Brooke Frederick Interview
When you first see the photos of stiff and bloated corpse’s, you start to think about what kind of photographer would want to shoot this stuff for fun? Who, in their right mind, would ask to get in the coroner’s office during their free time to take photos of a bunch of dead bodies? Meet Brooke Frederick. She’s not a psycho, just a truly passionate photographer from Southern California with an eye for the obscure. She also takes lots of photos of really pretty models, so I guess that balances out the crazy factor.
Death seems to be commonplace in a lot of your work, as well as sexual themes. What was your childhood like?
Funny enough, I had a pretty normal middle- class kind of childhood. I grew up in Southern California, by no means had a hard life, definitely middle-class. I kind of grew up in like, a very sugarcoated environment, obviously God bless my parents. They wanted me to be in the best possible situation, the safest schools, safest neighborhood, things like that. I mean, I hate to say it but, it’s kind of like a normal Americana type of upbringing. I wasn’t struggling, I went to good schools, I got good grades, you know, had a group of friends, so, yeah, it was kind of normal I guess…
Did you always want to do photography and how did you end up getting into it?
No, I did not always want to do photography. I never really knew what I wanted to do until I started getting pressure when you’re supposed to decide what you want to do. I originally wanted to do fashion design and I think that might be because my older sister wanted to do it, so that was what I wanted to do. Then in high school, I took a photography class, I got a camera from my photography teacher and just started messing around to see pictures of my friends. I called them photo adventures. When I got my license we would just drive all over the place and yell and just take weird pictures of each other all over town.
So, that’s when it kind of started. I always just thought that it was something we were doing for fun until I realized at one point it was all I wanted to do, I wanted to try to make a career out of it, and try to make money. So, I actually started pursuing it a couple years out of high school.
How do you get access to some of these crazy places and people, and taboo situations? Who comes up with the ideas and themes?
People ask me this all the time. I’m not going to lie, it helps that I’m a little white blonde girl. I kind of use that to my advantage in some of these situations. Honestly though, I ask. I’ve realized there are so many people out there that think, “Oh, no. No, don’t ask her,” and are too scared, or they think that it’s just like an automatic no but for instance, I went to the LA County Coroner’s Office, and I e-mailed him. I was like, “Hey, I’m doing a report on death in Los Angeles, can I get a tour?” And he was like, “Yeah, that’s fine. Come in.”
I’m just semi-honest, and if I’m just asking them one person to another, I can have this access. Most of the time I’ve had good responses, people are up for it. A lot of my street photography stuff it’s the exact opposite where I don’t ask at all. There are moments where it’s just a split second and you have to catch it. If you ask or if you change the situation, the picture will be different.
So there are times where I literally just have to drop everything, or screech to a halt in my car and get out, and just shoot really fast, and then carry on. I’ve had people yell at me for doing that because I literally will like, black out, and I just have to get the shot and nothing will stop me. I’ll take the shot and sometimes throw people off, so there are different methods. Certain times I ask, certain times I just guerilla style go for it.
What is it about film for you?
I’m only shooting film still. My photography classes from when I got my first camera for Christmas was film, so it’s kind of just always been how photography is. I never really thought about it as digital or film, it’s always just been film for me. In college they sort of introduce digital, which I definitely appreciate. I always say, “I know how to use it.” I’m familiar with it, but for me it’s just the way the photos come out, they’re never really the same. I can never be totally happy with a digital photo.
It just never comes out how I want it to and I think it also helps with the simplicity of a film camera where you kind of know it, and you can shut your eyes and work it, you don’t really have to fumble with it. Everybody has their ways they shoot, and film is just so much more fluid for me. I think that it’s just something I’m used to, and it’s just also, at the end of the day, the surprises in film and the overall look is kind of what I enjoy, you know?
Totally. What are your thoughts on Instagram and the ideas behind it, and all these other digital platforms where everyone thinks that they’re a photographer now?
It does suck that there are so many people out there who are quote unquote photographers, and it kind of makes me angry sometimes but, I can’t get too mad because I’m totally on Instagram. I want more followers, and I hope this gets a lot of likes so, I can’t be that mad because really I’m playing into it too.
To be honest, I guess you could say my iPhone is like my digital camera, it’s the only digital camera that I carry around with me, technically. I like to be able to showcase my work, and have it reach people a lot easier because you know a lot of people don’t know to go to my website, don’t know right off the bat who I am. It’s kind of a great platform for that, I like to take it seriously in a way where I want people to see that I’m an artist. Even with my Instagram photos I spend a lot of time trying to make them look good.
How would you describe your work to an outsider?
This is tough. Take someone in line at a grocery store, I’d probably say, “I shoot documentary kind of stuff, but in an unconventional way.” I don’t really feel like I have to shoot whole stories like a news photographer does. I like to document everyday life. I like to put myself in situations that I think are interesting, and shoot people that I find there.
I like to be on the road, so I shoot a lot of weird situations that I get myself into, and like ‘to document the weird’. I like weird things, and I like photography so, I seek out, weird, fucked-up situations or people that I find interesting or out of the norm. I sort of start from there, and shoot from there, and then I like to see what happens next. It’s kind of like documenting my own adventures I guess, and the people that I meet along the way.
You’ve traveled to different parts of the world, but Americana seems to be one of your favorite subject matters. Is that correct?
I’m really into it so far. It’s funny because I just went to Russia and I’m having a small photo show with my Russia photos tonight actually, which is good. Aside from that, I just feel that from traveling abroad you appreciate where you are from, and where you do belong. I’m like, such an American. It’s somewhere I can fit in and belong, and it’s totally mine to explore. I go all over the U.S. and really, it’s kind of yours. That’s why I love it so much, and there’s just so much out there. There’s so much waiting to be shot; so much good material that I want to go explore. The U.S. is so huge, and there are so many different places and niches, and weird cultures and subcultures.
I’ve traveled some, and I’ve done a few road trips, but I have not even been to a quarter of the U.S. in full. It’s just so big, there’s so much stuff to shoot. I’m just fascinated like, “wow, look at these tractors,” stuff that everybody else in that town would be like, ‘really? why are you looking at that?’ That’s normal, or that’s just Joe over in the corner, but I’m like, “Oh my god, Joe!”
Have you ever been denied access to anything that you were dying to shoot?
I have been, so I keep bringing it up, but I got access to the L.A. County Coroner’s Office, which was awesome. It was obviously really intense and gnarly. Since then I’ve been trying to do works with a mortuary, or a mortician, someone like that. I’ve been trying to reach out and really get a behind-the-scenes look like, maybe an embalmer, where their job is to prepare the dead and put makeup on them. It’s so weird and fascinating to me. I’ve been trying so hard to get access to that. I’ve been e-mailing, I’ve been doing flyers and I’ve applied for jobs on Craigslist.
I applied the other day for a mortuary assistant job. I’ve just been trying every angle, and nobody’s replying, I’m not getting hired but I’m not done trying. I’m still going to keep on and see what happens, but I’ve hit so many walls. I know it’s just because death has so many boundaries that I would have to cross but, people overreact about the dead. I’m so numb to it now, especially after going to the coroner’s office, where I can handle it but, people are too sensitive about it.
Do you think that’s one of the keys to succeeding in photography these days, to just be ultra-dedicated to it and immerse yourself in something that may not be exactly your career field, but you could totally benefit from it because of the access provides?
You have to eat, breathe, sleep photography, or whatever your career path is, but especially photography because of the competition, because everybody can be a photographer. I feel like it just has to be constantly on your mind. I’m always trying to think of something, or trying to link up what I’m doing and how it can affect a project in the future. You can be good at photography, you can be good at lighting, you can really have it down to a science, and you can make money that way. You can make money being a product photographer, shooting pretty models. That’s one thing, but I feel like if you really want your career to be something that you’re completely happy with creatively, I feel it just has to be your whole life.
Do you have plans for another book?
Yes, and it’s actually what we’ve been talking about the whole time. In April I’m planning on buying a teardrop trailer. I’m doing a full American tour. I’m going to take at least three months, but I’d like to take six. I’m pretty sure I’m going by myself, but there might be people meeting up with me. I really want to do an in-depth tour and be able to explore and be able to meet people. I just want to take a bunch of portraits of different people. My plan is to have a photo show for it, and then make a huge fat coffee table book with all of the stuff that I shoot.
So what’s the time-frame on that?
I’ve just nailed down that it’s officially happening, so as of right now, I’m prepping, budgeting. I’m trying to get the money together, and I’m leaving April 1st. I’m trying to be out definitely all the way into summer, but hopefully until the end of summer. I grew up always traveling with my family and stuff. I just loved driving, and seeing all these little towns and the little things that they have. They all have their little claim to fame.
You’ve done stuff for a couple of big companies. Are you freelancing all over the place, working for a few companies, or are you mainly focusing on private projects?
I’m definitely freelancing. To be honest, I’m not doing a ton of jobs but, I’m freelancing and there are a couple of companies that I really love and I want to work with so, I’ll try to work out stuff with them. At the same time, I went to Art Center and the one thing that I’ve realized, especially because I went to a very commercial-based school is that it’s one thing to get a good job. Maybe it pays great or it’s for a big company, but if you don’t get your creative freedom, or you don’t get to do what you would normally want to do, or if you’re not proud of what you shot to the point where you wouldn’t even put it on your own website, or you wouldn’t even be stoked to tell anybody about, it’s those jobs I’m trying to stay away from.
I know I shouldn’t be picky, especially because I’m so young in such a big industry, but because I try to really value my work and my creativity, I really want to work with people that want to be creative with me.
You just did a photo session with a model in New York City for a week, correct?
Yeah, I met her over in L.A. She’s one of my best friends, a lot of the models that I use in my photos are some of my really good friends. I prefer to shoot people that are comfortable with me and I’m comfortable with. That could be someone I’m just meeting, but regardless, I shoot a lot of my friends just because of the comfort that comes through when we are shooting. You can just tell in the photos, we’re comfortable with each other, and it’s not awkward. We’re not posing, this is real life, and it does have the more documentary/lifestyle feel.
I like to shoot models that I can be friends with, so we can go out and do real-life things, and I just document it. I’m not setting up fashion shoots where we’re posing in front of a wall. If I can take a friend with me, and we can put on cool clothes, and she can do weird shit in front of the graveyard then, even better. It’s just like being able to shoot fashion in a way that’s still documentary and lifestyle, and the way that I like to shoot everything else.
Last question. What do you need to do that you haven’t done yet?
I feel like a ton. Number one, get shit done. I need to do more commercial work. I’m not going to lie, I’ve done a lot of personal projects but, I feel like I also need to do more work with clients and with different brands. I think it would be good for me professionally to have to work with clients, I think it’s just a good practice and, if I want this to be my career, obviously I have to. So, that’s one, and then two is, I need to try to do a really monumental personal project, and I hopefully need to get recognized for it. I’m being honest. I’m hoping that the U.S. tour may be one of those things. I’m just, so close to being where I want to be, I just have to break through this one final creative wall, and really showcase my work in the way that I want to. I feel like that’s my main thing that I need to get done right now.
Any shout-outs anyone you’d like to say thanks to?
Let’s say thanks to Kayla Kelly!
Interviewed By: AB
Read the full issue 30 here