In Conversation with Brooke Holm
A huge thank you to artist Brooke Holm and all those who made it to the Modern Times Artist Talk on Saturday morning. Together with our generous sponsors Everyday Coffee we had a fantastic catch-up following on from the opening of Brooke’s breathtaking exhibition ‘Mineral Matter’. Enjoy reading our in-depth interview below to gain an interesting insight into Brooke’s inspirations, artistic practice and to find out what’s next for this internationally acclaimed artist.
Can you tell us what brought you to photography? How did that journey start?
I was pretty fortunate because I just fell into it by accident. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up so, like a lot of people, I just choose something to study after high school that sounded vaguely interesting and in a very round about way it led me to photography. Long story short, what started as an assistant job in an Advertising agency in Brisbane, quickly turned into a photography role, which led me to study photography. This led me to Melbourne where I felt there was more creative opportunity. After spending a number of years working freelance in Melbourne, I felt the pull from New York and now I live and work from there.
Your work is an extension of another passion of yours, that being nature and the environment. Can you tell us a bit about how this passion or curiosity developed in you?
I have loved nature since I was a child. I used to run free building forts and tree houses and pretending to be Tarzan swinging on ropes through the forest. I loved camping and hiking with my family, climbing trees and doing anything active and outdoorsy. So as I’ve grown up, this passion has only intensified, and it’s no surprise that nature and the environment take centre stage for my personal work. It’s where I feel at home, and where I want to focus my creative energy.
What kind of things have you uncovered about landscape or nature in the process of making your work? Have you had certain ideas or beliefs confirmed by the experience of your travels or have you uncovered the unexpected?
The best part about travelling is learning. You’re learning about an unfamiliar place, with new customs, culture, processes, landscapes etc. To broaden your own understanding of the world and how to make a difference, you have to experience different places. I have been fortunate to travel to many places and every single time I take home valuable information I have learned that I will keep with me forever.
Many times I have traveled somewhere that I had a particular idea about, but you can’t possibly know until you go what the intricacies are.
Take Svalbard for example, I knew the Arctic was affected by climate change at twice the rate of the rest of the world. But going there, and learning first-hand from scientists and specialists, and seeing this place with my own eyes blew my assumptions out of the water.
I was on the right track, but the extent of what I didn’t know, and still don’t know, was vast. Visually, you are always going to find the unexpected. Because how can you know, when you’ve never been. The Internet can only take you so far.
With this series, Mineral Matter you said you knew this journey to Iceland was important; can you tell us a bit about what first drew you to that landscape?
I knew that the landscape was particularly special because of the intense volcanoes, rivers, geothermal areas, mountains and glaciers and that it was visually very diverse. It is, so far, the most varied looking landscape in one country I have seen. Around every corner there was scenery unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. It was captivating, and heart wrenching and for a nature lover, it’s surreal. While I was drawn visually, I was also wondering how such an extreme place is even habitable and how that worked.
I’d love to know if you uncovered anything unexpected or confirmed anything that you suspected about Iceland during your time making this series?
I think visually it was more amazing than I could even imagine. I suspected it would be intense and dangerous. There were definitely times where I felt kind of unwelcome like I was walking on eggshells. Except the eggshells were dried up lava fields and I was walking up a volcano that was due to erupt at any moment. I definitely felt at the mercy of the landscape. Iceland is a prime example of a landscape that is much more evidently powerful than humans, and I wanted to experience and document that.
I think there is such a wonderful sense of awe with your work; partially I think that comes from the aerial perspective you take. Can you tell us a bit about why you’ve chosen this perspective, it’s something that you also used in the last series 'Salt and Sky'. What is it about that vantage point that you find works for your photography?
I don’t always take the aerial approach but these two series particularly lent themselves to that perspective. The river deltas, in particular, were important to show from above because you can’t see the intricacies of the colours and shapes in front of you like you can from above. It gives you a better overall picture of nature in full force. I also just love the process of shooting that way. I don’t throw a drone up there, I actually want to be up there. In a helicopter, or a plane, or a balloon… Whichever way I possibly can. It feels more personal in that respect.
When compiling this series you had some really difficult choices to make in collating the 10 photographs in the show. How did you work through that process? What did you look for or hope to achieve with this series?
It’s always a huge task trying to collate the final imagery you will show. Usually I am choosing ten or fewer images from over 10,000 pictures. I wasn’t sure if I would incorporate other images into the series or show other parts besides the river deltas. I went through so many rounds of changes and cutting and culling. But when I finally arrived at these ten and put them next to each other, it just felt right. It’s a very personal process.
Without asking you to reveal too much of your process, can you please tell some aspects of your technical skill and consideration that go into creating such a series, and what you may have learned with landscape photography.
I feel like with photography, all the basic technical knowledge is learned in the beginning, and then you just subconsciously use what you know to adapt to whatever situation you are in at the time. Cameras, equipment and software are always updating for the better so you quickly learn the limits of your gear and where and how you can push it before you really do need to upgrade to something better. My obsession has been with sharpness and quality for creating large prints. This work is best viewed in large format – it’s where it has its greatest impact. Light is always the most important thing because you need a lot of it. And unlike still life or interiors, you can’t control the light. So sometimes you are at the mercy of elements and you just have to be ready to adapt.
Do you think your work is particularly benefited by digital technology?
Definitely. I used to shoot film for certain personal projects, and I still love it and the nostalgia that comes with it. But for what I’m doing now, there is no good reason for me to use film. Digital has everything I need, is way more versatile and gives me a greater margin for error. A lot of what I’m shooting (particularly from a helicopter) is happening in a moment and if I don’t capture it perfectly and instantly, it’s gone forever. Digital gives me the freedom to focus on getting that shot without worrying about the quirks of film. I still have absolute respect for people still using it, I just choose not to.
What dream do you still want to fulfill – this could be anything not just art!?
I answered this in my Yellowtrace article the other day, but I want to shoot something for NASA. Ideally planets. But maybe I could start here on earth and literally work my way up. I can only hope to keep growing and evolving and sharing more with people and inspiring them. I’m starting to research my next body of work and will start fleshing that out more now that Mineral Matter is on the wall.