Does photography have the power to radically change and improve lives? Brooke Shaden, one of the most successful contemporary fine art photographers around today thinks so. Brooke has a single-minded goal to help others through photography - and she’s only got 23 days left to do make her plan a reality.
I met Brooke last year and was immediately struck by how much she seemed to care about the world, her place in it and the people around her. If you follow her on Facebook or read her blog, you’ll know she not only enjoys what she creates through her photography, but she is often very aware and conscious of the world and her feelings about what she experiences.
It came as no surprise when I learned of her latest endeavor, a project to set up a photography school and studio to help victims of human trafficking in Kolkata, India. Knowing Brooke, and having recently visited Kolkata, I was curious to speak to her about her latest project and get some insight into it.
Fstoppers: Brooke, you're a successful fine art photographer and most people know you for that work, so can you please tell us how you went from your day to day activities as a photographer to deciding to set up this project? What made you decide to choose Kolkata, and specifically survivors of human trafficking, as a group you wanted to work with?
Brooke: Last year I traveled to India for the first time to teach a workshop to survivors of human trafficking. It was like a whole world was opened up to me, and finally I was able to put what I preach to the test; the idea that photography can be used to tell stories that are personal and cathartic and can give a voice to someone who may not have one yet. That is exactly the lesson that I taught.
We did self-portraiture and were able to symbolically create images with personal meaning. Each woman I taught took something away from the experience that was unique and valuable, and of course I did as well. That prompted me to take things further and start a school so that we can teach not only storytelling and find personal fulfillment, but also give these women a chance at education and a job once they outgrow the shelter.
Fstoppers: You've put photography right at the heart of this project, but what do you think photography can offer people who might not have had the opportunity to explore it.
Brooke: One of the greatest things about photography is the ability to share who you are while giving other people something special in return. It is an art form that offers a practical business with the passion of being in control of the stories you put into the world, and that combination speaks to many people, as I believe it will in our school.
Everyone has a story to tell and a unique voice with which they can tell it, and a camera gives so many people a way to express that voice. It isn't only about expressing that voice though, it is about giving these women permission to say the things that might not get said. It can change lives practically, emotionally, and even beyond depending how far-reaching their photography becomes. This is true for all people. Visual story is universal.
Fstoppers: What do you hope to get out of this project on a personal level? What do you think others might get out of it by participating in it, or joining you in supporting it?
Brooke: I wake up every day of my life and I remind myself to be grateful that I have a voice and a platform on which to share my story. When visiting India, I was reminded that not everyone has the luxury of being heard. From this project I get so many things, almost selfishly: the reminder that we can make a difference if we try hard enough. The reminder that with power comes responsibility, and whether we realize it or not (money, status, and success aside) we have that power and (hopefully) that compassion to create change.
To learn more about the project and find out how you can show your support, visit Brooke’s Indiegogo page or check out the video below. Brooke has only 23 days left to raise the remaining $18,000 to help kick start her school.
Brooke has demonstrated to us all that no matter what you do with your photography, there is always the ability to dream bigger, to imagine things better and to push yourself to do more than you thought possible.
What can you do with the power of photography?