“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into sun.” (Pablo Picasso)
Brooke DiDonato is a 25 year old astounding photographer based in New York, whose work interknits surreal elements of external appearances and uncovers the unseen, the hidden stories, and the interludes inside her pursuit for artistic calling. She began taking photos since she was 18 years old focusing on photojournalism, then continuing with a very rewarding 365-day project mostly concentrating on self-portraits but she changed gears as soon as she realized that she needed narratives linked to her photographs. Her work has been internationally recognized by Photographer’s Forum Magazine, Creative Quarterly, The New Yorker and College Photographer of the Year.
Inspired by the subconscious mind and its relation to emotions and perceptions, Brooke’s first pictures were self-portraits taken straight from her imagination. She is searching for what lies behind the curtain of a typical image and recreates stories by pushing the onlooker to go beyond the surface and use the power of imagination. The viewer is basically placed in the middle of a story with a beginning and an end. It then depends on him and his personal interior context to irradiate a meaning, envision and mold the characters. The external architectural elements are outlined and the individuals are fractured and placed in the background rather than front like we might expect. By concealing the explicit and tangible, Brooke references a hypnotic experience that we’d have by closing our eyes and seeing beyond superficial layers; the same experience induced by lucid (REM) dreaming.
I personally perceive Brooke DiDonato’s photo project as a “liaison dangereuse” between photography and fine art. And the boundary is not at all limited to a specific rule, time or place. Reality is the only border the artist exposes and, at the same time, tries to enwrap in her poetic compositions.
What inspired you to start doing surreal photographs? What are the stories behind the imagery?
I didn't initially have an interest in surreal photography - I actually studied photojournalism in school so it was quite the opposite. It started when I was interning as a photojournalist for a newspaper one summer. I wasn't happy with the work I was creating as a staffer so I started a personal project where I took one conceptual photo every day for a year. Most of the photos weren't very good to be honest. But practicing every day is the best thing I ever did for my photography to date. It taught me a lot about my style and types of images I wanted to create once my technical skills caught up with me. A lot of the stories behind my images are intentionally left open ended. I try to place the viewer in the middle of a moment with an implied beginning and end.
Did you find any parts about it difficult?
I think the most difficult part for me right now is learning when to hold back from sharing. I'm always anxious to post new images I create on Facebook, Instagram etc. It's instant gratification but I think it's also problematic because it hurts the creative process. I don't give myself enough time to sit with an image and see where it takes me. The lifespan is shorter. Lately I've been starting to hold back from sharing new work until I've sat with it for some time. It's a chance for me to ask myself why I am making an image and whether or not it tells the story I am trying to convey.
Can you describe to us your creative process behind these photographs? Do you follow a certain planning?
I scout locations, but I don't plan out every element of my photos very often. Making great photographs is a lot of trial and error. Sometimes I'll shoot an idea and then cringe when I see it the next day. Then I'll figure out how to make it better, go back and try again.
How do you explain the fact that you are living in a very strong urban environment and nonetheless, there are almost no urban elements present in your work? Is the urban element left out or is it somehow integrated?
I'm still learning how to be inspired by the city visually. Energy-wise, I love it. That's why I moved here. I was chatting with another photographer a couple weeks ago and he said something along the lines of "Don't ever let anyone outwork you." That's the mentality of the New Yorkers I admire. There are so many talented people here - always someone who can do what you do better. Working harder is the key. Going back to your question - visually, I'm still very inspired by finding the uncanniness of suburban and rural landscapes. It's where my roots are so I don't think that muse will ever go away. Hopefully I'll be able to integrate the urban elements more in the future though.
In most of your photos, I feel drawn to the idea that there's a narrative for each image and I would always want to look under the surface.The moment of curiosity—would you describe that as the point of departure for your photos?
Thanks! I'm happy to hear they spark your interest. I haven't given much thought to a point of departure as I think every image resonates differently based on the individual viewer. My goal is to make you curious about the subjects in these photographs, maybe even empathize with these characters. And if that's the point of departure, that's great. But I also like the idea of some viewers taking it a step further and developing their own narrative for how the story plays out. That's when things get interesting.
You use a lot of juxtaposition in your photographs (capturing two contradictory subjects in the same image, often putting the lighter side of life next to the dark or the lifeless elements next to/absorbed by human elements). You are therefore extending the limits of visual reality. Why the juxtaposition?
Oftentimes the faces of the characters in my photos are obscured. Without facial expressions, I rely heavily on juxtaposition of elements and body language as visual cues to convey a narrative.
When you create your photo stories, are there any specific emotions you are trying to achieve or transmit to the viewer?
Not specifically. It's more of a tension or uncertainty I'm trying to transmit--leaving the viewer in limbo so to speak. I think my photos can be read a lot of different ways. I've had one person look at a photo and chuckle to themselves while another person will look at that same photo in horror or utter sadness. I can't define their reactions. It's that in-the-middle space I'm most interested in--that moment when the viewer is deciding whether they will laugh or cry.
What are the projects you are currently working on and what are your future plans?
I have two projects in the works right now that I'm hoping to wrap up by the end of the year. I'm also showing some photographs in Feature Shoot's "Flora and Fauna" group show at Photoville in NYC, which I'm really excited about www.photoville.com/2015-exhibitions/flora-fauna and http://www.photoville.com/2015-exhibitions/flora-fauna.
For more information: