Photographer Brooke Holm isn’t content shooting images on the ground. Holm instead takes to the air, medium-format camera in hand, and captures aerial images that reveal the symmetry, colors, and patterns of the natural world. Badlands spoke with Holm about her work and inspirations.
Thinking back to when you started, was there a time or place that inspired you to pursue landscape photography?
As a child, I was fortunate to have spent most of my time outdoors. I remember building forts near creeks, climbing trees, hiking, skiing, and camping with my family, and I know that even at that young age I recognized my connection with nature.
If I were to think back to a specific moment where I reconnected with nature and landscapes through the lens of photography, I would say it was just over ten years ago when my three sisters and I went on a road trip with my dad through California and Nevada. We traveled to places like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the Hoover Dam. At the time I had already taken up photography and never put down my Minolta XD11 film camera, but it wasn’t until I was faced with this vast and diverse American landscape that I became fascinated and eager to pursue it further.
Most of the landscape images you publish are aerial, with your camera pointed down at the landscape below. What is it about aerial photography that inspires you?
My first aerial photoshoot caused me to view the world in a new way and triggered this path. Nature is embedded in our collective consciousness, yet there is a profound tension to the relationship in the way we take for granted our environment and its resources.
I am interested in whether concepts of connection and coexistence with our universe are more discernible when altering the observational and experiential norms of everyday perspective.
This question often leads me to photograph from an aerial viewpoint — focusing on the topography of the place, and intentionally ignoring the horizon so that the landscapes remain somewhat anonymous.
My work and research experiment with conceptual representations of unseeing, by concentrating on form and shape and obscuring absolute recognition. This unseeing is imperative to my own attempts to understand the world around me. It is a desire to be removed from our conventional way of seeing and be introduced to something unfamiliar. Comparable to astronauts looking down on Earth from space, a shift in cognition is possible when seeing the previously unseen.
Some may assume you create images using a drone, but you actually fly in airplanes. What are the challenges — both technical and creatively — of shooting this way?
Shooting from planes and helicopters come with a myriad of challenges including stabilization, framing around helicopter blades feet and windows, lens choice and interchange, time, speed, winds, weather, cost, etcetera, and you usually have one good chance to get it right. But I can’t imagine swapping this way of shooting for drones.
I like the physicality and process of being in the air, wind whipping you in the face, holding onto your gear for dear life, taking in the landscape below in a way that is only possible from the air. A harness — but more often a tiny seatbelt — restrains you from plummeting to your death.
Unless you fly a beast of a drone that holds a professional camera, the image quality is not good enough yet to make large prints, which I need. A photographer friend of mine likened it to playing a video game, and I agree. It takes the personal aspect out of shooting.
I wouldn’t rule out a method of shooting and it depends on what works for you, but I don’t believe one way is better than the other. I’ve seen some incredible drone images. I just have a preference for being physically present and seeing through the lens so I feel more connected. It’s thrilling and just writing about it gives me chills.
Considering how flat and abstract the world can appear at these heights, what do you typically look for when composing your images? What makes a successful aerial shot?
I love the organic shapes, textures, and colors that present themselves at such great heights. Each landscape is unique, and for me, I obsess about the detail, which is why I shoot incredibly high-resolution images to output as oversized fine art prints. When looking at these up close you feel as if you are actually there. You can explore each section at your leisure, perhaps noticing new things every time. Compositionally I am just looking for that perfect collision of all of these elements. When I see it in front of me, I know.
Where haven’t you been that you hope to photograph someday?
Greenland and Antarctica. These two places have been in my mind a long time. I just haven’t had the chance to get there yet.