I’m Shawn, a photographer and cinematographer based in Brooklyn, New York. If I had to pick a creative focus, it would be in storytelling. I love to tell stories about creative people, people who work with their hands, and people who have worked through adversity to follow their passions. I’m currently splitting my time between photography and filmmaking, much of which has been centered on a documentary style.
2. Can you share the story of how you came to find visual creativity as a passion and what is your favorite medium to create?
I think I was fortunate to grow up always interested in art and to have a grandmother who encouraged me to pursue that interest. Most of my childhood was spent drawing, painting, working with clay, and even stained glass. When I was 12, my dad gave me my first camera, a 3mp digital camera. The process really clicked for me. I had this instant connection to the medium.
I dropped out of school just after 8th grade and pursued a number of different jobs, but even after graduating college, there was still this intense pull to be creative. I ended up leaving my six-year career in education to become a photographer. It’s been the most fulfilling decision of my life.
3. Do you prefer to work with digital or film? What combination are you currently using for street photography?
I think there’s something inherently beautiful about film photography; the tactile experience is impossible to replicate at the computer. Although I have an affinity for black and white film, I tend to lean on digital technology for most of my paid work; it comes down to convenience and peace of mind, really. When I’m out making photographs for my personal projects though, I love to utilize film. I tend to create images in black and white and use mostly Ilford HP5. I tend to develop and scan all of the film myself at home. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.
4. What excites you most about the work you do showcasing other people in photography and filmmaking?
I think it comes back to my love for storytelling. There’s something so powerful and inspiring about someone inviting you into their own passions and telling you about how those things have changed their life. I’m always fascinated to see how people do things differently than me.
5. Since moving to NYC, do you feel as though your creativity or creative influence has changed at all? If so, how?
Yeah, New York is the third city I’ve called home. Every time I’ve moved, I’ve learned something more about myself. That’s especially true about my relationship to creative endeavors. Moving to New York was this incredible opportunity to be a part of a city of creatives. Of course, it’s offered its own challenges. There are so many incredible creatives here that it’s tough to stand out; but that’s also been inspiring because you’re surrounded by so many people with their own vision and methods for telling stories. I’ve only lived here for six months, but I’ve found so many opportunities to connect with other photographers and filmmakers, groups, and even schools to expand my knowledge of the photographic medium. It’s been amazing.
6. As a photographer with equal emphasis on street, editorial, and portrait work, who are your inspirations that have driven your creative development.
I think much of this has shifted in recent months, and that’s not because the people I was following before weren’t good, but because my focus has shifted personally. I’m growing this interest in using my photography to tell more stories, to put myself into other people’s shoes, and to use photography to describe a narrative. It’s been a challenge to the way I’ve thought about the world. Pretty pictures for Instagram aren’t my top priority like they would have been even a year ago. Instead, I’m aiming to create some work that shares a message with other people. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve loved the process.
Some of the people I’ve found inspiring lately are Alec Soth and Gregory Halpern for this documentary narrative style. I’ve also been fascinated with the work of Andre Wagner, and fellow St. Louis native, Adrian Octavius Walker. I’ve leaned on photo books a lot lately and some of my favorites have been Knit Club by Carolyn Drake, Highway Kind by Justine Kurland, and Red Eye to New York by Janet Delaney.
One of my favorite YouTube channels has been Mike Gray because he creates these beautiful narratives. I think it’s also been incredibly valuable to look at other mediums beyond photography though. I’ve spent a lot of time lately watching videos on lighting breakdown for movies because understanding light can really make a photograph. Watching filmmakers like Danny Gervirtz, Chris Naum, and Michael Kortlander have helped me think about how I’m using both photo and video to tell stories.
7. I notice you also have a regularly updated blog on your portfolio website, have you always enjoyed writing?
Yeah, I have this funny relationship to writing. I’ve always had a natural ability to write, but was a terrible student growing up. I daydreamed a lot and got terrible grades. It wasn’t until college when a professor complimented my writing that I started to think it was fun. From there, I joined the school newspaper and added an English major to my college plans. I started college as a double major: documentary filmmaking and English. I ultimately graduated with a degree in education, but those English courses have paid off in dividends. And of course my love for filmmaking has come back around.
8. Are there any other creative mediums that you’re passionate about that you don’t currently share on social media.
I don’t really advertise it, but I still love to draw. I picked up an iPad Pro a couple years ago and an Apple Pencil and have been in love with it. I can sit down for an entire afternoon drawing in Procreate. Nowadays I like to create simple illustrations.
9. Do you consider the work you create to be art? Can you explain your answer?
That’s an interesting question. Personally, I think it’s art. Photographers make so many creative decisions that are often overlooked. You decide what’s in the frame, wether there’s movement or not, how the image is exposed, etc. Even if you try to make images that are accurate to what the eye sees, you’ll still add or subtract things from the frame. This role of designing a frame makes it art to me.
10. Do you have any creative projects you’re currently working on that you’d also like to share?
I’m currently taking this course on documentary photography through the International Center of Photography here in New York. It’s been a great outlet to think about developing and pursuing projects more fully. One of my favorites right now is a project exploring how coffee makes it from a plant to a drink. It’s still in its infancy, but it’s been incredibly rewarding. You can see more of it at https://shawnpbruce.com/editorial.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a part of this publication.