When a Model Dictates Creative Direction: Jen Brook’s Dreamcatcher Project

When a Model Dictates Creative Direction: Jen Brook’s Dreamcatcher Project

Photographers are artists. That is one fact that the original photographers spent years convincing others to be truth. But how often do we consider the models to be artists? I would wager rarely, if ever. Model Jen Brook challenges that mentality by acting as the creative director on a group of images she calls her “Dreamcatcher Project.” She works with a group of photographers to capture her vision, and the results show that she has the “eye” as well as the unusual ability to create through others.

Earlier we featured a project from Benjamin Von Wong, which is actually the most recent addition to Jen's Dreamcatcher project. So what started it?

Jen was inspired to start her Dreamcatcher project through realizing that models rarely had a voice. “I love to collaborate ideas with other people but no matter how much effort the model puts in, they are (mostly) only ever seen as the clothes horse. I wanted to be more.” What really pushed her over the edge was meeting photographic phenom Von Wong. “Meeting Von Wong this year really turned things around for me. Providing him with a place to crash on his European tour resulted in me realizing that anything is possible. All the ideas I had cooked up came spilling out of my mouth over late night chats. The next day we shot “Dreamcatcher” and then “Writers Unblock” in reference to my blog.”

From there, the project was born. “I wanted to design each shot myself. I know what styling, what hair/make up, what crop, what colors and what angle I see when I picture the image in my head...so in theory, all I had to do was find a willing team to make it for me under direction. I've been really lucky so far with the people who have agreed to help me out. They are good friends and I am so grateful to those involved for giving up their time and skills so freely.

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“The ideas themselves I can't really explain where they come from. I take inspiration from every thing around me - whether that be old photographs, music, memories and the emotions they stir in me...or new things I learn and see on a daily basis. Sometimes images just pop into your head and you need to make them - they're fine, in fact sometimes it's good to leave a little mystery and let people decide what they see for themselves. But with this project, every image has a purpose and a reason which is why blog about them.

“I guess my mind works very literally. I think up a story/a reason/an emotion, and then convey it in a physical sense. I guess it's almost child like. When my sister was little, she once described having pins and needles as having hedgehogs in her feet. I still smile about it now. We're very similar, I guess that pretty much sums up the world through our eyes.


“The reason I started this project was so I had something I could call my own. Something to be proud of and something that was from my own head. Something with memories both conceptually from the origin and those made whilst creating them."

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Of course, Jen is not without the right roots. “My Dad is a wedding photographer and I sometimes second shoot for him. What I lack in technical knowledge (although he is always on hand for camera settings if I go wrong) I make up for in poses, angles, framing and overall composition.

“Everything technical that I do know is learnt from listening to photographers at work. I am by no means clued up on everything theory based, but I have certainly picked up a few things at workshops and training days. I always listen to what is being taught because it interests me and I can use the information to model around it. For example understanding how to work towards the light, knowing about the inverse square law and the drop off of light, recognizing lighting patterns and what will flatter the face most - it's all about the light...and the pose. I guess I know what is required; I just don't necessarily know which buttons to press!"

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Jen’s ideology about models mirrors my own. “I think it's good for all models to have a basic understanding of photography which I think is why my two viral blog posts 'Dear Photographer...kindest regards, Model xxx' and 'Dear Model...kindest regards Other Model xxx' have been so popular.” To have knowledge of what one is involved in makes the entire experience not only more valuable, but more successful to all involved. Jen’s philosophy allows her to know exactly what she needs to do to be a powerful model in front of the camera, but her mentality also lets her see what a photographer would be seeking from behind the lens. This makes her a better model, and is a technique that can work for anyone.

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Even after hearing her story and her mindset, it may still be difficult to imagine a model dictating the pace and vision on set. “Don't get me wrong, when I'm on a shoot for somebody else I take direction and listen to exactly what they want to achieve. But when I collaborate, I want an input. I don't get much time to syndicate as much as I'd like to as I have bills to pay like everybody else. So when a good opportunity arises I grasp it tightly with both hands and try to make sure that the images have a little piece of me embedded as well as the rest of the team involved. I guess it's about finding the right people to work with, those who you know you can bond with and share ideas together.

One might think this is difficult, especially finding that right photographer, but Jen keeps an open mind. “To a deep extent every person involved is carefully chosen. Their specific qualities are measured and I find a suitable concept for their individual style...and then ask them nicely if they'll help me. I suppose you could say that there is always logic behind my selection. But to be honest, the people involved so far have come to be friends over time who would probably do anything for me regardless. That is why it is so important to be a sharing person and be willing to go the extra mile for others - you never know when you might need to call in a favor.

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“It can often be difficult to explain an exact vision to somebody that you want creating. I usually try and convey it on paper as an example, but as I'm the worlds WORST at drawing, it probably doesn't help much! However I can at least explain the positioning the angle and the crop. I often use Pinterest and Ebay to demonstrate colours and styling."

In the end, she doesn’t find it as difficult as many of us might imagine. “I consider myself to be a good judge of character and although I can usually see the good in most people, I can usually tell if someone is going to be 'my sort of person' within the first moments of meeting them. My intuition hasn't failed me yet."

I asked Jen to explain each of her completed “Dreamcatcher” images in detail, to which she was more than happy. Most of the images and titles link to full descriptions from Jen's blog, which also show behind-the-scenes images and are totally worth a read. Jen is by far one of the kindest and good-natured souls I’ve met in this industry full of some pretty overbearing egos. Her creative perspective and love for the art is the kind that awakens the desire to create in my own heart, and hopefully that will carry over to you all as well.

Any bed for a weary hed
Any Bed for a Weary Head

The concept is fairly straight forward - it's a reference to the life of anyone who is self employed where usual working hours of 9-5 don't apply and therefore neither do regular sleeping patterns.


Mail Order Bride
Mail Order Bride

Many people know that I am a huge fan of fine art photographer, Brooke Shaden. With her style in mind I wanted to create something representative of her to connote one of my passions in life. I figured out my equation to do this:
Loose hair + textures + anonymity + square crops = Brooke.

With these components in mind, I thought up a concept of my own with a Shaden twist to it giving it a title to suit. The concept itself came from the idea of babies arriving by storks, I wondered if perhaps one day brides could arrive in a similar fashion to lonely hearts across the globe.


I Bleed Colors
I Bleed Colours

This one is about taking strength from a negative situation. My intention was to suggest that creative people are a special breed. The term 'creative' meaning anyone with that special glow; artists, dancers, chefs, decorators, gardeners... not just those involved in the photography world, anyone imaginative. It's something they are born with and no matter how hard someone may try to blow your candle out, it's something that will always burn. When a local photographer decided to make nasty comments about me on Facebook one night, it hurt. I felt like I had been cut...but because it inspired me, I was bleeding colours.


Realms of Reality
Realms of Reality

This one derives mostly from a dreamers perspective often confusing what is real and what isn't. I have an over romanticised view of life and sometimes my perception clouds my judgement. I guess you could say it opens up suggestions of crossing into new worlds between the possible and impossible. For me, that's what fine art photography is made for.


The New Wave Is Coming
The New Wave is Coming

The idea here is mostly about trying to keep your head above water when you have a lot of things happening in your life. With a negative undertone I was intent on giving it a more positive overlay and wanted to inject a little humour into the overall image. So my theory was simple, if you want to stay afloat...you need a boat!
I used the title to play with the concept a little suggesting that although there is literally a wave in the shot, perhaps a 'new wave' of art is about to take over, the digital age of art. Perhaps one day painting galleries will be replaced by photography galleries steaming of post processing and digital enhancement. I'm not saying this will happen, but I do hope so. This is my kind of art, the stories that break conformity through the seemingly impossible.



Face Your Fear

Having an octopus is a new facial treatment defying ageing by.....ok, ok, you don't believe me. I wouldn't either. You clever cookie.
On a more serious note, this shot is all based on an experience I had last year on holiday. Some nasty calamari left me quite poorly and since turns my stomach just thinking about the edible cephalopod. With the idea that calamari was now my 'fear'...what better way to face it than quite literally.
Yes, it was real, yes it stunk and no I will not do it again!

I asked Jen if she would recommend this practice to any other model, and to that she was emphatic in her optimism. "Definitely! I recommend it to anyone who feels they have their tongue cut off before their sentence is complete (see my blog 'More than just a model')- especially to photographers who only shoot for clients. Shoot for show and shoot for dough. If you don't do your own personal projects then your creativity is destined to shrivel up eventually. The main thing is just to remember to offer support to those around you and they will be more likely to return the favour one day. If anything, it's always good fun!

Is my project professionally beneficial? You never know, somebody might see something in you and it could lead to bigger, better things..."

For more on Jen, make sure to check out her blog and follow her on Facebook.

Photos by Lauri Laukkanen and Ben Von Wong.
Makeup by Donna Graham
Designs by Tara Byakko Designs

Jaron Schneider's picture

Jaron Schneider is an Fstoppers Contributor and an internationally published writer and cinematographer from San Francisco, California. His clients include Maurice Lacroix, HD Supply, SmugMug, the USAF Thunderbirds and a host of industry professionals.

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Having worked with Jen quite a few times now, and having realised early on that she was just as fiercely creative as any of the artists I know, I'm supremely pleased to see her driving and producing this work. Long may it continue!

Thank you Graham! I'm over the moon that F-Stoppers have chosen to feature my series. I can't wait to add more pictures to my Dreamcatcher Project!

She has great vision. I'm glad to see her talking the shoots she works on in her own hands.

I love collaborating more than I do doing my own ideas. I think it's so much fun to get input on a project rather than just lead it. Great work Jen!

Not all photos are by Lauri Laukkanen, the last photo "Face Your Fear" is by Von Wong!

I too have worked with Jen. A more creative, enthusiastic and dedicated model you'll be hard pressed to find. I'm chuffed to bits for Jen. This lady is going far and I'll be cheering her all the way, it's no less than what she deserves (and works so hard for). I love her creativity and although she's 'only' a model, Jen is now on my list for inspiration. Her blog is also on my required reading list.

Thank you Nedine :) I'm having such a wonderful day today, so many kind people!

Couldn't agree more, we wouldn't do it if the consequences weren't so beneficial :) Thank you