Reading Bella Grace magazine is a tactile experience. The pages are weighty, the large matte images beautiful, and the content is heartfelt. The most recent issues (#15) arrived yesterday, March 1st. Page 128 begin an article by Jen Baxter on her experience at Firefly Institute last October. Her words and photographs remind us of what we can achieve when we come together.
Bella Grace features pages for your own thoughts and notes - after Jen's article is the prompt "Life doesn't go according to plan much of the time. ... recall one of the times you came together with other people to make something powerful or special happen."
“It will be more incredible than anything you could plan” Laurie told me as I considered creating an impromptu 3-day event for 25 people, with no venue or agenda and a start time within 48 hours. I did have Laurie in town from Connecticut and a number of generous and resourceful people ready to help.
The confidence that Laurie instilled in me was absolute – I knew she was right, we could do it. She has that same effect during her photoshoots. She makes her model feel beautiful; absolutely confident in who she is, and how she looks. Laurie spreads her enthusiasm to her students and shows them how to create and capture a world, a story, a vision.
I have experienced countless photography classes and field trips, but Laurie’s shoots are very different. Today let’s explore the shoot from Laurie's perspective.
We begin without our cameras. I talk through the shoot, how I work with models, the camera, fabric, light, and what I see first going into it. Then, I begin, and have the students watch - still not shooting. I tell the model she is beautiful (she is). We come up with our scene, our scenario. I have to feel it, my model has to see it.
Then the students begin. I have them get their exposure right, so they don’t have to worry about it as they shoot. Each student has her turn as director. It is important that the model knows what we want and that they are completely comfortable. Sometimes, we fake it till we make it. Sometimes, if there is no story idea, we pick an emotion and work with that until something develops. We also leave room for magic, because when you put your camera up to your eye - something always shifts. You might first imagine a story, a world; and then when you step into that bubble you see things differently - and you go with it. That is the dance.
The transformation I saw in students (at the Firefly shoot) was so visceral. Probably more so than any time I have taught. Everyone jumped in and trusted, and they didn’t even know me. It is a leap of faith on everybody’s part. That’s what Firefly is; a safe and respectful environment that allows you to reach deep and go where you haven’t gone before.
- Laurie Klein on her photoshoots at Firefly Institute
Let's look at the results - and hear what Laurie has to say about the photos.
Photographs from October photoshoot: Comments by Laurie Klein
When the North Bay fires forced the cancellation of the Firefly Institute’s photo camp for women, a group of Menlo Park women came to the rescue, opening their homes for the four days of the camp to the 25 attendees.
“While Westerbeke Ranch, the camp’s location, was not in the evacuation area, the air quality was problematic,” explained Pam Sooge, the camp director. “Plus, it seemed important to keep the roads open to personnel needed to fight the fires. So we canceled the camp.”
But not quite! (see full article here)
Fabulous teacher Michelle Turner tells us more about how taking control of lighting techniques freed her to do her most creative work. Lighting can be intimidating, but Michelle’s approach leaves students unburdened by fear or by too much gear. Learn more about how Michelle developed her unshakeable confidence that “if there is no good light, I can still shoot. If there is no sun, I can make the sun.”
There are some exciting developments here at Firefly Institute. New classes, featured interviews, and yes, a sneak peek preview video! We want to keep you one step ahead, so you’re ready to go when you get to camp.
Special Announcement: New Class!
Annie Griffiths Teaches Photojournalism
Big news! In addition to her all-camp class, National Geographic photographer and Ripple Effect founder Annie Griffiths will be teaching a brand new class, Using Images to Tell a Story: Photojournalism & Documentary Photography.
This 3-hour course will be held from 9:15 am -12:15 pm on Saturday, October 14th. We expect this exciting class to fill up quickly, so register now to save your spot.
Interview with Laurie Klein
Inner Thoughts of a Life-Long Fine Art Photographer
Breathtaking photographer. Student of Ansel Adams. Game-changing teacher. We’re so fortunate to have Laurie Klein with us.
Of her teaching, she says, “I listen to people’s photographs. I act as a mirror. I will notice something in their work, reflect it back to them. Everyone has themes, visual ideas that they gravitate towards. But it can take someone else saying, ‘Hey, did you notice this?’ to help you realize it. Then, you declare it, own it, and put it in your tool box.”
Read the full interview with Laurie Klein, and discover insights that will transform your work.
Laurie’s classes are extremely popular, and two are expected to fill this week. Save your spot here!
An Inside Look at Camp Life
You’re probably wondering just what camp life is like. Well, now you get to see for yourself! For you, we’ve put together a video to share a bit of camp's energy and atmosphere.
Walk the paths, check out the classrooms, take in the exquisite view. Watch the Firefly Institute Video now, and discover just how magical your days here will be.
Camp is going to be filled with magic, learning, excitement, friendship, and discovery. Hope you’re as excited as we are. See you in two months!
Your Camp Director,
Kim Thompson Steel
Laurie Klein on Finding your Visual Voice
Laurie Klein’s wild hair and affection for quoting philosophers, poets, and writers signal a free spirit full of kindness and easy laughter. It’s one of the first things her students notice about her.
But Laurie Klein also works with a wavelength not visible to the naked eye. As an infrared photographer, she must know where the unseen light, reflections, and lines will appear in her images, how color, fabric and skin will display. And like her magnificent, mysterious works, Laurie herself contains more than what appears on the surface.
Hidden structure leads to inspiration and opportunity
“People think that I am that itinerant artist, that I just go with the flow. They don’t realize that there is a lot of structure behind everything I do,” she explains. “I plan it out. It is not haphazard.”
The first element of Laurie’s structure is a commitment to spend time on photography. Laurie points out gently, “Most of my students get upset because they don’t have time to shoot. We have busy lives, but it has to be a priority. It doesn’t have to be all day. It can be 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Any way to connect you to your creative process because you feel better and you will make more time for it.” Laurie has learned, from a lifetime in art, that taking this time is far from being about ego. “We have a tendency to think, ‘Oh, that’s low on the totem pole’ because it is self-serving. But it really isn’t. I know if I don’t shoot or look at my work a certain amount in the week I am not good at anything else.”
Second is the discipline to learn the rules and the tools of photography. Laurie frequently compares photography to the prescribed, specific process of baking or to the hard work of training for a marathon. “Today, people want to get into get creativity but they don’t want to learn the rules. They don’t realize that the people who are doing a great job of breaking the rules—it’s because they learned the rules first.” Photographers who haven’t learned the basics “aren’t in control. When you look at something and think, ‘I like this,’ it is accidental.”
In Laurie’s mind, the tools, the rules, and the process deliver inspiration that, from the outside, looks spontaneous. She explains that the tools are not simply physical and technical: your camera, lenses, and so on. Your interests and approach are also your tools.
You don’t have to discover your process alone
Laurie began her career as a biomedical infrared photographer. Early on, a teacher encouraged her to go beyond bio-medical work and to study with Ansel Adams. I asked what it meant to her to study with one of the world’s most iconic photographers. “It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much Ansel influenced me. He said you have a great eye, but technically you have a long way to go. I was good with that because I was going to college to learn the technical side.” At the time, Laurie admits, “I wanted to be like him, to be passionate about what I loved and do the best that I can.” And as an artist just getting started, “you just think it is cool” to study with someone like Adams. But “every year I feel more blessed from that experience. It was life changing, an incredible gift.”
As a result, Laurie is passionate about mentorship and teaching. The commitment to photographic craft is a tough one to make, and she doesn’t want students to feel they have to go it alone. An outside perspective is invaluable for helping artists discover their own visual voices.
When she works with students, Laurie says, “I listen to people’s photographs. I act as a mirror. I will notice something in their work, reflect it back to them. Everyone has themes, visual ideas that they gravitate towards. But it can take someone else saying, ‘Hey, did you notice this?’ to help you realize it.” Then “you can declare it, own it, and put it in your tool box.” It’s “instructive and so validating to have someone external say, ‘This is what I see here, this is what I see you doing.”
The experience, like training for a marathon, is not easy. Laurie knows that when “people come in to me, to a class, they have no idea how they are going to come out.” But just as she trusts her own process to deliver opportunity and inspiration at the right time, she trusts the experience of her classes: “I am good at listening to what people need. I plant seeds. Students may not be ready for it for a couple of years, but when they are ready, the seed is there.”
Laurie teaches four classes at Firefly Institute this October. Her classes are filling up fast, sign up now!
Greetings Photography Friends,
I hope you are enjoying your summer where ever it takes you. Last week I was visiting family and thinking a lot about people photography.
My father was a portrait and wedding photographer during my childhood. My first jobs were framing and hanging photographs in his studio. Now when visiting Dad we spend much of our time together looking at and making photos. Above all, he loves photos of people (and selfie sessions with his grandchildren).
Photographing people offers a world of possibilities; from the mystery of photographing those you’ve never met before, to the awesome feeling of capturing portraits of your friends, family, or loved ones.
Of course, we’ll be exploring these concepts at Firefly Institute. And guess what? As of TODAY we have 90 DAYS TO GO UNTIL FIRST DAY OF CAMP! Camp is filled with opportunities to learn and practice different approaches to photographing people. Let's look at a few.
Taking Pictures of Those You Don’t Know, in a Place You’re Not From…
When I asked Annie Griffiths what she’d like to teach all our campers, she didn’t hesitate, “taking pictures of people.”
Annie says photographers often start by taking pictures of landscapes, and then move on to photograph their family members. Taking pictures of others–maybe even strangers–can be a tough step to take.
But when you do take the leap, you have endless opportunities at your fingertips. Photo journalism holds a special wonder, because when you take pictures of those who are unfamiliar, you embark on a new and unexpected journey in your art.
Luckily for us, Annie will share her techniques on photo journalism in an all-camp class.
The Art of Taking Pictures of Yourself
Do you encourage (plead) others to let you photograph them without ever turning your lens on yourself? Why not take your own advice–play a role, think deeply about something, do something you love–and take your own picture! You will likely be surprised by the endless fascination and valuable information self-portraiture offers.
Our camp self-portrait specialists are Brooke Shaden & Meghan Davidson: While they have beautifully contrasting styles, Brooke Shaden and Meghan Davidson have both focused much of their work on exploring style and self through photography. Brooke often places herself in fantastical settings and Meghan explores the reality of who she is in the moment.
Check out our interviews with Brooke and Meghan on our blog!
PEOPLE IN A SETTING
Bringing the Environment into Your Portrait
Sometimes you are in a fabulous setting with the people you love most. There is so much to consider; the landscape, the faces, the light, and the mood. There is an art to bringing all these elements together to tell the story.
Two of our camp instructors focus on people in settings.
In her striking portraiture work, Laurie Klein demonstrates her singular dedication to vision, craft, and something she calls “photographic excavation”. Early in her career she studied with Ansel Adams, learning his techniques, dedication to craft, and most of all, the possibility of a profession filled with passion.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming interview with Laurie!
An accomplished portrait and wedding photographer, Michelle Turner has an incredible skill for keeping the light on both the people, and their impressive setting. She teaches lighting classes; focusing on lighting people in a variety of places and situations.
WE’LL SEE YOU SOON!!
What are your favorite people photographs to take? Do you love seeking out new and exciting situations where you don’t know anyone? Do you love taking self-portraits? While you’re out there experimenting this summer–don’t forget to follow your curiosity, style, and heart.
Here’s to the photographic adventures ahead! See you in JUST 90 DAYS, camp begins October 11TH!
If you haven’t yet signed up for camp: Register Now!
Your Camp Director, Pam Sogge
Meghan Davidson’s photography celebrates the authentic beauty of imperfection. Though she is an accomplished psychologist and professor, the persona of a driven academic fades away in her photographic work: here, she is creative and loving, a woman who energizes and supports all in her orbit.
Tell us a bit about your journey into photography.
Growing up, I did not consider myself a creative person. I was shamed by an art teacher in 2nd grade. On my report card she wrote, “Meghan has no artistic ability whatsoever and should stick with academic pursuits.” That criticism imprinted on me. I felt I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t do art. I got validated for doing well in school, and that is what I did.
10 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really took stock in life. So much of my success was measured by academics, getting a PhD, becoming a psychologist, a professor at a university. Cancer made me recognize “this is it.” I always loved art and music and surrounded myself with it, but I had to give myself permission to create. I started with a DSLR and a basic class and quickly moved to film.
Why are you drawn to film and Polaroid photography?
Film feels real to me. Taking 35 shots to get a picture that is “just so” isn’t my way. Film helps me remember and see beauty in that exact moment without redoing it. Accepting that the shot is what it is helps me be present and mindful.
There are imperfections in my photography that I like and want to keep. For example, I have a light leak in my camera--the lab repeatedly points it out--but I like my light leak and the dreamy feel it creates.
The imperfections become perfect in their own right.
Do you still feel the insecurity from being labeled not artistic as a child?
Yes--totally. But of course it is less than before.
How do we determine who we are and not let the words and judgements of other people identify us? Other people have a lot to say about how we live our lives, but those are just projections.
As a psychologist, I am invested in working with other people and this has translated to my own self-growth. We work together to come into who we are and who we can be.
What is your process for photographing others?
A lot of people aren’t comfortable having their picture taken. The first part of the process is getting them to say okay. I’ll tell them, “I just want to shoot. The photos don’t have to be for anything. I don’t have to post them, you don’t have to post them.”
Then, if someone lets me shoot them, I ask: “Can we play?” With film and a prime lens, I have to be moving, closer, farther away.
Sometimes I make up a story and ask people to get into a role, a character. I shot a couple next to an old vintage car and told them to think, “We’ve gotta blow this town!” Stories help people get out of their head and just play.
Or I ask them to go to an emotional place, whether it’s fictional or a really happy memory, or to think of someone they love. I have them make the internal space connection first. Then I say, “Look at me” and take the shot.
What can campers expect from your classes?
I create a comfortable and safe place. Writing and self portraiture can feel scary.
I create grounding first, and I share equally. I am along for the ride too – I share my writings, struggles, victories, and photos. In my classes, people always have the choice to share or not to share. It’s fun, I use a lot of humor. I hope campers will laugh and discover something new about themselves, explore part of their creativity they haven’t before--just try it on and play.
Last year at camp you were an enormous part of the fun, positive supportive energy at camp. Campers adored finding your “love bomb” sticky notes in unexpected places. Do you do this wherever you go?
There are different ways that we feel love and show love. For some it’s service, for others quality time, gifts or physical touch. For me it is words of affirmation. That is how I feel love and how I give love. When I was going through a divorce, when I was feeling low, I would write to friends across the country. It helped me focus on love.
My sisters (what I call my female friends) across the country and in Canada responded. They gave me so much love. I had to practice saying yes to take the love in. I went on a Love Campaign (a friend gave it that name). It makes me feel good – it makes me happy to send out cards and notes. Everyone is so happy to get a love bomb in the mail.
You really brought that to camp in a wonderful way.
Last year at camp, people received it. It was a reciprocal thing. I can create the space and then other people have to step into it. The campers co-created an upward spiral of love and community.
Join Meghan at camp this October in her classes:
Hey there, you visionary photographer!
As summer rolls in and the days get longer, it’s the perfect time to get outdoors exploring your art. Even better, it’s a great chance to think about your photo friends, and the adventures that lie ahead for you together at Firefly Institute!
Notes from the Road – Discover Insights from Pei Ketron!
Check out this inspiring interview with Firefly Institute founding teacher Pei Ketron. A photographer, teacher, traveler, and volunteer; she shares valuable thoughts on how to wait for the perfect moment, and her fascinating journey into the craft.
Pei also shares her experience at camp last year … “I walked up those stairs, and when I saw the location my jaw dropped. I said to myself, ‘This is amazing’ and then, instantly, I felt this was the right decision.”
Learn more about Pei’s 2017 classes: Composition 101, Social Media Best Practices for Photographers, and The Ins and Outs of iPhoneography. And of course, if you haven’t yet, join Pei this summer by registering now for the best class selection.
Wow! Check Out Your Photo Friends…
At camp with Firefly Institute, you’ll meet amazing people and get opportunities that will literally transform your craft, your life, and your career. Many people write to us to ask if camp would be right for them. Some wonder, “Am I experienced enough?” Others wonder if, as working photographers, camp would be challenging enough.
These are such great questions! Rest easy by browsing through our website, and reading testimonials from real campers. If the camp looks like fun – it is likely a good fit. 2016 campers included a wonderful mix of professionals and amateurs. Did they enjoy camp? Over 45% of our campers have already signed up to return this year – those returning are half amateurs and half working photographers.
We asked some of our registered campers to share their experiences, current projects, and what’s inspired them to attend or return this year! Check out some of these awesome answers:
A first-time camper this year, we can’t wait to meet Tisha!
“I am SO excited for camp,” she says, “the Firefly Institute appeals to me because It’s geared towards learning and connecting with others. And then there’s the chocolate chip cookies I read about.”
One great way to approach camp is with specific goals in mind. Tisha explained her vision for camp this year,
“I feel as if I’m finding my passion in photography again,” she says, “I consider myself a ‘natural light photographer’ (said with a pompous English accent) because I’m incredibly fearful of flash. Learning how to conquer this fear and gain the ability to take pictures at any time of day and in any lighting situation is empowering. I’m looking forward to meeting you!”
We’re so looking forward to seeing more of Tisha’s work, and welcoming her to the magic!
A returning Firefly participant, attending photo camp last year was a leap of faith for Elizabeth Roach-Molosky,
“…I had no idea what to expect,” she says, “I was 55 years old, I knew no one attending camp, I was going to share a cabin with complete strangers, and had never taken my camera off auto mode!”
After arriving, she discovered – and this is the best part of Firefly Institute – that she was an integral part of the community here, and fit right in!
“My fear of not knowing anyone changed instantly… the spirit of friendship and community in this group of women began with our first get together and grew throughout our time at camp…” she says, “I was a stranger when I arrived, but when I left Camp, I had 40 new friends, some of whom I’m in contact with to this day!”
First, congratulations to Iris Shields for her award at this year’s 32nd annual Chelsea International Fine Art Competition. We’re so thrilled! When we asked her what she’s currently working on, Iris told us,
“I’m still trying out different ‘disciplines’ and though I haven’t tried even half of what’s out there, right now I am really into flower portraits! Preferably with one of my fixed lenses and a super wide aperture.”
Iris’s photography is a powerful look at stunning moments and places, “I am in awe of life and the beauty of the world, especially the beauty in everyday things and/or little things.”
We can’t wait to meet Iris, and to see some of her current work!
Pauline attended Firefly last year, and we are so excited she’ll be here again this fall!
“Firefly camp was the most incredible photography experience I could have hoped for,” says Pauline, “I was nervous about attending because I assumed everyone else would be a professional, and I would be in over my head.”
And yet, the line between professional and amateur is secondary to community, creative process, and discovery here at Firefly.
“Once I arrived at camp and got to know people I was no longer concerned with who was a professional or an amateur,” she continues, “… Firefly camp isn’t about judgement or who might be the best photographer; it’s about growing and reaching your own goals.”
And Now, About You!
We are so excited to meet you, and welcome you the magic that is the Firefly Institute! You will be amazed by the friendships and connections you make here.
October is just around the corner. In the meantime, get out there in the sunshine and give yourself the time and space to experiment, create, and develop your wonderful work!
Photographer, teacher, traveler and volunteer Pei Ketron exudes quiet, human thoughtfulness, even in the crowded noisy café where we meet. It’s clear that she’s told her story before—16 years of shooting, a long path from special education teacher to Instagram influencer and accomplished professional photographer—but she tells it again, to me, as if it is the first time. Her ability to be present and mindful is an essential element of her unhurried, dynamic photography. “I have the patience to find something good and then wait for the right moment to make the image happen,” she says.
Pei’s journey through photography mirrors her approach to shooting: it was both considered and fortuitous. She majored in psychology and became a special education teacher. For ten years, she was in the classroom and photography was a hobby—though a particularly meaningful one for both Pei and her students. “I would take photos of my students and send them home. It can be really difficult to photograph kids with special needs, particularly more severe needs like the kids I was working with. So parents would say ‘Wow, we don’t have any nice photos of our kids, can we hire you to do a portrait session?’” Later, parents and colleagues started asking her to photograph their weddings.
She earned enough to buy photo gear and fund travel. “I made it a goal to leave the country once a year. Back then, coming from my background, it was a big thing to save enough money to travel every year.” As she traveled, Pei captured images for herself and shared them online.
She started planning a career transition and building a business around wedding and portrait photography, “because I knew that as the one way I could make money. I didn’t know anything about any other type of photography. I didn’t know about photo journalism, about editorial work, about shooting ad campaigns, agencies, none of that.” Even as she tried to build her business, she realized “that my best images, the ones that really made people go ‘wow’ were the ones I shot when traveling.”
Pei joined Instagram early because “it was fun and I loved sharing photos online,” and suddenly she was “in the right place at the right time.” Pei explains that she quickly gained an audience and then “I was well poised when the advertising market shifted and started looking at Instagram as a place to source photographers and hire photographers to do influencer campaigns. I was in on the influencer work from the beginning.” Part of this new path was “educating clients about the fact that we are photographers and we need fair wages.” She carved out a space for herself and gained almost a million Instagram followers at the same time.
For four years Pei has worked for clients such as Apple, Pfizer, Mercedes and Michael Kors. She was even featured in an Icelandic adventure advertisement for American Express.
Her professional success did not dim her enthusiasm for making a positive contribution in the world. “There is a large part of me that is drawn to working with the underserved, or generally to be doing work that makes a positive change in the world. I felt strongly I was doing that when I was teaching, and I don’t always feel that when I am taking photos – but it is the driving force behind me in photography and the choices that I have made over the years.” The humanity Pei sees and feels in the world is evident in her work; her images are filled with compassion and respect. She has also contributed her time and skills to organizations such as Save the Children, Unicef, and currently Catchlight and Lalafofofo.
Pei kept her passion for teaching, too. She is proud to be a founding teacher at Firefly Institute’s Photo Camp for Women—though she wasn’t sure about Firefly at first. “I had some concerns about women’s photo camp. I didn’t know what kind of experience it would be, it was a total unknown,” Pei agreed to join because of her own commitment to teaching photography and because of the energy of camp founder Hillary Sloss. When she arrived at camp in 2016, she says, “I checked in at the registration table in the parking lot, and then I walked up those stairs, and when I saw the location my jaw dropped. I said to myself, ‘This is amazing’ and then, instantly, I felt this was the right decision.”
For Pei, camp was a “cozy experience” where campers get to know each other in an intimate beautiful setting while they explore the world of photography to see where their interests lie. Her recommendation for new campers is “to push yourself to take classes you wouldn’t normally take: you will probably find yourself surprised with the results.”
Pei’s classes are Composition 101, Social Media Best Practices for Photographers, and of course, The Ins and Outs of iPhoneography. The phone has become an exceptional camera and Pei, who was featured in Apple’s Shot on iPhone 6 billboard campaign, is an expert in how to get the most from it. The first part of Pei’s class is the full functionality of the native iPhone camera. She finishes with shooting and editing apps and guides students to put all they’ve learned into practice. “People have no idea that their iPhone, with no other apps, can do all this stuff. That’s a big eye-opener for them.”
Camp is October 11-15, 2017. Register soon to secure your top class choices.
Summer is just around the corner – bringing tons of photo opportunities with it. Below, you’ll find a collection of awesome insights, exciting news, and friendly tips to keep you energized through the coming months.
Most exciting for us, October and Firefly Institute are only five months away!! There are a just a few spots left for this year’s camp. Haven’t registered yet? Reserve your place today at the Firefly Institute Website.
In the meantime, here are some exciting notes to jump-start your creative process…
Unlock Your Creativity…
Check out this must-read interview with Firefly Institute teacher Brooke Shaden! Her amazing series, The Fourth Wall was recently on display at the Joanne Artman Gallery in NYC. Brooke is an inspiration. Read this fascinating interview to discover some of her creative secrets.
Discover Big Insights…
Our Keynote speaker, Annie Griffiths, is sharing her speech “If you want to go far, go together” at Collaborations for Cause later this week. There are still tickets available, or simply visit Annie’s website to discover talent and kindness in one amazing artist!
And Now, About You!
We are so excited to see you at Firefly Institute. Your creativity, ideas, and inspiration are truly what make this camp so amazing. Start connecting with new and old friends at the Firefly Institute Facebook Page!
If you’re on the beginner side of the photography continuum, you’re in for a treat! You will learn, be supported, and get inspired by your teachers and fellow campers every single day.
And that’s the thing that makes Firefly Institute so special. We’re brought together by a deep love of photography, and empower and energize each other along the way. We truly can’t wait to see you at camp!
Here’s to a beautiful spring and summer of photography ahead!
Your Camp Director
Interview with Firefly Institute Teacher Brooke Shaden
Brooke Shaden is known for mysterious fine art images imbued with a dark fantasy. Her subjects levitate, submerge, shed rose petals and blend with smoke and trees. The women are always real, and are often self-portraits of Brooke herself; it is the settings and the secrets they disclose or hide that are otherworldly. A viewer can return to her depthless images again and again, finding more to see each time.
Brooke’s latest series The Fourth Wall was recently on display at the Joanne Artman Gallery in New York City. I spoke with Brooke about the series and her process for creating it. We also talked about teaching, learning the practice of creativity and, of course, Firefly Institute’s fall photo camp for women.
I read that when you prepared for this Fourth Wall series you asked others to tell you what they felt they couldn’t tell other people. How did you use that in your work on this series?
I asked people, very simply, “If you met a stranger right now, what do you feel you couldn’t tell that person, what would be the thing that you wouldn’t want them to see?”
There were two common answers. One was a feeling of loneliness. The other answer was feeling trapped—by themselves, by time, by their circumstance. We all feel that way at some point in our lives, like there’s some unseen force holding us back.
I pulled a lot of inspiration from those conversations.
When you asked others the question, did anyone ask you?
Yeah, definitely. What I don’t like to tell people about is feeling fragile, feeling like I am weak or that people view me that way. So I wanted to deal with fragility in one of the images.
I had this image planned in the series from quite early on where I knew I was going to do a self-portrait and have that be my very personal image in the series. It’s an image that features egg shells.
And how did you feel after that—not just sharing with other people, but creating the self-portrait with the thing you don’t like to share with others?
I felt proud. Once you communicate the thing that scares you the most then suddenly you realize that nothing is that big of a deal and, not only that, but everyone feels similarly. They might not use the word fragility to describe themselves, but nonetheless there is a feeling of being less somehow, in most people, somewhere in their life.
When I attended the big gallery opening, to talk to people about it, and say, “This is my picture, this is me, this is my emotion,” and then hear people’s responses was powerful. And the response is always, “Me too.” That’s what everybody says.
In your New York gallery opening, you had a glamorous setting very different from these intimate conversations that inspired your work. You were on display! People were all dressed up.
It is quite a different experience, and of course I showed up looking like a little pixie, so out of place!
I know that in pretty much any situation, I am going to be the weirdo in the room. That has just been my experience for the last few years! Any convention where I speak, I’m always saying something quite drastically different than most of the speakers there. I have come to embrace that element of surprise with people when I’m talking to them. If I am going to be in a social situation--which I don’t generally like, I am a very shy, timid person a lot of the time--so if I am going to be in that situation I am going to embrace it fully. I like to walk right up to people and ask what their greatest passion is, or what they feel they can’t tell other people.
They don’t expect me to just ask outright: “How do you relate to this, or what are your innermost workings?” But that, to me, is always the best part of a social engagement.
You talk about yourself as being shy, and then you come to this place where you love sharing yourself really authentically. There’s a journey there. How did that come about?
I started to realize that nobody cares about me, in a really good way. Not poor me nobody cares about me, but strangers don’t care about me. I care about me more than any of those people do, so as long as I can get over my embarrassment and fear there is nothing to worry about. It was very freeing to realize that, at best, I’m going to be somebody’s fun dinnertime story at the end of the day.
Let’s talk about your teaching a little bit. You have this wonderful fine art career: why also teach?
I wanted to be a teacher from the earliest I could remember. I have always loved the idea of exploring something with somebody. And I love anybody who is willing to learn because I find that I myself am not always so willing. I love meeting people who are, and who seek to know themselves more through their art.
You say that you can learn creativity, is that right?
Yes, I definitely think so.
Creativity happens when you are able to access yourself with no outside inspiration and come up with something to create. If you simply spend the time doing things that force you to look inward, then you will find that something creative comes out of it.
You’ve got four classes at Firefly Institute camp: From Blank Space to Beautiful Image, Video Storytelling, Creating a Levitation Image, and Creative Compositing.
Pick one of those and talk about what you would like students to feel and to learn and to do.
The Blank Space to Beautiful Image class--that is one of my favorite topics because when you say, “We’re going to start from nothing and we are going to make something from that,” it’s a very interesting process to watch. Some people really thrive from that place of having a blank canvas. And other people really freak out because they would like some sort of inspiration already. What’s so beautiful with this class is that we are going to start from the ground up. We are going to learn techniques where you can build a set with no budget, you can composite even if you don’t know Photoshop that well. We are going to go on a journey, where we all start from nothing and get to the creation of a well-rounded fine art image.
Why are you excited about being part of Firefly Institute’s Photography Camp for Women?
There is a certain vulnerability in a space that is all women. You will be understood more intimately than would happen in an impersonal situation.
I also love the camp style: this little contained space where you are with people who inherently understand you because you are there for the same reason and have the same passion. It is a bond and sisterhood that is just phenomenal and I am so excited for it.
My daughter is almost always right. She picks the best food at restaurants, wears the right thing, always knows which direction to turn. So last year, when my daughter announced, "You should like your job as much as you like vacation," I listened. I made the move to work at Firefly Institute.
Firefly Institute's 2016 camp was an actual vacation for me. I shared the quiet sunrise above the fog with fellow campers, learned new lighting, editing, and compositing skills, and enjoyed time for quiet self-exploration. I talked, sang, and laughed with all the wonderful women at camp
Of course, working at Firefly Institute is ... not like vacation. It takes coordination, attention to detail, follow-up, research, scheduling: all things that are, in fact, very much like work.
But my daughter did not charge me to find work that was vacation; she wanted me to find work that I liked as much as I like vacation. Everything I do as the Director of Firefly Institute is to extend an opportunity to women to explore their photography and creativity in the company of other fabulous women. And it helps that I love all the parts and pieces that go into making that possible
I love finding and talking to inspirational teachers. Take a look at the work of Laurie, Brooke, Pei, Meghan, Suzanne, Courtney, and Michelle: each has such a distinct visual voice. In addition to her talent, each of these teachers is generous in spirit and wants her students to learn and grow.
I love organizing the class schedules. I wish that I, and all of you, could take every class. Check out a few of the classes and you’ll see why I’m so excited about the 2017 schedule.
I even love the logistics of managing our time at Westerbeke Ranch. Camp is more than the classes. It's about fun, music, and laughter. A visit to the Testimonials page gives a sense of the community, creativity, and inspiration last year’s campers found– and how much they enjoyed the wonderful food!
Directing Firefly Institute is not a vacation; but, lucky me, I love it just as much!
your 2017 Camp Director
Please forgive me for taking so long to write to you ... As soon as camp was over, it was time to start planning for NEXT year!
Rest assured that returning Fireflies will be able to pre-register for next year's camp. Pre-registration will open in early February; camp is October 11-15, 2017. We think camp will fill quickly next year, so remind your friends they'll need to sign up early to get a spot when regular registration opens. We'll keep you posted on classes, teachers, registration dates and other details.
Camp happened a month ago and my heart is still so full ... I hope each and every one of you knows you shined your light to help create the magical time that was Firefly Institute 2016 ... Meaningful connections, belly laughs, stunning property, amazing food, warm light, with such awesome women ... and our teachers above and beyond generous and kind!
You made my dream come true well beyond the way I had envisioned it. Thank you, truly, from the top to the bottom of my heart.
And you know how we grow and evolve and dreams change? Well, my new dream features an organic/biodynamic farm with chickens, goats, and a giant vegetable garden, maybe with a B&B or farming classes. What do I know about farming? Nada! But I didn't know anything about running a photo camp, either. I figure if I can run a camp, I can learn how to become a farmer, too.
I was hoping to find a terrific new Camp Director for Firefly Institute, and guess what? The absolutely perfect person showed up! I am so pleased to announce that the new Camp Director of Firefly Institute is Pam Sogge!
As you know, Pam was a Camp Counselor this year. I have known Pam since college at Lewis & Clark. She is super smart, thoughtful, organized, kind and downright hilarious. She has been involved in photography forever ... at her father's photography studio, forming a digital imaging company, running marketing for Lightroom at Adobe, and attending Camp! Pam was involved in Firefly from the beginning – I talked to her about my ideas, she helped me with strategy, and she introduced me to Julianne. Pam has a marketing consulting business and she has been looking to increase her connection to photography in her work. You see - It's a perfect fit for her, for me, and for Firefly Institute!
Please welcome Pam and give her the same love you have so generously given to me! Here's a message from Pam:
Hello Fireflies – I watched Hillary hatch, build and live her dream of a women’s photography camp. I am honored and excited to help that dream live on, and to host a camp that makes Hillary (who will be a camper herself next year) proud. Next year, this year’s activities will become traditions. We will get to welcome back teachers, take classes we missed, meet new teachers, hang out with friends new and old.
Mark your calendars – it’s only 10 months away!
Love and good cheer,
Pam, Your 2017 Camp Director
Sending big hugs and much love from Camp HQ,
Hills and Pam (email@example.com)
Camp is now at capacity and we will be filling all the beds at Westerbeke Ranch! The reason to celebrate is that we have a fabulous group of women coming to camp! We are 42 campers (including 5 camp counselors) + 5 resident teachers + me! We also have 4 teachers coming in to teach one or two classes. Some stats on our campers:
- Ages 35 - 72
- From 12 states
- 1 from New Zealand!
- Encompassing a wide range of experience with photography offering many perspectives!
The reason I wanted to host two camps each year (Fall camp for more experienced photographers and Spring camp for beginner-beginners) was to offer the appropriate classes to each group of photographers. In our upcoming November camp, we have photographers coming with a wide range of experience and EVERYONE is welcome.
Camp is a non-competitive sport! Remember that I come from the very competitive and male world of photojournalism? One of the reasons for making this camp all-female was to remove the element of masculine competitiveness. My deepest hope is for Firefly Institute to be a welcoming, nurturing, safe space for all women photographers, regardless of experience with photography.
I've been hearing campers' concerns about their level of experience, as well as other concerns. I'm writing today to hopefully put these concerns and fears to rest.
Some of the fears I've heard about coming to camp:
- I'm intimidated by such talented photographers
- I'm probably the least experienced photographer
- Coming to camp is way outside my comfort zone
- I'm scared to share a room with strangers
- I need peace and quiet and time alone
While we're at it, I'll share some of my own:
- What if camp is a complete flop?
- I'm not funny or witty enough to host this whole thing
- I'm scared I'll get so excited/ungrounded, I'll speak too loudly or quickly
- Yikes, bathing suit!
All of these thoughts that go unchecked in our minds ... They are unfounded insecurities. They are not true! Let's catch ourselves when these painful comparing thoughts come up and turn our minds toward something positive. I know, easier said than done. There are things we can do, though, read on ...
Comparison is so human. We view others' photographs and decide ours suck. We see everyone's "perfect" lives on Facebook and feel like failures. We see her body and criticize our own. We do this all the time, hardly conscious of our inner dialogues and the damage we do to ourselves, unaware of the way this causes us to be small and timid. "Comparison kills creativity and joy. Stay in your own lane." - Brene Brown
Regarding experience levels with photography at camp ... This is not a competition. There is no portfolio review. There is no one you need to impress. There will always be people with more and those with less experience than us. Can we remember that we are here to learn from those with more experience and to share our experience with those with less experience? Can we remember that we each need to find a way to be comfortable with where we are on our photographic journey? On our life's journey?
If you think someone's photo is fabulous ... Instead of comparing yourself and your work to hers, ask her how she made that photo! Tell her you find it beautiful/interesting/insightful... Tell her you'd love to try and make a photo like that, that she has inspired you!
Regarding coming to camp ... Of course it can feel awkward -- for all of us -- to suddenly live/eat/sleep/learn with others. What can we do to ease the awkwardness? How can we help each other and ourselves?
- Try reaching out instead of letting shyness take over
- Be kind and generous to each other and to ourselves
- Offer a hug -- ask for a hug
- Treat each other gently (every one of us is harboring pain and challenges ... relationship issues, health issues, self-confidence issues, etc)
- Be accepting of people's idiosyncrasies and our own
- Keep sharing your fears/concerns. When you share them, you release them!
- Assume that we love each other -- warts and all -- already (so we don't waste time, because we WILL love each other before this thing is over!)
- Watch Firefly Teacher and Camp Love Guru Meghan Davidson's talk on exactly this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPdB8OYnNzQ.
I just returned from a grand vacation in France. On the plane ride home, I read a quote that has stayed with me: "Go toward those who love you."
So let us befriend each other, shower each other with kindness, and have fun in the process. We all love photography so much, we find creative freedom and the joy of self-expression doing it. Let's celebrate that, love each other, and put our concerns to rest. We're gonna have a great time together!
“Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
- Dr. Suess
Here is our fourth in a series about a few of our photo campers ... Who they are and why they are coming to camp.
Ready for her Close Up, here is Louann Brizendine (with a few of her photographs):
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 63 years old, mother of a 27-year-old son, wife of a neuroscientist, author of “The Female Brain” and “The Male Brain” and a retired doctor.
How did you first get into photography?
I had been avidly taking cell phone camera photos for several years and for my retirement gift, my husband bought me a real camera.
How do your previous career and your photography intersect?
They did not intersect at all, that was the whole point!
How does your "female brain" apply to your photography?
Hmmm, not sure I know if it does, but I know that the guy photographers I meet seem like a different breed than me; which is ok, but they do like to gear-head out a lot and one-up each other as often as possible ... Just sayin’ not judging.
What are the benefits of attending an all-female creative workshop?
Well, well well, see my answer to the previous question!
Why did you register for Firefly Institute? What part of photo camp are you most excited about?
All of it, I have so much to learn! And since I have been doing it for two years now, I have already hit some motivation-blocks so I hope to get inspired and see how others approach their photography. I met Hillary at Rancho La Puerta and then we both lived in Marin and joined the same photographers’ group in Mill Valley.
Thank you, Louann, for sharing yourself with us!
I know first-hand that Louann is an excellent and generous hugger. Photo campers, get ready for Louann's hugs!
You can read more about Louann on her website.
Here is our third in a series about a few of our photo campers ... Who they are and why they are coming to camp. In this case, our camper is also a "camp counselor" which means that she will participate as a camper in all classes and activities, as well as assume the role of helping other campers in her cabin acclimate to camp life.
Ready for her close up, here is Staci Kennelly (with a few of her film photographs):
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I am a film photographer living in Los Angeles. After homeschooling my three girls for the last 23 years and graduating them all from high school, this Fall I am going back to school myself. I am married to a film photographer, so I always have a partner ready to go out and shoot a roll or two.
How did you first get into photography and in particular, film photography? What do you most enjoy about shooting film?
While on a trip to Ireland with my husband, we started fighting over who got to use the one camera we owned. Everywhere we went, we wanted to shoot. When we got home, we bought one more camera, and we have been addicted to the craft ever since. I started shooting film when one of our friends bought a film camera and started telling us how much he was enjoying it. I love how shooting film has become a time of meditation for me. Shooting film forces me to slow down and really think about each shot. It has made me a better photographer.
What is the Viewfinders collective? How did you get involved?
Viewfinders consists of 15 photographers dedicated to recording the world around us. We have a beautiful manifesto that I personally go back to over and over again to remind myself why I shoot. I was honored to be asked to join over a year ago at its formation. They are a group of photographers that continue to inspire me.
Are you a professional photographer? Why do you make pictures?
I have struggled with the word “professional” for some time. I have shown my photography work in galleries in Pasadena, Malibu, and Los Angeles. I have been featured in magazines. I have sold my images through stock companies and the monies earned pay for my film habit. But do I live off the money made from photography? Do I think of it as a job? No. I would be afraid of losing the love of it. Photography is my passion. It is how I find the deeper places of myself. I take pictures for me, and it would be hard for me to change that right now.
Why did you register for Firefly Institute? What part of photo camp are you most excited about?
I am beginning a season of my life of finding myself and my passions. After being a homeschool mom for so long, I am excited to see what else life holds for me. I know that photography is part of that. And because of that, I want to get better at creating images. I feel like this camp is a great opportunity for me to not only learn new things but have time for myself. I am in awe of the talent who will be offering classes at camp. I can’t wait to learn from such inspiring ladies.
What appeals to you about being a "camp counselor" at photo camp?
I was a big nerd growing up. My experiences of camp involved being left out and picked on. And while we are all grownups at Firefly, it is easy for the “little girl” in each of us to be afraid and intimidated. My heart wants each woman to feel welcomed and included. I also look forward to making new friends who share the same passion as I do. I am also looking forward to the wine tasting, because wine.
Thank you, Staci, for sharing yourself and your world with us ... We look so forward to meeting you in person at camp!
You can read and see more of Staci's film and digital photographic work on her website.
I hope you're well and having an enjoyable summer in whatever way makes you happy!
We here at Firefly Institute HQ decided to give you a close up view of several of our photo campers. We thought you'd like to learn more about what kind of person attends a creative retreat or photo camp, and why?
Ready for her close up, here is Leigh Love:
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I was born and raised and still live in Oklahoma City. I have two children Jack (13) and Molly (10) and I've been married for almost 18 years. I am a landscape designer with my own design/build business. I have an interesting family dynamic, "officing" in my family art gallery The Howell Gallery along with my interior designer mother, architect father and gallery director sister. I feel very lucky to be surrounded with such creative vibes every day.
What's the most interesting thing about having the last name "Love"?
I would like to think that having Love as a last name makes me a little more approachable. I get comments every day about what a cool name I have. The worst thing is when I introduce myself "Leigh (pronounced Lee) Love" and people think I’m saying Lela. The alliteration of my name drives me crazy!
How do your landscape design and photography intersect?
I spend my days creating outdoor spaces for people who want to extend their living beyond the walls of their house, so being in nature is part of my daily routine. Not only do I get to draw plans and render them with beautifully colored markers, but I also get to be at the nursery selecting the plants. I spend time evaluating the light of an area and what textures and colors to put together. It has always felt natural to capture it with my camera as I experience it. I like to seek out beauty that might otherwise be overlooked. Being in nature with my camera is a meditative experience for me.
What is the Focusing On Life collaborative? How did you get involved?
Focusing on Life was started in January 2012 by a group of women photographers who were connected through Tracey Clark's Big Picture photography classes and Shutter Sisters. Our goal is to create a caring community for people who are passionate about photography and life. We hope for our blog to be a place that will inspire, teach, nurture, support and accept one another; a place where we can grow in our craft and as individuals. Fellow camper Kelly Ishmael is one of my FOL sisters :-). We all take turns blogging every other week.
What's your experience shooting for Stocksy?
I was accepted to Stocksy in April 2013 shortly after it was started. The first year there were 10,000 applicants and only 500 artists selected. I felt very honored to have been chosen (and honestly…a bit surprised!). What I love about Stocksy is that it's an artists' co-op. We are compensated fairly for our licensed images and also share in the profits. It's not easy shooting for stock as their aesthetic isn't always what I tend to shoot. I've learned that not every image I submit will be accepted, so it's been a learning curve for a sensitive soul like myself in dealing with rejection.
Why did you register for Firefly Institute? What part of photo camp are you most excited about?
I registered for Firefly Institute because I feel like I've stalled out a bit as a photographer. I want to jump-start that passion again and continue to learn and grow. I'm most excited about connecting with like-minded women and learning from each other. Plus five days to myself in Northern California in a camp-like environment with my camera sounds like heaven!
Thank you, Leigh, for sharing yourself and your world with us ... We look so forward to meeting you in person at camp!
You can see more of Leigh's photographic and landscape work on her website.