Thursday, April 17, 2014

Grows Feature: {Bess Brownlee}

I met Bess when a mutual friend suggested her as a photographer for our wedding in 2010. We wanted the photos to capture life and love and special moments, not a bunch of perfectly staged pictures. After chatting over a pastry at Bernice's, James and I were convinced she'd be the perfect one to document our special day. Today, we have a treasured disc of 300+ amazing photos. I remember thinking a few times on that color-blurred-musical-loving day, "someone should take a picture of this!" and there she was, unassuming, lovely. Bess & I have been able to meet a few times this year to discuss further collaboration, as she is home from 2 years in Africa, and I am thrilled to be sharing her with you today!

A brief, blast-from-the-past intro of wedding pics before we start Bess' feature:

There are so, so many more, but it's time for Bess to take over!

Grows Feature: {Bess Brownlee}

Describe yourself for those who don’t know you.  

Hi all!  My name is Bess, and I’m a photographer.  I love a good story, a glass of red wine, and cool mountain air.  

Name a few past & current projects you’ve loved.  

Other’s projects: Sun City: Life After Life by photographer Kendrick Brinson (see more on her website a lighthearted and interesting look at aging in America.  Also, the unforgettable body of work by photographer Aaron Huey on the Pine Ridge Reservation (  Those photos will make you feel, wonder and ache… just as they should.  That is the kind of creating I want to be a part of, work that stirs up those responses.

Where do you work, and how do you make this environment productive?

When the camera is put away and I’m editing, I work best alone, without distraction.  I’ve never been able to do the coffee shop office… to many people to watch.  That’s what I do as a photographer, people watch.  So when I need to get down to business, I choose isolation.  When the camera is in my hand I choose immersion, to dive in completely.

How do you capture your inspiration?  

Inspiration mainly comes from other photographers for me.  I’m always looking at others work.  I spend time on those photos that move me… and then I ask myself why.  As a creative it is so hard not to slip into unhealthy comparison. I practice appreciation when I see a beautiful image, and try to learn all I can both as a viewer and as a creative from it.  What did that photographer do really well?  What can I learn from this beautiful image and apply to my own photography?  I want to be a learner, always.   

Who inspires you?  

-Montana, what an amazing place to hang my hat

in the media
-I’m always checking photo blogs, particularly photojournalism ones (New York Times Lensblog, Time Lightbox, BBC In Pictures) Seeing how similar we are as human beings the world over always strikes me.

artist we probably haven’t heard of
There are so many incredible photographers that blow me away all the time with their work.  My favorites are: Aaron Huey, Steve McCurry, Ami Vitale, Ed Kashi, Linsey Addario, William Albert Allard, Kendrick Brinson, David Walter Banks, Matt Eich, 
and my dear friend from journalism school Greta Rybus.

What materials do you use?  (please be as specific as possible)  

I try to keep my equipment as simple as possible. A Canon 5D Mark iii, two lenses, a simple light kit, and a pair of keen and patient eyes. I firmly believe that it is the artist that makes amazing work, not the gear. Our gear is merely an extension of us, a tool. Know it, and take good care of it, but keep it in perspective. Endless gear-talk and acquisition is not my style.  

Can you break down your creative process a little for us?

I watch, I listen, I sit on ideas for a while.  My tendency is to be impulsive, and one of my goals to take more time with ideas, really mull them over.  I’m a magpie by nature, always distracted by shiny things. I could shoot a million different things, but I want to focus on stories that are important to me.
I love long-term projects where I can spend a lot of time with a subject, and watch him/her/them/it change over time.

How does it feel when you know you're finished with a project? (or, How do you know you’re 
finished with a project?)

I don’t know if I ever really feel like… this is done.  That’s the nature of a creative.  There is always more.  But it is a valuable thing to know when it is time to put something down and step back.  To appreciate a good creation, and let it rest.  

What are your upcoming creative goals?  (1-3)

I want to create really meaningful and satisfying work.  I want to hone my vision for storytelling, as well as my craft.  I want to be mentored, and learn a ton.  I want to grow.

Share a piece of wisdom you’ve learned.  (practical, philosophical, whatever you want!)

This quote by Ira Glass has spurred me on tremendously for the past two years, and continues to do so:  

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

*Please tell us about your giveaway & include a photo.  

Your choice of 5x7 print from my website, and if desired, I will write the story behind the photo on the back of the print.

We want to hear from you in the comments:

Can you recall a photograph that has stuck with you over the years?  
What is it and what do you feel when you think of it?
Also, let us know which print you'd like!

Comment by Friday for your chance to win!

For more of Bess' artistry, follow along on Instagram @bessbrownlee, I am currently loving her #longtimenoseemt series, and time spent perusing is always time well-spent.

Thank you so much, Bess!  

So glad to have you on PeaceLoveMusicGrows.

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