ART, For the Sake of Passion

My story of passion would not be complete unless I took you back 10 years ago when I met my husband. I was 16 years old. We decided suddenly, instantly, and permanently that we could not live full lives without one another. It was at 16 years old that I threw myself into a love and passion and life that would keep me sustained for all my years to come.

Why is this important, and how does it relate to photography? Everything that I knew stemmed from that electric moment that I connected with my husband. In ways that he may never understand, he introduced me to the art that I love, the way I like to create, and the courage to believe in those things wholeheartedly. The story of meeting my husband is important because it was the first time that I had believed in something so much that I never doubted it for a moment. I learned to believe in my photography because of the confidence I gained from believing in love.

Photography, art, and creating in general are no different from making that type of commitment. So often people say to me, “It is almost like you aren’t a photographer, but instead an artist.” I believe that all photographers have the potential to be artists, and there is only a fine line between photographer and artist when there is a gap. What is it that puts that fine line into play? Passion.

You may think I am some crazy, new-age hippie. Admittedly I can be, and my headbands and oversized clothes add fuel to the fire, but what I preach is what I believe: Passion is the life-blood that runs through any artist, and every photographer has the capacity to capture it.

When I began photography I did not understand the world of art. I did not understand the world of photography any better. The only thing that I knew was what I liked and what I didn’t like. I knew what made my heart skip a beat and what I cared not to think about. I knew up from down within my little bubble of creating, but nothing outside of that. Knowing nothing turned out to be my greatest asset in my journey as a photographer. Because I didn’t understand how the business of photography worked, I had no constraints to work within. I began photography out of passion for telling stories, and so I started out doing just that: creating the stories I wanted to tell.

I had no preconceived notions of how much money I should be making, how I should be making my money, or how to run my business. When I started realizing that money would be a good thing to have if I wanted to continue to grow in my craft, I began thinking in terms of business; yet it wasn’t business as usual. I was working a full-time job. I had entered the “real world” of “grown-up work,” as I began photography just after I graduated from college. I was working as a receptionist, and then as a legal assistant. I understood one fundamental thing about the jobs I held: I didn’t want to do them. When I started looking at photography in a way that could lend itself to a sustainable business, I asked myself one very important question that has continued to define how I run my business: What do I want to spend my time doing?

I set very simple and very straightforward goals for myself. I wanted to show in galleries. I wanted to teach workshops. I wanted to write a book. No task seemed too big or too small. It was simply what I wanted to do with my time, and with no idea of how to achieve these goals, the weight of living up to someone else’s standard was taken away. I did things my way, for better or worse.

I have always viewed creating images in the same way. I knew nothing about photography when I started except that other people had stood where I was and had succeeded. I knew that someone had mastered Photoshop, and that others knew their cameras inside and out. I wasn’t interested in their methods, but simply in the inspiration that it could be done. I began creating self-portraits to practice photography and get the ideas in my mind out into the world.

When I began photography, it was in an effort to tell stories that I loved thinking about. I have always had stories in my mind, and still feel as though, even if I turned out images like a machine, I could never tell the amount of stories I have floating in my mind. Photography allowed me an outlet to make my imagination a reality. I approach photography the same as business. I do not have to live up to anyone else’s standards but instead set my own standards that I can judge myself against. Instead of looking to others for inspiration, I look inward and figure out why I love telling stories and how I can do so effectively.

From my first image that I captured in December 2008 to now, not much of my process has changed. I still create self-portraits. I still shoot with almost no budget. I am still inspired by the same props, wardrobe, and themes that ignited the spark of passion then. My creation process is quite simple, but what I love about creating is that it can be different for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to create. There is no industry standard, and if someone says there is, I can only believe it is a myth. There are endless paths leading to the same end goal. My end goal is to create an image that I am passionate about, and while my methods may be unconventional, I still get from point A to point B.

So often I walk out of my door with my equipment on my back, carrying props in my arms while wearing a fluffy dress, ready to create an image. My neighbors watch skeptically as I walk down the street and into the forest, to be alone in nature and to create something that inspires me. So often people walk past, watching, and ask questions, like if I know how silly I look, or sometimes offer to help. There is something so special to me about knowing that I am creating in a way that is personally fulfilling. Even if nothing comes of the photo shoot I just did, the experience made it worthwhile.

A large part of my process is editing, and I consider Photoshop just as much of a journey. Indeed, I am not going on a trip to the forest and jumping about as I take pictures, but I am re-visiting that feeling. I get to be back in the forest with my character. I get to immerse myself in the process that turns a picture into a whole new world. I think of everything that I do as a journey; business, shooting, editing, and even networking. They are all a way of creating a meaningful experience so that I, and hopefully others, can live a more passionate life.

I believe that finding passion is not as difficult as keeping it. Finding passion can be as simple as being honest with yourself about what you love and why you love it. Once you know that, the hard part is keeping that passion alive. Life gets in the way. Money gets in the way. Self-doubt and self-worth play into the equation of keeping passion running strong.

One of the most motivating thoughts that I have is remember how important my own happiness is. I believe that if I am pursuing my dreams, others will be encouraged to pursue theirs. I want nothing more than for everyone to be able to live their dream, and I would be a hypocrite if I weren’t trying to do the same. I am motivated to be happy because everyone around me will be happier for it.

If you are reading this, I can only hope that photography, or something else that is wonderfully meaningful, has come into your life to give you happiness. It is important to remember that your passion is worth pursuing. You never know how many other people will be touched by your dedication.

You can see more of Brooke’s work at BrookeShaden.com, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.