In her latest body of work, photographer Brooke Holm captures the oldest desert in the world, the Namib Sand Sea and its vast stretches of sand dunes under the African sun. We speak with Brooke about her creative practice and relationship with her greatest inspiration, nature.
When she’s not creating interior, architecture or conceptual still life images, Brooke Holm can be found thousands of feet in the air, leaning out of helicopters to capture spellbinding landscapes. Her work, heavily influenced by her design eye, showcases her love of lines, form and textures, delivering images of nature that reflect almost a painterly quality.
Brooke’s latest series Sand Sea took her to Africa to capture the UNESCO World Heritage Site and oldest desert in the world, the Namib Sand Sea. Through what appears as a never-ending series of towering dunes, the shapes and tones that form through the desert came to remind her of the human body. Continuously exploring the relationship between humans and nature in her work, Brooke shares how her journey in photography began and her creative practice both on the ground and sky-high.
When did you begin exploring photography and what inspired you to start shooting?
I got started in photography by happy accident. I was living in Brisbane, Australia at the time (the place I mostly grew up after leaving California when I was 9) and I was working in my first “real” job at an advertising agency. One day I was asked to go and take pictures of a billboard the agency had produced so they could use them in their marketing material. I came back with images that everyone was very happy with so it started to become a regular occurrence and I soon became the in-house photographer.
I seemed to have a knack for it and I loved it so much. I enrolled myself in a photography course so I could get a better grasp on the technical side, and soon after I graduated, I applied for a full-time photographer position in Melbourne. After moving to the city, I very quickly made contacts through word of mouth and shot anything and everything for anyone.
Eventually I had enough work to go freelance, where I really honed in on what I wanted to shoot – interiors and architecture, still life and environmental work. My name gradually became known in those worlds and lots of clients started coming my way. It was all very organic and exciting, and I have worked with some very talented people over the years. My artwork practice was developing on the sidelines while all of this was happening, when I had the opportunity to travel. Naturally, I would take photos when I was travelling and hiking and amongst nature. Now I’m living in New York, working on different client projects and my own artwork projects in between.
Who have been some of your biggest inspirations in art and photography?
My inspiration comes from many places in many forms: photography, design, architecture, nature, science, technology, literature, film and more. My biggest influence and source of admiration is nature and its intricate complexities and beauty. My appreciation for design and architecture may help explain the fixation on lines and shapes throughout my work. There are so many creatives that inspire me and way too many to list here but some of my favourite photographers would have to be Olaf Otto Becker, Naoki Ishikawa, Benedict Redgrove, Vivian Maier and Annie Liebovitz. I was also inspired early on by all the Magnum photojournalists and street photographers.
When did you decide to move to New York and what brought you to the city?
I decided to move to New York in 2016 as it was somewhere I had always wanted to go. I felt inspired there every time I visited and knew one day I would give it a try. It’s probably not my forever place but for now, it works. I do miss Australia a lot but it’s nice to have two places to bounce between. I also have a dual passport which made it an easier decision. I didn’t have to apply or wait for any visas because I was born in California. New York has an amazing community of do-ers so it’s inspiring to be amongst them and collaborate together.
We understand that all of your aerial landscape images are taken by hand rather than through the use of drone equipment. Why is this a personal preference for you?
I like to be living in the moment when I am taking photographs. A drone is an excellent tool but I’m more into the thrill of being in the air, seeing everything for myself and experiencing it directly. It’s a personal preference, but I’m not opposed to drones. I just don’t want to be a step removed from my usual process. That could change in the future, but for now, I’m happy!
Do you have additional creative pursuits outside of photography?
None that I have diverted too much attention to, but one day I want to illustrate a children’s book in watercolour. I used to make stop-motion films with clay too but that was when I was in film school and had more time to play. Photography is mostly my life.
How has your landscape photography influenced your connection with nature?
My connection with nature more influenced my landscape photography. The two go hand in hand for me but I was drawn to nature first, and then learned the tool of photography could help me express my feelings for it.
What drew you to photograph the Namib Sand Sea, featured in your latest exhibition?
I originally found this place when scouring Google Earth, and when I saw some of the satellite imagery, I knew I had to go there. It was beautiful. In my research, I also found that it was the first country to introduce climate change policies into their constitution and that the unique ecosystem is heavily studied by way of scientific research centres in the desert. My work explores the relationship between humans and nature, so climate change has become a focus for me throughout my practice; anything I can do to share nature with people, connect them with different environments and further the efforts to protect our home.
You mentioned the colours and textures in this series bear a resemblance to the human body, was this intentional or something that arose during the shoot?
This is just something I noticed when I was in the air. It became more and more a part of the story I was trying to tell as I put the series together. Up close, the large-scale artworks are so detailed that sand ripples look like fingerprints. It’s quite spectacular.
Where would you like to travel and photograph next?
I’m going on an artist residency to Svalbard, Norway in June for a month with selected scientists, educators and other artists. Really looking forward to that!
What are your must-have travel essentials?
Lots of water, hydrolyte, downtime to recover from jet lag, noise cancelling headphones and clean socks! And more and more I’m trying to pack light – heavy bags are not my friend.
Photography by Brooke Holm.