An Interview with Jen Brook

The strap-line on Jen Brook’s blog says “I consider myself an artist trapped inside the body of one who cannot paint…so instead, I model…” Jen, as you will see if you look at her pictures however, does not just model. She also comes up with the concept for the image she wants to take then sources and directs the photographer and other creative’s in making that image to her own exacting standards. Of her ongoing Dreamcatcher Project she says:

“I have designed each shot myself from concept to styling, angle, processing and title. I am working with a variety of teams on this project, all of which I cannot thank enough for giving up their time so willingly and giving me the chance to make my own visions a reality. I hope that my Dreamcatcher Project is the start of things to come for me as an artistic director and concept creator.”

Here are three of my personal favourite images from Jen’s Dreamcatcher Project that not only show the breadth of her imagination but also the skills of her creative team. Each of the images has a corresponding link to Jen’s blog which you can get to by clicking on the image. All images are used with permission.

Photographer: Lauri Laukkanen Photography Art Director & Model: Jen Brook MUA: Make-up By Sophie BTS & Model: Stuart Dallas Photography

‘Full English’
Photographer: Lauri Laukkanen Photography
Art Director & Model: Jen Brook
MUA: Make-up By Sophie
BTS & Model: Stuart Dallas Photography

Concept creator & director: Jen Brook Photographer: Lauri Laukkanen Photography MUA, hair & other model: Donna Graham Mua Assistant: Richard Powazynski Photography

‘The new wave is coming…’
Concept creator & director: Jen Brook
Photographer: Lauri Laukkanen Photography
MUA, hair & other model: Donna Graham Mua
Assistant: Richard Powazynski Photography

'Elephant in the Room' Photographer: Melissa Hutchinson Concept/model: Jen Brook

‘Elephant in the Room’
Photographer: Melissa Hutchinson
Concept/model: Jen Brook

And so, to my interview…

I first came across you from a blog post you wrote called Dear Photographer…kindest
regards, Model xxx which gave some extremely sage advice to photographers who
wish to work with models; what to do and what not to do to get the best from your
muse. That post went viral I believe. What motivated you to write that?

I guess having been to a lot of shoots with photographers of all different abilities, I found myself wanting to give basic advice that seems obvious to many, but only when you know them. Things like getting down low to elongate the model make such a huge difference to a shot instead of shooting down on them. There were many times when these tips were on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t say them in fear of damaging egos and treading on toes. It’s difficult for a model to be taken seriously sometimes. So I thought by writing a blog, taking a risk and just putting it all out there, then it guides some people without them needing to admit that a dumb blonde model might have helped them out! I actually have another blog in this style coming out very soon for brides to be.

Getting the right team of creative people together to help you produce the images you
have conceived must be crucial to the work you do. How do you go about finding the
people you work with?

I listen to the people I respect most. So if I work alongside a team I really get along with, or follow somebodies work who is positive and inspirational about their art – then I am much more obliged to want them in my life somehow. Persuading them to be part of my own project is the next step!

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you come up with the ideas for
your images?

I am massively influenced by stories in every day life. I try not to look at photographers work because their images can cloud my mind and I can’t think of anything else. I am much more inspired by films, songs, writing and people watching. I make up stories for the people I see and the emotions that living stirs are what pushes me harder to create.

Twyla Tharp in her book The Creative Habit has a number of very insightful tips for leading a creative life. How do you keep your creative juices flowing?

Oh gosh, it’s hard to tell somebody how to get out of a creative rut because everybody is so different. For me, it’s story. I watch a film and I’m there in the scene with them, feeling every moment, every character and every story happening in the frame. When I visit the theatre the way they use props and lighting to depict a story that only film budgets can carry and I find that massively overwhelming and inspiring! Being able to immerse yourself into a show at the theatre will have any imagination ticking overtime.

I sometimes think that the name you give to an image is almost as important as the
image itself. Would you agree? Do you think of the name first or have an idea of the
visual imagery you want to create?

Haha now that would be telling! For Dreamcatcher then it varies. Sometimes I have a story I want to tell but the blog associated explaining the reason isn’t always what I thought about at the time. A prime example would be Elephant in the Room by Melissa Hutchinson. I imagined an elephant in there with me, but it was only when I thought about the connotations of the phrase did I think to associate a topic I felt so strongly about. However looking at You Are Not Alone telling the story of Amanda Todd, then yes, I had the story and the title before the picture.

Once you have an idea what is the process you follow to get the final image?

I scribble out all my keywords, then I draw terrible sketches of the angle and composition. I write ideas for the styling and I try to find colour palettes for the edit if needed. Then I decide which creatives would suit the image and the story I want to tell the most. There is no point in me asking a fashion photographer to shoot a fine art composite because it just doesn’t suit their style and vice versa.

I saw you on stage at The Photography Show in Birmingham earlier this year. How did
that come about and how did you decide on what you wanted to present?

Ah thank you for coming to watch! I was so nervous but I’m so glad I did it now. It was last November when the show contacted me and asked if I’d like to speak on stage about my story. I think they were intrigued by my Dreamcatcher Project because it’s unusual for a model to take the directive lead. It gained a bit of a following and I think they hoped I could bring something different to the stage rather than just trying to sell gear to the audience.

Who are your role models (on both sides of the camera)?

Ok but don’t laugh at me….my number one role model is Pink. She is such a strong woman, I have always adored her fierce attitude and am easily her number one fan! In fact I wrote a blog inspired by her once;  She is so true to her heart, passionate about so many things and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks. She’s a brilliant mother, she’s funny and she doesn’t take her life too seriously. She also comes across as very grateful for the life she has been given considering her roots living in Philadelphia. I also loved Robin Williams for a similar reason and was gutted to hear of his passing, especially given the circumstances. In fact I dare say he had an influence in my latest tattoo.

In terms of more art related role models, they seem to be predominantly and accidentally women actually. I admire the work of Miss Aniela and her surreal fashion series in terms of aesthetics and also for the way she writes, I think she has a story beyond what she tells us that intrigues me greatly. I adore Kirsty Mitchell for her story and strength as well as her emotion and incredible talent for costume and set design like no other. I love Brooke Shaden for her spirit and positive thinking, I just love everything about being around her because she puts me in such a good healthy place. I also really enjoy being around Ben Von Wong who excites me about travel and location whenever we look to organise a shoot and inevitably a road trip adventure! He is great for motivating me and is my go to person when I need honest help or critique. I’m also hugely inspired by the journeys of Alex Stoddard who used his 365 project as a teenager to propel his career and that of Joel Robison who attracted the attention of Coca Cola with his short story photographs and positive attitude.

There are pieces of a lot of people that I respect and aspire to be more like them for those reasons. Strangely, I’m also inspired by the ugly and darker side of people for whom I shall not name.

What advice would you give to models that might be looking to have more of a
creative input to the shoots they do?

Be not afraid! I don’t see how I am any different to anyone else. I am a non agency represented average looking girl with barely a dime to her name. I’m nobody special. If I can think of stories to project into photographs then anybody can by releasing emotions, drawing out images and offering themselves to artists who might help them without expecting anything. I’d say remember that the world owes you nothing and you have to give before you can receive – take from that what you will.

Do you ever see yourself taking the ‘final step’ and actually photographing the images
you conceive, either with you as a part of them or using other models?

I’m not sure really. I can’t predict the future and I never say never. But for now, I’m happy being this side of the lens.

From reading your blog you clearly enjoy writing as well and have a natural flair for it.
Would you ever consider taking your ideas (both photographic and written) and
making them into a book?

Oh thank you so much for reading it! A book would be my absolute dream. To hold my own book would be my life completed I think…but I do enjoy the intensity and easily edited capability of an online blog. The following it can generate and the interaction it stirs will always push me to write more.

What plans do you have for the future, any more Dreamcatcher type projects in the
pipeline?

Always. 🙂

Thank you Jen.

For other interviews in this series see here.

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