Build Your Dream World with this Inspiring Self-Portraiture

The escapist self-portraiture of photographer Brooke Shaden has earned her a well-deserved reputation as a fascinating fine artist. Born in Pennsylvania, brought up near ‘Amish Country’, and a graduate in Film and English, Brooke’s work is perhaps more intimate than conventional self-portraiture: she explores her own psychology, not autobiography, by presenting her body in surreal locations born from her own fancy and fascination.


Her work, shot on a lightweight Sony a7ii, begins with a self portrait taken anywhere from her bedroom to a location found on her travels. All images are her own, save for the odd stock image detail like a crack in a wall, which are added in extensive Photoshop editing that can take anything from hours to months of attention in search of the perfect visual fit. Her unusual use of square frames, and her signature painterly style, mark her out as an artist with a complex aesthetic vision not limited by realism.


Brooke has garnered an impressive Instagram following one as fascinated by her fairytale dreamscapes as we are. As a public service, we wanted to get under the skin of this artist. As if her self-portraits weren’t already enough.

The Plus: What are some of the things that most inspire you in your work, given your painterly eye?
Brooke Shaden:
I adore the Pre-Raphaelite painters – anything with a dark background and warm cream skin tones is up my alley. I love Bouguereau, Goya, and many gothic-style painters.


TP: Does being your own model change the way you see yourself?
Yes, for the better. I get in front of the camera and I see the person I am trying to become, not necessarily the person I am. I’ve developed a “who cares” kind of attitude toward body image and beauty, which is very freeing. I often end up sore the next day from posing so hard, which sounds absurd, but I like to really stretch my muscles and put tension in my body, so that the camera can capture a real emotion.


TP: What inspired your striking departure from realism?
I don’t know that I have ever, in all my life, created from a place of realism. I don’t like to focus on my life or my experiences, so much as what my life could be.


TP: So you’re not so much inspired by the world around you?
Ever since I can remember I was writing fantasy stories, making creepy/surreal short films, and generally wanting to create the worlds I wish I lived in. I didn’t create this world around us, and – whilst I love it and am infinitely happy in it – it isn’t mine.


TP: You’re self-taught, which must come with its own benefits – how has it shaped your practice?
I don’t know all of the mainstream ways of creating: I don’t know how to use lights, or how to do fancy things in Photoshop. I used to get emails from people telling me that I was doing everything “wrong”, and that I needed to learn the “right” way, but in the end, experimenting and trying new things has led me to create with basic tools in unusual ways.


TP: You found yourself as a photographer in 2008 – do you think you’ll expand into other areas of the visual arts?
Storytelling is my passion, and I will chase that toward whatever medium it chooses. I also write, and I graduated from film school so I want to go back to making films (I’m working on a documentary, but I love short, creepy films!)…and who knows where else life will lead. I am open to everything.