Interview With Jen Brook - A Model And An Artist
DIYP: Can you tell us about your background and how you got into the modelling world?
Having worked in retail throughout my University years to fund the required books and beer, it was my first point of call for full time work returning to England in late 2009. I had been living in Melbourne, Australia and travelling around the world and enjoying the freedom and variety of my youth.
After the first year, I felt like my vivid brain was beginning to melt. All the creativity induced by the vibrant sights and sounds I'd been exposed to travelling, were gradually being sucked out of me and replaced by the monotony of the rat race: sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, work...
I was lucky to work for a good company but it wasn't where my heart belonged. I was on a steady spiral downwards finding the weight of life's expectations grinding me down. I'd always thought I'd go to Uni, get a degree, leave Uni, get a well paid job, get married, have a beautiful house (with an island in the kitchen) and have two perfect children who never ever cried...and all before I turned thirty. Four years on I still hadn't found that path and was finding my 'direction' much harder than it was promised.
By January 2010 I was in a very bad place. I was gratefully given sabbatical leave from my job and lived off my savings to give my brain a chance to get itself together. It's a dark time in my life I hope I never ever see again yet it's presence has shaped my future.
How I fell into modelling was all a bit of an accident. I actually detest the term 'model', it always derives assumptions of blonde haired, big busted bimbos of very little intelligence. I very rarely tell people that's what I do. It's not that I am ashamed, I love my job, it's the connotations it incurs.
In February 2011, my sister was asked by her friend to be a willing model for part of her styling degree course. She asked me to go with her. When we arrived we discovered it was a hair shoot at Stephen James Hair in Morecambe...they asked me how I would feel about going blonde for their shoot. By this point I was ready for a new look in my life and so bored by everything in my life that I didn't give it a second thought in replying 'yeah go for it'.
The photographer on board was Gary Hill. Looking back at myself in the mirror I was left speechless in shock. The difference in my appearance after the make up artist and hair team had transformed me was amazing. It had taken all day to lighten my dark brown hair and at 4pm it was my time to shoot. I was incredibly nervous about being in front of the camera but inside I was on fire, shining brighter than any star. I loved it.
Gary asked me if I'd like to come to his studio the following weekend to do a few pictures of my own. I was dubious thinking it would turn into some sort of money venture (being the sceptic that I am) but I was over the moon when it turned out to be an act of kindness by a man who saw some potential and one that I now, cannot thank enough.
Since that day, my inner confidence has soared and in just two years I have done hundreds of shoots for many commercial companies, been featured several times by Vogue Italia, had my face on advertising graphics, been on bookcovers, various magazines both in my own country and internationally and in Brick Lane Art Gallery in London. Most of all, I have worked with some of the best known models, make up artists and photographers that I have looked up to throughout my career, traveled all over and pushed myself much further in terms of personal feats than I ever dreamed possible.
DIYP: And how is this going for you?
I've had so much support from so many people and am still amazed that after starting a Facebook page at Christmas that it has over 3000 fans already.
So far this year I am set to model not only all over Britain but also in Iceland, Canada, France and with others in the pipeline. I write a blog on my adventures that recently went viral in March with a post titled 'Dear photographer, kindest regards, Model xxx' that was seen by over 50,000 people as well as reposts by Petapixel, Fstoppers and SLR Lounge...and reposted by many big names in the industry. It's follow up as you know 'Dear Model...kindest regards, Other Model xxx' had 11,000 hits in its first 24 hours and has again be featured on the above websites as well as been translated into several languages across the globe (and it's not even been a week since I posted it yet!).
I am currently focused on a project I am creating with various photographers titled the 'Dreamcatcher Project'. It's a conceptual photography based series inspired by such people as Rosie Hardy, Brooke Shaden, Kirsty Mitchell and Alex Stodard. I hope one day to have my own collection of images in a gallery like Tim Walker. I've recently been given my first DSLR camera by photographer Lauri Laukkanen, so who knows what the future may hold for me...I'd love to shoot an image of my own to join the series one day. Then I will be a model, writer and fine art photographer....ha, imagine that! That is the dream...and perhaps one day the term 'model' will then bring about different assumptions...and perhaps one day I'll be seen as more than 'just a model'.
DIYP: Your description reads the following: "I consider myself an artist trapped inside the body of one who cannot paint...so instead, I model.". Can you explain that?
JB: Basically...I can't draw! I loved art at school but I could never really do it. I had creative ideas I desperately wanted to transfer to paper and found it so frustrating when all this energy came out as nothing but a stick man. Modelling allows me to express that freedom and to create that picture in camera. Do I consider this to be second best to what I originally wanted? Not now, no, I love what I do.
DIYP: Can you tell us what goes into a shoot from the model's side?
JB: I guess it depends on the genre of your modelling style. Many agency models working several commercial shoots per week will be sent to jobs regardless of pre-shoot communication. For me, I work freelance so every shoot is an in-depth discussion about what the photographer aims to achieve as well as start times, location, styling etc.
With regards to what goes into a shoot for a model....it's not just the experience of knowing how to pose with flow (moving from shape to shape seamlessly), it's keeping your body in the condition you are advertising yourself at, the self promotion, the travelling, the collecting of clothes/shoes/accessories for shooting in and of course your own personal projects to keep your portfolio up to date. Just like photographers, there is much more time and money that goes into modelling than the basic 8 hour days you are actually shooting for.
DIYP: What are you looking for in a photographer when you pick your jobs?
JB: For me, attitude is everything. If there is a sense of negativity, perving, a patronising tone or air of arrogance..then I'm not interested. Don't get me wrong, we all meet people we don't instantly click with and we bite our tongues to get the job done. But I strongly trust in my gut feeling...and if it doesn't feel right then I politely decline.
DIYP: What is your preferred kind of shoots?
JB: For myself, I love to produce anything conceptual, fine art or fashion based - but this is hard to find in paid work. I adore photographers such as Aaron Nace, Brooke Shaden, Rosie Hardy, Miss Aniela etc - not simply because they are amongst the best in their field, but because their imaginations surpass many. Despite them being exceptional post processors, their shoots stripped back are what inspires me. They are creative and believe anything is possible allowing the simplest of ideas become a story.
Shooting on a more regular basis I really enjoy fashion and bridal, mostly because I'm allowed to dress up! Whether this be something extravagant and deluxe from a designer, or something from the local high street...I am encouraged to become a new character and explore the shapes possible for that garment. It always amazes me what you can do with clothes to change a shoot entirely.
DIYP: A lot of photographers will do TFP (time for print) with models, what is your take on this
JB: I don't really have a fixed opinion of this subject. I know if the first photographer I ever worked with (Gary Hill) hadn't kindly offered this to me, I wouldn't be doing what I do today. For new models, I suggest they do a lot of TF work to build up a portfolio with photographers who have something to offer. However, I strongly believe in morals regarding the topic. If money is being earned from the shoot, then ALL involved should be paid. Whether that be the sale of a print, advertising of clothing or because the model is at a training event for photographers that they've paid to attend - you're earning so why aren't I?
I cringe when I see unpaid casting calls for online catalogues through portfolio hosting websites. Promises of 'lots of exposure' and 'lots of great shots for your portfolio' instead of a cash payment. More often the truth of the matter is; the model will be working for nine hours modelling a lot of different outfits on a plain white backdrop set with little use to anyones portfolio trying to show variety. They are a mannequin and should be paid for their use when they are modelling to advertise stock to be sold. It's very cheeky of brands not to adhere to this.
DIYP: It is not common for a model to be a driving force behind a creative effort, can you tell us about the Dreamcatcher Project?
JB: For a long time I've shied away from telling people I am a 'model'....because what does that word mean anyway? Six foot, busty blondes unfairly considered to be nothing other than dumb? I didn't want those presumptions cast my way. I use my blog to try and explain that I am anything but this stereotype, given half the chance. I've no boobage for start and I'm not a natural blonde...!
I'm a writer, an artistic director, an organiser of workshops, a location scout, a stylist, an advertiser...I try to help others wherever I can whether that be replying to those asking for advice based on my own experiences, preparing self-help blogs on social networking, posing etc....or simply supporting others hard work the best way I can. Why? Because there are people who do it for me every single day so why shouldn't I? It all boils down to what you allow yourself to be. There is so much more to being a model than just turning up on time.
It really upset me when a local photographer slated my name because I wrote a blog claiming to be 'more than a model' earlier this year. What he didn't understand was that this wasn't my arrogance, it was my way of showing the world that the models I know are so much more than just pretty faces, so much more than the muted mannequin.
My Dreamcatcher Project is my chance to prepare a shoot from start to finish myself without being a photographer. I am deciding upon a concept, the costume, the location, the angle, the colours, the hair, the make up, the direction, the pose, the crop, the finished title and how it is processed...but without shooting it myself. This is not normal for TF work - I am very aware of that which is partly what makes it so special to me. Usually everyone has their own input to make it a true collaboration, so for this reason, I cannot thank enough the people who are so willingly giving up their time and talents to help my visions an exact reality. I am so lucky that I have made such great friends in the industry to help me, without them it wouldn't be possible.
DIYP: How do you get photographers for the project?
Oh gosh! I honestly have no idea!
I have been so lucky with the photographers who have so kindly agreed to shoot my mug under such specific direction! The more I think about it, the more grateful I really am. I guess in short, I offer to model for them on something of their own projects in return. You shoot for me and I'll shoot for you. I guess this is where times like getting a call to fill in for a model who didn't show up, despite it being a two hour drive away, after a full days shooting yourself, but not for a second saying no...all pays off. You make friends and you help each other out.
JB: Hmm well it changed my Facebook page a little in terms of about 1000 new followers! It's allowed my pictures and writing to hit a more global audience. I really love hearing from people that my little blogs have made their way all the way around the world. It always leaves me flabbergasted when very well known people in the industry message me about it to say they have shared it also. I don't know, I guess it has allowed me five minutes of fame that I will never ever forget and perhaps provided me with a platform for a better future...we'll see.
But in day to day life nothing has changed at all really.
DIYP: Who do you get your inspiration from?
JB: Everything...and I literally mean every single thing. Of course I see others work and it inspires me...but I try not to look too hard so my own judgement isn't clouded. It's easy to come up with an idea based on somebody else's, but then it has no real original source of it's own. I take most of my inspiration from what I see on a daily basis...I am a big people watcher, I make up their life stories and it goes from there. I'm also a hoarder. I have so many trinkets and artefacts of no monetary value that stir an emotion in me from my past. Whether that be good or bad, happy or sad...it's an emotion I can relate to.
If anyone ever messages me saying they are lacking inspiration, I always suggest they listen to a few songs from their youth, look back on photographs of a specific point in your life and remember how you felt, what excited, angered or even held you back. The things that pop into my head are so inconsistent I can't really pinpoint a single source.
DIYP: What would your advice be for anyone trying to get in the business of modelling?
JB: I'm not sure I can really dictate on this for the simple reason that it all happend so randomly for me. As with anything, work hard, be respectable, polite, professional and prepared. Go into it with your eyes wide open, be ready for the highs and the lows. Don't assume it's glamourous....early starts, late finishes, uncomfortable clothing, freezing temperatures, hair destroying, bone breaking but smiles regardless. Oh and remember the industry is fickle and a models life is short. If it comes to you, relish it whilst you can. Oh gosh, I make it sound bad! If you can prepare for the worst, then the best will come with it. On the plus side; travelling to various places, wearing expensive and beautiful clothes, meeting the most amazingly talented people you will ever know and creating pictures that unlike your face, will never get old...to me, is probably the best job in the world. Words and pictures live forever.
DIYP: What's next for you?
JB: Ha! I have no idea! I am currently in the middle of a working trip from Iceland to England to Montreal to Toronto and back home again which consists of 7 flights in 2 weeks and writing an article for FaceOn magazine....so at the moment, that's all that I am concentrating on! After that, who knows...
DIYP: Anything more you would like to share with the readership?
JB: Hmm....eat well, drink in moderation, make time for those who will be there for you when it all ends, help people and they will help you and never get too big for your boots. I wrote a blog called Dems d'rules a few months ago. I wrote it for myself as a daily reminder how I want to live my life in order to be happy.
Dream big, anything is possible
- Von Wong. MUA: Sonia Allen. Hair: Donna Graham. Other models left to right: Jeremy Colvard & Jamie Rodney
- Noel Shelley. HMUA: Donna Graham
- Von Wong
- Lauri Laukkanen. MUA: Donna Graham. Assistant: Richard Powazynski
- Andrew Appleton. HMUA: Donna Graham. Assistant: Vicki Head
- Gary Hill
- Vic Beachview. HMUA: Donna Graham
- Noel Shelley. HMUA: Donna Graham
- Andrew Appleton. HMUA: Donna Graham
- Lauri Laukkanen. Hair: Donna Graham. Assistant: Richard Powazynski
- Scott Morgan. MUA: Becca Searle. Hair: Jodie Austen
- Andrew Appleton. HMUA: Donna Graham