Photographer Interview Series: John C. Brooks

When and how did you start practicing photography?

I Started practising photography when i was about 10 with a Box Brownie 127 rollfilm camera a bit like present day Holga cameras I guess. I used to take photos when i was on vacation with my parents mainly. As i got older I progressed to a 35mm camera then started using color film, again mainly on vacations in Europe so mostly landscape and buildings as my subject matter. In my later teens I acquired my first SLR and started using monochrome film as it was fashionable, and did my own developing and printing of my work at home having purchased an enlarger and all the other equipment. I was encouraged by my uncle who was a keen photographer who used 2 1/4 square format. I started experimenting with subject matter a lot and at the same time was studying art and graphics at college. I owned some graphic design awards at the time which were based upon building image abstractions and typography. I incorporated images which showed movement and other effects. When i was 21 I purchased a Rolleiflex 2 1/4 square 120 film camera and used mainly color film and that started a different way of observing my subject matter, mostly buildings and
street scenes which presented extremely abstract interpretations of the subject. Eventually i was also using large rural landscapes in the same way and created composite images which deconstructed the subject and reconstructed it in a very different way to seemingly great effect as I was given a number of exhibitions at that time including a highly regarded regional art gallery alongside some big names in the art and sculpture world.

What type of camera do you use and why?
I still use the Rolleiflex 120 film camera and enjoy the quality it gives especially for my larger pieces of work which can reach 6 feet long on occasions. But i also use other cameras depending upon the subject matter and the objective of the exercise. I have a 1950's Crown Graphic Royale 5 x 4 plate camera and and Calumet studio 5 x 4 camera, both of which i use for portraits and architectural subjects as they give great definition and control over parallax. I DO use digital though as it is so compact, lightweight and inconspicuous for street photography and when I am travelling great distances as you need so little kit to carry around; I suffer from back problems so this helps a lot. The digital camera is a Panasonic Lumix which gives great print results even up to 30 x 24 inches with no evidence of pixellation or distortion as it uses a Leica lens. I also recently acquired a Bronica 6cm x 4cm rollfilm camera which i am still getting used to! But the image quality is great.

Atlas Mountains Series #5

How would you define your style? Do you focus on any particular subject matter?
My style tends to be fairly graphic and abstract focused quite often as I like to define a subject matter by my interest in basic defining shape and areas of colour. I really enjoy large tonal studies which may be found in shots of architecture on old buildings with decaying finishings such as paint and render and plaster. I also have a great fascination in structures like bridges, old buildings and industrial facilities. I am currently creating a portfolio of subjects based on industrial structures and power distribution elements such as transformers and pylons, etc. I still enjoy studies of large and interesting landscapes found in mountains and deserts which I am currently doing in China along with some abstract work on buildings.

What or who are your inspirations?
My inspirations have often been the work of artists such as David Hockney and photographers such as Harry Callaghan and their contemporaries.

Do you have a dream subject or location that you would love to shoot?
That's a very difficult question to answer but I guess I am tempted to say that I would love to study some of the large cities of South America as they would have large influences of native and European culture both in terms of architecture and daily life - which could be a fascinating study along with the aspect of poverty which sadly still exists but presents an interesting face. I have seen this before in other places such as rural China and Cuba but South America does draw me.

Contemplation In The Mosque

Where can the majority of your work be seen?
A lot of my work is featured on the web and is often shown in juried exhibitions on the web and I have been fortunate enough to have won several international awards over the last couple of years. My website: shows a small range of my work but needs updating badly as far as my work over the last two years is concerned! I also have regular gallery exhibitions in the UK and sometimes in Europe and recently was featured in LA. My work is also available in publications in print and ebook.

Please talk about your favorite photographic accessory aside from your camera
I don’t use accessories apart from a Weston Master V light meter and tripods. But the modern 'darkroom' accessory is Photoshop as most photographers have their work processed by pro labs and the negatives are digitised. SO we can do the old fashioned image adjustments with a computer instead of shading and dodging using bits of card under the enlarger! But I usually have a very strict rule of NO CROPPING. I have arguments with some people about this and they are the ones who rely upon cropping to obtain their composition. My belief is that you compose with your eyes and brain and should form that image in the viewfinder when the shutter is released. They then argue that when I create a composite abstract image that I am cropping but I am not, I am actually adding to the image.

Name a blog or website you visit regularly
I have joined a number of art and photographic groups on LinkedIn which sometimes is useful but I also like to see other works. Otherwise I am always
looking out for good work to admire but NOT TO COPY. It is essential to develop your own style and not to become too influenced by others but follow what is happening
in the rest of the arts world.

Niagara Rainbow

How do you keep yourself motivated and your work fresh?
I think the best motivation is to set yourself goals of achievement; such as telling yourself that you will have your work exhibited in either a specific city or gallery- in my case it was the RWA in Bristol and then a gallery in London both of which i achieved in two years. Also set yourself projects such as the study and development of a particular subject matter, a series of images based on a theme or even one particular building or place. I try and keep my work fresh by conceiving a different approach to a subject. Sometimes i find that after completing a set of images on a subject I leave them for months and when I come back to them much later I see them in a different way and then can develop the study from there or go back and shoot again with the new approach in mind. It is very exciting doing this and the act of creating something new and different and bringing new life and perspective to a subject is very satisfying to my sense of achievement. Also entering competitions based on set subject matter by others is a great challenge especially when you win an award or are included in the prize winners list.

How did you manage the amazing capture of the Niagara Rainbow shot that is part of the Printed Art Collection?
It was raining at the time and the sun suddenly came out and the combination of rain and spray from the falls plus the position of the sun created the opportunity to capture the images. As is often the case the element of luck comes into play, being in the right place at the right time helps a lot! Also you need to have your camera at the time! Lastly the technical part should be the easiest, it is based on practice.