Grand curving staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago


Grand curving staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago

Brooke Holm

Brings High Design and High-Risk Environments Into Focus

By Tori Phelps | Photography courtesy of Brooke Holm

Photography is a five-senses experience for Brooke Holm. Her sentences are peppered with descriptions of “tasty” light, “crispy” shots, and landscapes that “feed” her. She doesn’t just take pictures of gorgeous architecture and jaw-dropping natural phenomena; she captures visuals that viewers can practically smell, taste, and feel—and that commercial clients and private collectors hungrily seek out.

Perhaps Holm’s ability to present one perfect, complete moment is a subconscious response to a life that has, in many ways, been divided in two. Born in California to an American father and an Australian mother, she and her three sisters moved with their mother to Brisbane when Holm was ten. She spent the next twenty years in Australia, raised in a blended family of eight kids who spent more time around campfires than inside art galleries.

Holm didn’t discover her love for photography until a serendipitous assignment at her first postuniversity job. Serving mostly as a fetch-and-carry underling at an ad agency, she one day had a camera unexpectedly thrust into her hand and was asked to take photos of a billboard. The fact that the pictures were in focus was enough to turn Holm into the agency’s go-to photographer, starting with small assignments but working up to campaigns and client work.

For the first time, she’d found something she couldn’t get enough of. And, in a happy twist of fate, Holm seemed to have an innate talent for it. Armed with technical skills from a photography course and a portfolio built during her three years with the ad agency, she moved to Melbourne and landed a full-time photography job. Soon, however, she had enough private clients that she was able to quit and focus on freelance projects involving still life, interiors, and architecture.

Thanks to a fascination with straight lines and interesting contrasts, as well as a penchant for extremely high-resolution shots, Holm developed a look that resonated with clients. Her ability to take what she’s given—whether lots of “tasty” natural light or a moodier space—and turn it into photographic gold made her bankable. “I shoot with my gut,” she says of her technique. “I know I’m onto something when I get a visceral reaction while taking a photo; I can sense when it’s the right one.”

Her ability to take what she’s given—whether lots of “tasty” natural light or a moodier space—and turn it into photographic gold made her bankable.

In 2016, she also sensed that it was time to transfer her home base from Melbourne to New York City, a move made easier by the fact that she enjoys dual citizenship. Holm appreciates her new city’s relative proximity to the rest of the world (at least as compared with Australia), and she’s fallen in love with the creative vibe and collaborative energy of NYC, as well as the ease of collaborating with clients like Google and Architectural Digest.

While her relocation has brought about commercial opportunities, it’s also reconnected Holm with the land that ignited her art photography. “When I was able to travel back to the US to visit family, I found myself obsessing over landscapes—mountains, deserts, forests,” she recalls. “I’d always had a very strong connection to nature growing up, but there was a point where my childhood was upended, and I fell out of touch with nature for a while.”

That rediscovery brought a focus to her artistic expression, inspiring her to delve into the human–nature relationship and showcase both its strength and its destructive power. She’s particularly interested in the subject as it relates to climate change. Through breathtaking photos, Holm’s last three exhibits have tackled the question of what we stand to lose if our actions become irreversible.

A trip to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, cemented her decision to speak up for things that matter—like the fragile earth she found there. Among the utter splendor of the terrain, Holm felt a lingering sadness at how quickly humans were impacting it and, in the process, killing off species that will never exist again. She turned that distress into a mission to share the intensity of our planet’s landscapes with audiences who largely spend their lives in the concrete jungle without ever seeing a real one.

This need to present nature as a tangible reality rather than an abstract concept has taken on new weight since her move to a country with far fewer environmental safeguards than most. And she intends to use her platform as an artist to make what difference she can. “If enough people can be inspired, we can start changing the way governments run countries and relinquish habits that have brought us to the situation we’re in,” Holm says. “Hopefully, by that point, it’s not too late.”

The photos she uses for this ambitious undertaking are large—as big as possible—so they transport the viewer into the scene. They’re also more abstract than typical landscape images. Her overriding aesthetic of close-up detail and simple lines and shapes are still at play in her artistic work, but she often shoots from an aerial vantage point to showcase a perspective to which not many are privy. The result is nature with a pronounced architectural sensibility.

Brooke Holm

At the heart of Holm’s commercial and artistic efforts is an insatiable curiosity about the world. She loves that being a professional photographer means that no two days are the same; heck, they might not even take place on the same continent. Trying to pin her down for a conversation is tough when she’s jetting off to Africa to photograph in the world’s oldest desert, which comes on the heels of a trip to Milan’s design week. Holm spends up to a quarter of the year on the road, taking off whenever she feels the “itchy feet” that signal she’s been in one spot too long. Exploring far-flung corners pacifies her wanderlust while also exposing her to diverse cultures, architecture, and environments—all of which fuel her creativity.

Happier not planning things like which city she’ll live in next or whether she’ll eventually add watercolor, children’s books, or even Claymation to her artistic repertoire, Holm is content to focus on the near future. After her trip to Africa, she’ll turn her attention to collaborations with designers and art directors and then prep for a return trip to Svalbard next summer onboard a boat full of scientists and fellow artists.

Having built her career to the point where there is no “have to,” Holm concedes that she could give up her commercial work to fully prioritize her artwork. But she won’t. The truth is that she’s also passionate about architecture and design and has learned that the two halves must coexist. The yin and yang of cultivated spaces and uncultivated lands inspire her in a way she might not wholly understand, but she acknowledges and bows to that inspiration. “There’s a correlation between interior and exterior spaces that fascinates me,” she muses of the dichotomy. “My surroundings are important to me, clearly; I see and notice everything.”

And then she brings those details to the rest of the world. Lucky us.

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Tori Phelps has been a writer and editor for nearly twenty years. A publishing industry veteran and longtime VIE collaborator, Phelps lives with three kids, two cats, and one husband in Charleston, South Carolina.

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