Once Upon a Time . . . into the Magical Realm of Adrien Broom
By Charmagne Eckert/Photos by Adrien Broom
The world unfolds in shades of white, devoid of color, except for the sleeping child’s rosy skin and the dark waves of hair that frame her tranquil face. Awakening to the filigree paper stars above her head, the little girl embarks upon her journey, exploring the nuances of all things white, from timid bunnies at her feet, to the snowy mice scurrying atop opalescent computer keyboards. A glow of crimson light beckons through the half open door, and drawn to its gleam, the child steps across the threshold into an equally fantastical space where all is red.
The Color Project, the first large-scale series conceived by artist-photographer/storyteller Adrien Broom, opens with a white room as the point of departure for the viewer’s journey through color and fantasy and culminates where all the hues meet in a rainbow-land of delight. As with much of Broom’s work, elements of fantasy and childhood reminiscence are smoothly blended with a sophisticated appreciation of story and a keen artistic sensibility. It is this potentially transformative experience that Broom hopes to share with her viewers. “We all have imaginations which we use in many ways – for work, to solve problems – but I hope that I can take people out of the everyday and help them to re-visit that kind of [place] that imagination can take us, like when we were children. To give that little spark of ‘nostalgic’ fantasy. My favorite is when someone tells me the story they have experienced through one of my pictures. People are from all walks of life, and the stories they find in my images are things I would never have thought of. Hearing that back [from a viewer] really completes the whole process for me, I just love it.”
Growing up in the lush glades of the Connecticut River Valley, Broom was drawn to fairytale lands where a child could escape into her limitless imagination and where an adult might go for inspiration and rejuvenation. It is from this fascination with other realms that her artwork has evolved. Broom holds a degree in 3D Computer Animation from Northeastern University in Boston; and though the influence of her experience with the digital format is evident, all of her work is highly tactile in ways that both enhance and exceed its cinematic qualities. Broom quickly realized that, although the computer design she was involved with was three dimensional, she wanted a more physical expression as well. As a way of blending the abstract flexibility of the digital platform with more hands-on elements, she developed a hybrid. Three-dimensional, theatrical, set-like installations – works of aesthetic complexity in their own right – are the “canvas” upon which her narrative, image-based ideas are captured through the lens of her camera. Broom begins with a concept: hues, for The Color Project, myths, daydreams, or powerful emotions – as in Envy in Fairytales, the most recent sequence, which is currently on exhibition at The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y. through September 27th. She then does extensive research, which might include input through informal surveys as to how people associate particular colors, a study of cultural associations (such as the correlations between color and the energy centers, or chakras, of the body), and the psychological effect of various hues and emotions.
Broom has a clear vision of her work, but she also collaborates closely with her team of design professionals who have expertise in all the elements needed to create the highly detailed backdrop where the viewer will experience the drama of each particular narrative. The team effort carries all the way through the process – once all the components are ready, the entire group works together on the actual construction of the set. This merging of the abstract and the tangible; of technology and tradition, are hallmarks of Broom’s method that result in a unique blend of the classical and innovative that is typical of her artwork. Once the scenery for the story-picture is in place, the models who portray the characters are brought in, the set is lighted, and the drama is captured through Broom’s camera. With the photo shoot complete, the set is dismantled – a reminder in and of itself of the evanescence of “reality” – and Broom’s task of image selection begins.
Although Brooms photos often convey unlikely, physics-defying images, she stresses that little is done by Photoshop or other digital editing methods to modify what the camera has captured. “I will do some alterations in Photoshop. For example, in the ‘blue world’ we hung a bunch of seaweed; and it didn’t look right, so I replaced it with the glass ceiling. Or, some of the portraits used in the [Envy] show were shot against green-screen and I put in backgrounds that I liked. The lion [in the Time With Guests series] is an actual taxidermy lion; and I removed the stand with Photoshop, but everything else was (actual). I have experimented with digital effects, but I’ve never shown those images. I just don’t find them to be full enough – they lack dimensionality somehow.”
To fully honor her creative process, Broom has made a policy of adhering to what she considers the best advice she has received from another photographer – to concentrate fully on only one endeavor at a time. With the constant influx of inspiration, maintaining this discipline is a challenge for her, but she is adamant about its importance. “Once I am [committed to] a project, I only work on that. Sticking to one thing has completely changed everything I do. If you don’t put your heart and soul into everything, if you are distracted, you can never make something real and pure – you must be totally ‘in it.’” Broom has devised a way to capture each fresh idea, without allowing it to distract her, by writing it down in one of many notebooks she keeps. The very act of crafting the words by hand with ink on paper, acts as a means of inspiration for her and it reflects another way in which the abstractions of her imagination flourish through physical expression.
It is not then surprising, that Broom is also interested in producing books. The Color Project was initially conceived not only to be viewed in the digital format, or as selected large-scale prints for display, but also as the basis for a children’s volume. “My dream for The Color Project would be to have a printed book as well as a digital platform where the kids could touch an item in a picture like the ruby slippers in the ‘red world’ and get an interactive response with something about ruby slippers.” For the Envy in Fairytales show at the Hudson River Museum, props, costumes, and backdrops used for the photo shoots are displayed along with the photographs. Broom also specially constructed small, self-contained versions of the sets. “I refer to them as ‘storytelling in a box.’ They are a way of showing how much you can do in a tiny space. I had intended that visitors [to the museum] might be able to actually walk into [the sets.] That turned out not to be practical,but it made me start brainstorming on doing a series of children’s books.”
Although the intricate fine art installation pieces such as those from Envy and Color make up much of Broom’s work, she also brings her particular sensibilities to portraiture. Here her ability to capture individual personal qualities is emphasized, and she takes great delight in collaborating with clients to fulfill their vision, whether it involves an extravagant costumed depiction, or simply shooting the subject in a in a well-framed setting. “I’m excited since this summer I am going [to have time] to start taking on commission work again. I really enjoy working with people on ideas about how they might want to be portrayed. It might be just finding the best way to capture a sense of who [the clients] are or it could be really elaborate. With one famil whose holiday pictures I do every year – they wanted last year to have the whole thing themed to Game of Thrones. I got the costumes;and we created the throne, and I brought in a full team of makeup people, stylists – a huge production, with a smoke machine, a wind machine – it was so much fun.”
Broom clearly loves creating works that involve complex sets, costumes, models, and a full support crew, but they are time consuming, costly, and can be exhausting. With her Envy in Fairytales series completed, Broom is ready to refocus on the essential elements of artist, camera, and subject. In addition to working on portraits,she had begun exploring her next project: a series of photographs of cloud formations. No sets or costumes, just the artist and her lens.“I am really looking forward to a meditative time.To just ‘cloud-gaze,’ to just concentrate on what is there in the sky and let my imagination go.” Broom may be taking a break from her elaborate constructed fantasy realms; but she promises to bring the same intensity of purpose to her study of the clouds, and the results are sure to be a delight and inspiration for viewers.
For further information on the photography of Adrien Broom, go to: “http://www.adrienbroom.com”