog?”
That night, when I returned home muscle sore and covered in the kind of gritty film that anyone who’s dropped to the floor for a shot knows, I searched for her blog. There, I discovered Dear Model and Dear Photographer, I discovered an honest account of modelling combined with everyday life and I discovered Jen’s Dreamcatcher project; a project that has allowed Jen to exercise her creativity without needing to step behind the lens.
‘Steal Your Heart’ Photographer: Andrew Appleton
Jen’s passion and love for what she does is in every word she writes and I always look forward to reading about her latest picture and adventures behind it. I’ve also been keen to start a series of interviews on creativity, not just photography but with anyone that is creatively inspiring. I thought Jen would be an excellent person to start with and luckily, she agreed!
Can you tell me the story of dreamcatcher? Where the idea came from, how you got started, what made you feel the need to do it?
Dreamcatcher began when I found that my collaborations were lacking something…and that something was my control! I’m a terribly bossy person when it comes to my art but that’s only because I’m so passionately involved in each concept that I really really want them to succeed in portraying a story the way I see it. In order to create an image exactly how I imagine it without becoming the photographer myself (which would take far more money, skill, talent and time than I’ll ever have!) I had to find a way to design a shot specifically for MY story. It was a ‘need’ and a natural progression as I furthered my experience and portfolio in modelling that has later developed into art direction.
Was there any particular situation or event that made you think ‘I really need to do this’?
I created a shot with an excellent photographer friend of mine about being trapped in your own head. But the shot was a collaboration between myself, the photographer, a hair stylist and a make up artist. The pictures came out well – but they were nothing like how I imagined them. That isn’t to say anyone was to blame, it was a collaboration and everyone had their hand in it…but I wanted to dictate EVERYTHING. I decided not long after that I would start to approach teams and offer to collaborate with them on anything they wanted to shoot and then ask if it would be ok to shoot just one image directed only by myself.
What are the various stages of creating a dreamcatcher image?
Firstly I come up with a concept either inspired by a story, a title or a location. Then I decide which photographer would most suit that shot. It’s crucially important to understand a creatives personal style in order to make that concept work. For example I would never ask fine art photographer Brooke Shaden to shoot a fashion based image…I also like to try and incorporate a little piece of that photographer into the shot – like when I asked Joel Robison to shrink us, just as he has done so many times before in his own work.
How does the creation of each image make you feel?
If it works then GREAT! Ha ha! If not…then not defeated but more determined to move on but never forget. I’ll come back to anything that doesn’t work when I’ve figured out what the problem was if I feel that it’s worth holding on to.
I saw one of your posts the other day that says an image didn’t work out, how do you feel about/deal with this sort of situation? Especially as you may have to tell a photographer that it hasn’t worked? Have there been any situations where it hasn’t worked and you know meeting with that photographer again may be difficult or impossible?
I only work on this project with people I trust. They are as passionate about the image as I am and if the shot doesn’t work out then there is an unspoken rule that it can’t be used. There is absolutely no way that I would ever compromise something that means so much to me simply because it’s not perfect. Anyone I have worked with on it would understand and agree, simply because they are artists and friends.
Has the project brought you any unexpected benefits? What is the best thing that has come out of the project?
Oh yes definitely! I was asked to speak at The Photography Show in Birmingham last March which was a complete surprise and totally unexpected. I was terrified about doing it but being given the chance to tell my story to a room full of people was an absolute honour and I am so proud of myself for doing it. I was also featured on FStoppers last year who picked up the story knowing it’s not often that the model takes the lead.
Do your ideas change while you are creating the image?
I have a clear image in my head (and occasionally on paper) of what I’m hoping for, but reality is a cruel mistress and adaptation to all situations is required. I’d be naive to assume any shot would work out exactly how I’d expected….but it’s pretty damn close!
Has it brought anything to the way you approach other modelling?
I don’t think so because I’m directing it myself. I’m not learning anything about modelling through it, more about photography through composition, editing and colours if anything.
Where do you plan to go with the project? Do you see it as an ongoing thing or do you see yourself moving on to something else?
Oh gosh I have no idea at all. At the moment it’s a means to a life. I live a life I love and I create this series in the meantime. It’s completely reflective of my existence and the happiness and sadness that comes with it. I have an English degree and my dream is to have my own book, who knows, perhaps I’ll have them in there someday!
Why is the project important to you?
Because it’s my all. It’s my stories, my life and my creation. It’s been shot with a chunk of my most favourite people and it’s given me opportunities I didn’t dare to dream.
I bet the images bring unexpected experiences, what are the weirdest situations you’ve found yourself in as a result of Dreamcatcher?
Ha ha, well I’ve wrapped myself in wool wearing a cotton dress in freezing November, flown myself into the air in the wild wind and rain wearing a wedding dress, overflowed my wellies on a Welsh beach, put a rotting octopus on my face in Canada and made myself ill submerging myself in a bug infested pond in France all in the name of my Dreamcatcher Project. Not your average day at the office!
‘Face Your Fear’ Photographer: Von Wong
‘Starving for Knowledge‘ Photographer: Brooke Shaden
How do you balance the project with the rest of your life?
Every spare moment I have and every spare penny I earn goes straight back into being able to shoot the series I adore. I work hard so I can play harder, much like any other hobby. It’s a slog sometimes but when you’re passionate about something then you don’t seem to care. I’d do anything for those pictures!
Mail Order Bride Photographer: Lauri Laukkanen
You can find out more about Jen on her blog, website and Facebook page.