A young woman finds her place behind the camera, after creating a name in front of it. Here’s an interview with America’s Next Top Model alumna turned film photographer Brittany Markert.
Brittany Markert’s photographs from “The Hotel Haunting” are a fine selection of freakishly eerie yet stirring images, suggestively sinister yet beguiling. If you missed our Halloween feature on the said selection, better catch up and follow this link.
Aside from “The Hotel Haunting,” Brittany has worked on several other photographic projects. Comprising of quite a number of explicit and nude images, some may find her portfolio somewhat disturbing, but one cannot deny the passion and artistry behind her work.
We asked Brittany a few questions on her life as an artist, her stint with ANTM, and her penchant for the bare human form. Read on for her answers.
Please tell us about yourself, your background, and what you do. Maybe tell us something not all people know about too.
Hello. Something people may not know… I am thrilled by the cold beauty of pure mathematics, how at times an equation elegantly resolved sometimes seems so much more preferable to the messiness of romantic attachments.
Before moving to New York in 2012, I finished a B.S in Mathematics at Santa Clara University. I spent a year teaching at a private tutoring center in California while beginning photography. Photographer Todd Hido recommended that I next make my art tangible. The second day I awoke in my new home in the Lower East Side, I journeyed to the International Center of Photography and enrolled in black and white printing. I still volunteer in the darkroom cage and use their facilities to print all my work. Lately I think of myself equally as a printer and photographer; something magical and complex, much like my mind understanding an equation, comes together when I put a negative in an enlarger.
I understand you were part of Cycle 13 of America’s Next Top Model. Could you tell us about the experience?
Yes, it’s hard to believe sometimes. In 2009 I participated in America’s Next Top Model. It terrifies me that such an awkward part of my life is preserved on a TV series. I learned a great deal about the media and the production of reality television, probably the most interesting part of the experience. At the time I couldn’t refuse the offer, that temptress, curiosity, lured me in! Filming felt like summer camp; there was no struggle, homework or lens to view the outside world. The nine months I spent filming and waiting for the show to release/air gave me much needed time away from my rigorous academic life to stop and think about what I wanted to pursue after college. Although the filming experience was thrilling and dreamlike, the process of having it aired on television was frightening. In a matter of weeks your name is all over the Internet, people are emailing you and approaching you in the street. It’s intense; fans and bloggers were incredibly harsh. A lot of negative energy that I wasn’t used to regarding my image was brought to my attention. However, I’m grateful for the show, it brought a lot of good change in my life. Prior to the show, I had accepted an entry-level finance job in Manhattan; it’s ironic that I still ended up in New York, but on completely different terms.
Which came first, modeling or photography? Would you say that being a model has contributed to your photographic work?
Professionally, modeling came first… but as a child, photography always piqued my interest. My mother, who also photographed quite frequently, gave me disposable cameras and encouraged me to take pictures.
Modeling fueled the fire that burns through my images. Traveling through modeling and collecting such vibrant adventures and intriguing characters provoked my mind to understand my stories visually. While living in Mexico City I thought of the name ‘In Rooms’, which a year later came together as how I would begin to understand my photography work. I’m intrigued by intimate moments, memories, the vibrant experience life offers and most importantly people. Modeling (which I still do occasionally), continues to fuel underlying tones in my visual narrative.
When and how did you get first acquainted with photography? What did you photograph back then? How has it been so far?
One morning in the fall of 2010, on top of a bunk bed in Guangzhou China, I wrote in my journal, “I need to photograph people”, and left the apartment to buy a reflector, tripod and color fills. I photographed my roommate that day, abandoned my commercial modeling career, and returned home to California where a friend gave me a 35mm camera and a roll of black and white film. The beginning of the end as they say… I photographed people, still do, any person that is open and connected to my mind. Photography has changed my life; I live and breathe pushing my mind to understand the world I’ve created visually. The process drives me insane, but I can’t stop constructing images and wanting to create them.
What cameras have you used and what do you mainly use now?
For the past year I’ve focused on shooting with a Mamiya 7, and recently purchased a Pentax 67. Prior all my 35mm images are with a Canon 1N or Pentax Spotmatic.
Do you only shoot on film or do you also shoot digital? If both, when do you use film and when do you shoot digital?
I only shoot film, for now the process makes the most sense to me. I like the complex routine my mind experiences, the eyes gravitation towards an image I see, while simultaneously thinking to understand it before I click the shutter (I only have 10 frames on a roll). I see the advantages of digital but as I mentioned earlier, the darkroom is an important part of the process.
What inspires you to shoot? What are your preferred subjects?
Life. The energy that lingers after you’ve met someone you’re deeply connected to or walked through scenery that sent chills up your spine. My subjects are people I’m close to and people I met that are open and willing to collaborate. I should stop being shy and approach more people, there are plenty I would enjoy working with.
I noticed that you take a lot of nude photographs. Can you tell us why? What it is about the human form that attracts you and makes you want to photograph them shockingly bare?
Yes…there is something alive and rare in the spirited interaction of people nude together. It’s a mixture of beauty, vulnerability, curiosity, intimacy, & humor. Lately it’s rare to find a week where I am not in a room or desolate landscape with other nude bodies. I like it this way; it balances out teaching mathematics to teenagers. I wish more people could go to work and disrobe with their coworkers while smiling awkwardly in fits of giggles.
At first I wanted to shoot fashion, and I tried, but quickly lost access to clothes or didn’t have the right clothes. When there were no clothes I photographed nudity. In some ways I’m a minimalist, I enjoy the simplicity and timelessness of plain skin and the tone of grey captured on film. I’m also drawn to the shapes the body adds compositionally and the complex emotional journey bodies can stimulate in different viewers.
When I first photographed others nude in a private room it was thrilling. I relate a lot to Diane Arbus’ quote “I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do – that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse”
How would you describe your photographic style? What do you think makes it distinct? Do you follow a set of rules when you shoot?
Something in the genre of narrative photography… I like my images to look like they’re frames from the same story told over time. For my black and whites, I have been working in the darkroom to have a distinct look, I think I’ve gotten to an aesthetic I’m happy with, although I’m always changing. I don’t follow rules too much; I’m usually scatterbrained and trying to remember where my lens cap went and if I already changed the settings to match my light reading. Getting the correct exposure is important otherwise I work in different and chaotic ways to direct subjects or myself into the frame.
Tell us about “The Hotel Haunting.”
It was a day of photographing forever burnt into my memory and an eerie night spent alone in a hotel full of eager spirits. After a friend told me of the hotel, I spent 9 months fantasizing about a ghostly tale to take place inside. When the day of the shoot came together, I spent 12 hours photographing a lovely muse, Sarah Abney. It was one of the most thrilling days I had as a photographer; some creative demon that tormented my mind for months was finally exorcised. I then spent two years editing the frames into a 96 page photographic narrative, available on my print shop. I learned a lot about constructing a photographic narrative. I had only been photographing less than a year at this point, so it was ambitious. As my subject matter changes, I greatly look forward to putting together my next book.
Tell us about a body of work, projects,clients that you’re particularly proud of fond of.
In June I photographed a series for a new magazine, Vandals, which is due to come out in November. The magazine paired me with an incredible designer Zana Bayne and let me have free reign with the creative part of the shoot. After the shoot I spent a month in the darkroom with different printing techniques to add a level of surrealism to the images. You can follow Vandals on Facebook to keep at eye out for the release of the magazine.
Any cool projects you’re currently working on or exhibits? Any links to promote these? Where can fans admire more of your work?
I’ll be working on printing a lot of new work this fall and hopefully can show my work sometime in the next year. I have around 40 final prints from my first solo show last May and am hoping to continue showing the work… I’d like to have a book of my 35mm photographs out too. It seems the series from 2011-2012 is complete, I haven’t picked up my 35mm camera in months. My website has links to tumblr, instagram, flickr, facebook and my print shop to follow updates/new work. www.in-rooms.com
What’s the best thing anyone has ever said about your work?
My work gave birth to the dark erotic love child of Kubrick, Lynch & Hitchcock.
Do you have a dream project? Could you tell us about it?
To direct a film, for years I have been brainstorming a title and plot, very much like the year I spent wrapped around the idea of ‘in rooms’ before I had a camera. Visuals continue to plague my imagination. I’m hoping in the next couple years I can also make a transition into video and meet others to collaborate with.
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
Be patient, open, and ambitious; photograph everything that titillates your mind. Do not think too much while you photograph, but reflect afterward. Be aware of others’ work but do not compare to your own, follow your own voice. Don’t be afraid to show everything you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. I said it already, but be patient, if something isn’t working, get excited to seek change or if you are uncertain about a series or images sit on it before you publish it. There is a lot of pressure to constantly post work in this social media crazed society we’re living in. Photography, and your eye, like yourself, is always evolving (I hope!) and let your work do so as well.
Aside from photography, are there other creative endeavors that you’d like to pursue or are currently pursuing?
Photography and printing in the darkroom take up most of my creative time, although I love getting involved with most projects involving a camera. I assist for an agency in Manhattan and also work on photo production for another. At one time I wanted to get into acting. I starred in an indie film, “Better Than Dead,” which is available on Amazon, although I never figured out what my next step was afterward with acting, nor if I was any good, it seemed and still seems so complicated to get into. Reality bores me; I enjoy any opportunity to transcend to another world.
Who are your greatest influences?
When I first got into photography I greatly admired Francesca Woodman, I fell in love with the painful curiosity in her black and white world. At times I feel very inspired by Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, Helmut Newton, Andre Kertesz, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Roger Ballen and painter Francis Bacon – to name a few. The filmmakers Kubrick, Lynch, & Hitchcock are always lurking somewhere in the back of my mind.
Any last words?
Every person you meet is a character running around without a plot.