Brooke arrived in New York City from Ohio, bright eyed and bushy tailed with nothing but $800 and a very loud GPS to help her navigate the city streets. Her beautiful photography can now be found all over the place, from the New Yorker to the streets of Germany.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
Visiting or living? Because I have a better story for visiting… I came here for an interview as an intern at Annie Leibovitz’s studio. I was like “this is it! I’m going to work for Annie!” I drove here from Ohio with four of my friends and we stayed in Brooklyn. I thought it was all so cool and I couldn’t wait to live here.
I had my interview on Monday and all I had was an old flip phone that didn’t have Google maps or anything. So my dad gave me a Tom Tom GPS device from his car to help me get around. I remember getting off the subway in Greenwich Village and using this Tom Tom to find my way. You can’t turn off the volume so it was talking to me on the sidewalk. It doesn’t work on foot so it kept saying, “make a u-turn when possible”. Greenwich Village is a confusing area at the best of times and I got so lost. That was a very “wow! I’m not in Ohio anymore” moment.
Long story short, I didn’t get the job. That’s one of my first memories here. After that I ended up working here for a summer before I graduated. I was looking for any excuse to be here. I started applying to any internship I could find.
I prepaid my rent and then moved here with $800 and made it last three months. I got a job as a photo researcher, which meant I just had to Google images with descriptions like “Oprah looking hungry”. I still had the flip phone so every time that had me run errands they had to write down the directions on a piece of paper.
When I went back to Ohio I gave dad back his Tom Tom and he was like “you don’t want it?” And I was like “I need to get an iPhone, the Tom Tom is not gonna cut it.”
That and you’ll be ostracized by society if you keep walking around with that thing.
When you moved back to New York after graduating what were you doing?
Assisting, which is still what I do. I also interned for free for a portrait photographer. She was really great because gave me great experience and allowed me the time to do other interviews.
I interviewed a ton when I moved here for all kinds of jobs. Basically anything that involved a camera, stock photography jobs, retouching, studio assisting, second shooting for events.I interviewed about 20 times, which is sort of disheartening but also it’s good practice. By the end I was like “ask me anything!”
I finally interviewed for a photographer whose work was different to mine but I felt like I wanted to work with him. The interview went well but he ended up going with someone else.
He ended up calling me a month later and saying, “hey, I hired her because her resume was better but I just don’t like her.” I ended up working with him full time for about a year and a half and it was great. I learned all about the industry from him.
I’m confident now that I could take on my own clients and know how to handle it. There was so much that I was not ready for. I had no concept of how to be professional but also personable.
About six months ago I started freelancing for him and assisting other photographers. I’m also doing some work at Root Studios, which is a high-end studio and equipment rentals place.
So much of the industry is networking and now I need to start meeting more people.
Tells us a bit about your personal photography because it’s awesome!
I’ve always done my personal work because I like doing it and never saw it as a business model. Now I’m starting to see it more like that.
I’ve had a few people reach out to me to feature my photos for stories that they’re doing. The only commissioned thing I’ve done was a small piece for the New Yorker. That was the first time someone approached me and said, “this is our story and this is what we need…” I would love to do more work like that.
Do all your photos have a story behind them?
I used to work in only one way where everything had to have a concrete concept. I would sketch them out or do photo mockups of them before I shot.
When I moved to New York it became really hard to work that way. I had less time to spend on concepting.
I met one of my friends, Ben, on Flickr, which I know sounds very strange. I messaged him because I knew he lived here and I liked his work. So we met up at a studio in Chelsea and spent a Saturday there seeing what we could come up with.
I thought the way that he worked was so strange. I had everything drawn out that I wanted to shoot. He didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He had some ideas and found some props around the studio he thought he would use. I was like “what is he doing? He has no vision.”
The more that I shot with him the more I started to admire the way he worked. There were times I would go out with him with a really concrete idea and it would fail and I would have nothing at the end of the day, while he would have all these great photos of things that inspired him throughout the day.
I started shooting more that way. Now I’m more balanced between the two approaches. He was a lifesaver because when I moved here my portfolio got so stagnant. Almost my entire online portfolio now is of recent work.
Do you do a lot of Photoshopping?
I think hanging out with Ben has pushed me away from Photoshop a bit. A lot of my recent work isn’t heavy in Photoshop. Also because I do freelance retouching I have less patience with my own work.
It’s been more fun to try to make these things happen in camera. It teaches you a different way of working.
I’m not opposed to Photoshop though. There was point that I was too heavy in it and I felt like I wasn’t even taking photos anymore.
Do you have any favorite places to shoot in New York?
I shot a lot of work at my girlfriend’s parents’ place on the Upper West Side. I really like it because it feels very homey. It’s a really visual place and I always feel really inspired being there.
A lot of my work isn’t very urban so being in an urban environment I have to find quieter spots to shoot. There’s a lot of space here you just have to work a little harder to find it.
I like finding those places that don’t feel so urban. I don’t feel super inspired by skylines or street photography. I totally admire it and I looking at it but I don’t feel personally inclined to shoot it.
Have you ever been to Inwood Park up in the Bronx? You really don’t feel like you’re in New York City anymore.
I was always shoot when I’m back home in Ohio as well. There’s so much to work with there.
Do you think you’d ever move back there?
No, I don’t think so. I love Ohio and I’m proud to be from there but there’s not an outlet there for my work.
I don’t always see myself in New York City either though. I would go somewhere else to make a lot of work and come back. I definitely see myself in New York in the beginning and the end.
I feel like the world is my oyster. There’s still so much I want to see. I do really love it here though. I love all the different people. I find urban life fascinating because I’m from farmland so I love being here but it does wear on you.
I can’t think of anything that’s easier living in New York. Maybe brunch.
Drinking is easier!
Planning shoots is so much more complicated because you need a permit to shoot anywhere.
Do you have any restaurants in the city?
I have so many! This is a whole other interview. Have you been to Rye? It’s so good! It’s sort of like southern comfort meets French American, I don’t know how to describe it. Really great ribs!
We just went to Roberta’s for lunch!
Have you been there for dinner?
It’s really fun! They have a great outdoor area. It gets a little crazy and you have to wait a while.
There’s a little burrito truck that’s off that same stop, the Morgan Ave stop.
What’s it called?
It’s not called anything, it’s just there. I have a relationship with the burrito man. They know me. When I go there they give me little shots of tequila. You have to know the guys, you can’t just go there and get shots of tequila.
Jacob’s Pickles in the Upper West Side is so good! Around here, there’s Trophy Bar that has a really good happy hour.
What do you think about when you think of New York?
I think of my relationship with New York as a work in progress. I love you but you won’t love me back.
As a whole I think of a melting pot. That’s sort of what everyone thinks. It’s so diverse but there are still these pockets that are segregated, which I find so interesting. I think the trains are the best because everyone is equal.
There’s such good food here. I go home and feel like such a food snob.
To view Brooke's work visit her site brookedidonato.com