Brea Souders – Brooklyn
Professional photography has taken a turn in the digital age, becoming more instant and deviating from the lengthy process it once was. The inception of smartphones and social media has usurped the art world, as users replace dark rooms with filters and imagination with a hashtag. But like every mainstream trend, there are counteractive movements that, at their core, reject the upload culture that has made traditional photography seem completely archaic. Perusing photo-sharing site Flickr will welcome an endless scroll of photography’s second coming – people who use film and physical cameras, people who still use a darkroom, and people who combine old and new techniques like this week’s featured artist.
Brea Souders doesn’t spontaneously snap away at a subject hoping for a good shot to share instantly with friends. To Souders, photography is a personal and intimate form. “In many of my images, I use materials that I grew up with or that are tied to memory in some way.” The young New York City-based artist has a style that is difficult to pin down. Her images have that high-art, museum quality that is absent in much of the over-processed art world today. Using strategically placed objects, ambiguous settings, and compositions that exist outside of the realm of time, her personal work can only be placed among the avant-garde – a space left to the aesthetically sublime, the strangely ineffable work that cannot be broken down into critique.
Souders’ photography might be the perfect marriage of old and new – rooted in tradition while exploring the digital frontier. Her projects like “Counterforms,” a series that utilizes mixed-mediums, Impressionist pastels, vintage photographs, and digitally enhanced manipulation techniques, prove that there is a place for both in the vast and growing world of aesthetics. We spoke with Souders to discover more about what it is to be a photographer the 21st century. Read the interview below.
BANGSTYLE: How did you become a photographer?
Brea Souders: Like many people, I signed up for an introductory photography course in high school, and I loved it right away. Having already been interested in psychology, design, and chemistry, I liked that I could incorporate all of these interests into my photographic work. My mother was a painter, and I was fortunate to be surrounded with art as a child. None of this is to say it came easily, and I think the best way to become anything is to work and work and work some more and to ignore the naysayers.
BANGSTYLE: Your work has appeared in huge publications like Vice, New York Magazine, and Vogue Paris. Do you approach commissioned work differently than your personal work?
Brea Souders: I generally have a more light-hearted approach to commissioned work, as I feel less exposed when I’m working on something that isn’t directly about my personal interests. I like the collaborative aspect of assigned work and brainstorming ideas with others. I recently photographed a look book for a fashion label, and their spring collection featured these beautiful fabrics modeled after whale-shark skin and the bright colors seen in tropical flora and fauna. The set was filled with beautiful plants, luscious dragon fruit, and abstract sea life cut-outs. To prepare for the shoot, I spent a lot of time in the picture collection at the New York Public Library researching plants and sea creatures. Even though not all of the ideas that we explored were used in the end, the assignment really got into my head and fed into my personal creative pursuits as well.
BANGSTYLE: What is your technique when photographing? Do you still use a dark room, or have you welcomed the digital age?
Brea Souders: I have a hands-on approach to image making and enjoy working with materials in a studio setting. I like to watch images develop slowly, as you can when working in a darkroom. Maybe this is why I’m drawn to using paint and collage in my work, building up an image over time rather than snapping it in an instant. The final images are adjusted digitally and are then printed on Photo Rag paper.
BANGSTYLE: Your recent work seems to deviate from your earlier work in terms of color and composition. In earlier work, you used stark colors and stationary objects, and in your new work, there seems to be more movement and emotion. Can you pinpoint a feeling or an emotion that resulted in your latest photos?
Brea Souders: My recent work is more personal in nature, while in “Islands and Streams,” I look outward and depict dream fragments taken from the journals of well-known writers, scientists, philosophers, and others. “Counterforms” was inspired by a desire to connect with my mixed European ancestry and is a study of the self in relation to geography, history, and time. This has been a period in my life where I feel I’m growing more than usual, absorbing more, and expanding my perspective. I believe that the luminous color and sense of motion you mentioned reflects these feelings.
BANGSTYLE: There seems to be themes of life and death in your work, especially in your more recent series. Are these subjects that you attempt to explore in your photographs? What are other themes that you explore?
Brea Souders: My most recent work came after the death of my mother and is also inspired by my studies in hypnosis and the unconscious. In many of my images, I use materials that I grew up with or that are tied to memory in some way. I’m interested in the idea of harsh light illuminating things only to make them more confusing, uncertain, mysterious.
BANGSTYLE: You photograph everything — from people to shells to landscapes. How do you choose your subjects?
Brea Souders: I work with models and materials such as plants, fabric, paint, plaster casts, and magazine/book cut-outs with the goal to create images that are visually as well as psychologically compelling. Many of the objects that I work with have significant meaning in my life. Sometimes it’s the dialogue between elements in one image that interests me; for instance, in the photograph “French Bed and Moon” I was trying to fix two separate places and moments in time together forever. I like to see what I can pull from any given subject matter and what it pulls out of me.
BANGSTYLE: Some of your images seem to channel the surrealists. I’m referring specifically to the “Constellation” series. Where did you draw influence for these photographs?
Brea Souders: In these photographs, I’ve re-purposed works that I created many years ago to make them relevant to my current life and interests. There were so many things that I made long ago, things that I didn’t relate to anymore, just sitting in my flat files. I had to do something about that. The images were made by collaging my previous photographs together, bending images to create sculptural forms, adding flash or new lighting effects, or manipulating them in other ways. Other images in this series present simple objects that represent a specific time and memory from my past such as in “Paint Samples” and “Rubberband”; I view these as re-purposed works as well.
BANGSTYLE: What music do you bring along with you on a shoot?
Brea Souders: I’m always in the mood to listen to Kate Bush, Air, or Philip Glass. If I’m working alone, I will listen to the same 10 songs in my studio all day as I’ve found it helps me concentrate. This tends to bore other people though; so if I’m working with others, I’ll usually ask them to create a play-list that they like.
BANGSTYLE: Tell us about your life in Brooklyn.
Brea Souders: I love Brooklyn! Ice cream at the Brooklyn Farmacy, after eating Senegalese fried chicken for brunch at a-bistro. I’ll admit that outside of the people here, most of my Brooklyn loves are food-related. On days off, I may go to a Russian spa in Brighton Beach or picnic with a friend in a park or on my rooftop. I live in northern Brooklyn, and my studio is located in my apartment building; so I’m able to get a lot of work done, even in the middle of the night when I tend to still be awake. This part of Brooklyn has a lot going on, art-wise, with upstart galleries popping up all the time, and the annual Bushwick Open Studios is always a nice, informal way to see what people are working on.
BANGSTYLE: What’s next for you in 2012? Do you have any exhibitions that you want Bangstyle readers to know about?
Brea Souders: A few current and upcoming shows:
Exhibition in NYC: The Wild & The Innocent, curated by Jordan Sullivan, Clic Gallery, up now through April 17.
Photography Projection in Los Angeles: Pro’jekt LA: New Research, presented by Month of Photography LA, The Standard Hotel, Hollywood, CA, April 17, from 7- 10pm, curated by Stephanie Gonot
Exhibition/Festival in France: Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography at the Villa Noailles, April 27 – 30, with the exhibition running until May 27.
Art Fair in NYC: Affordable Art Fair, Uprise Art booth, April 18 – 22.