Let’s start off with a serious question. In a perfect world, what kind of sandwich would you be eating right now?
I just finished a vege burrito so I’d probably just eat another one of those. Or peanut butter and nutella for dessert.
Did you go to school for photography? How important do you think photography degrees are in today’s industry?
I’m at a point where I think education systems have it all wrong. Something like photography really exaggerates this point. I love learning. I’m constantly trying to read new things or learn from trial and error but I don’t think a degree will help with skill or employment.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that a decent amount of the people you photograph are friends and ordinary people rather than professional models. Do you prefer working with subjects you already know?
Totally right. It is really just how I started though and have carried it on. Nothing overly intentional and I’ll probably try some new things in the next few years.
What gear are you shooting with nowadays, and why? What piece of gear is most essential to your workflow?
For photography, I mainly use a Nikon D800 and a small collection of good prime lenses. I did shoot some 4×5 and 35mm for my last shoot too. I’ve pretty much given up DSLR stuff for video work though. It just doesn’t suit my style. I’m really into the Red cameras for that stuff. If I’m honest, I’d have to say that my computer is my most essential piece of gear in my workflow.
You just released your latest short film, “Footsteps”. Can you tell us how this project came to be and the creative process behind it?
My “latest” and first short film, haha. I guess the fastest way of explaining what started that project was that somewhere in the back of my head I had the idea that I wanted to do a short film after I had done a bunch of music videos. I read the story online by chance and after I had finished, I knew I could my aesthetics and logistics could work for this story. so I asked the author and he gave me permission to work with his short story. I full list of people went into the creative, technical and logistical process from adapting the script to mixing the audio. It was a big job.
What’s the most recent thing you gained inspiration from?
Music has been a big influence recently. That may sound cliche but I feel it being a stronger influence again where last year movies and pictures were a big influence. I’m trying to write a script for the next short film and I made a play list of songs to inspire thoughts, feeling and themes. Owen, Pianos Become The Teeth, Counting Crows and even Robyn and Chvrches are on it. Oh and Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.
How did your work for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats come to be? Your style of photography isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for college football, yet the images are both classic and refreshing.
The relationship with working for the football team started when a friend of mine was interning there. I used to shoot a lot of BMX photos of this friend and he had one as his desktop wallpaper. His boss asked about it and they brought me in to talk about shoot. I know next to nothing about football and that excited them. They wanted my outsiders eye and for me to try to do something different from the other photographers on the field. I feel so out of place walking around with a 35mm prime lens when all these dudes have the massive zooms on monopods.
Your portraiture is very simple yet very moody. How do you feel simplicity plays a part in photography?
I think the simplicity side of things comes from one of my influences Arnold Newman. He is probably the most underrated photographer by people these days. Simplicity helps highlight composition.
How long does one of your portrait shoots usually take? How many shots are fired on average, etc.?
Depends on how many lights there are and how picky I’m being. I also really like to shoot photos and tweak lights so I never really want a shoot to end. I usually end it for the model’s sake, not my own. I’d say per set up, I shoot between 20 and 100 photos. I just keep tweaking and shooting and force the photo I want to evolve. I hope each shoot is an hour or two, it feels like I’ve at least done something then. No rushing, just having fun shooting. Sometimes I have to rush for whatever constraints there are imposed as well so I just need to be a bit more specific and prepared in those situations.
What are some things you do to keep your body of work consistent without becoming stagnant?
I think there are enough ideas to keep mixing and matching things. I don’t mind reusing locations or parts of an idea. As long as the photo (or video) feels like it is part of different story.
You’ve taken some really interesting portraits of subjects who appear to be complete strangers. What makes you decide to photograph the people you do? Any tips for other photographers who would like to approach strangers?
I don’t really do this as much anymore but as I was figuring out more of who I was as a photographer I tried to photograph people on the street. Maybe I’ll pick it up again. I think the people I photographed are obvious as to why I picked them, they look interesting or at least I think they did. If you want to shoot someone badly enough, you’ll ask them. Sometimes they’ll say no, but you’ll get some people who are into it too.
I’m a big fan of your series We Are Sleeping Giants, the song by Everlea compliments the images wonderfully. What made you want to pursue a photographer-musician collaboration?
Thanks! That series feels so old now. I had the idea to do that series in the spring and I was driving with Justin to a show. We were listening to Recover on the way there and he decided to play it as a cover. It fit so well so I asked him if he’d record it for me and when I heard it I had goosebumps, it completed the photos in an amazing way.
Since we’re on the topic of music, what have you been listening to lately?
On top of the playlist I already mentioned, I’ve been really into HRVRD’s new record, Propagandhi, some AFI from like 10 years ago and Purity Ring lately.
In addition to shooting portraits and directing, you also have an extensive wedding portfolio. How does that compare to your other work?
I don’t think it really compares too much. It feels very different to shoot a wedding than shooting my stuff. I have to work quick and keep everyone happy at a wedding, on my shoots, I call all the shots and will spend 5 minutes tweaking one light to get it right.
Now let’s imagine you currently are not a photographer or director. What would you be up to?
Good question. I really have no idea. Maybe tour managing a band?
What do you think is necessary to make a photograph interesting?
I think it needs to make you feel the slightest bit of something. Feel like you’re in a location, meeting somebody, in an experience or something like that. It should be technically intentional and creatively attempting to bring some thing new to the table.
You have a very unique cinematic lighting style. It appears as if you use a combination of continuous lighting and strobes. What led you to this particular style? Do you prefer continuous over strobes?
I love strobes. You get a ton of light without nearly as much power. But video stuff needs continuous lighting so I own and know how to use both. If HMIs weren’t so expensive to own and operate, I’d strictly use them.
How much of a role does post production play in your work and how do you feel about the advancement of Photoshop and CGI?
I grade my photos and video footage, that about it. I’ll do the odd composite for a large group shot too. I don’t have many qualms over Photoshop or CGI, just bad Photoshop and CGI.
If you could go back in time to the beginning of your career as a photographer, is there anything you would do differently?
Probably not. Maybe waste less time on certain shoots and try to focus my intentions solely on the projects I really want to share with people.
If you could photograph any person living or dead, who would it be?
Jesus. Then I’d sell the photo to Newsweek every other week.
What are your plans for 2013 and beyond?
Hopefully another short film shot this summer and finished this fall to submit to a few festivals (Footsteps was straight to Web release). I have a pretty dark photo series that I can’t wait to start too!
View Brooks’ Complete Portfolio Here