Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.
Photographer Rochelle Brockington mostly finds herself behind the camera, working as a fashion photographer, shooting people of all shapes and sizes. But for Ryan McGinley’s Yearbook series, she found herself occupying the space on the other side of the lens. After following each other on Instagram, McGinley selected Rochelle to shoot with the Polaroid OneStep 2 camera for our #NewOriginals project; a serendipitous invitation of sorts. While she has mostly worked with digital cameras for professional shoots, she recently moved into the analog realm with a newly acquired Pentax 6×7 medium format camera and had been shooting on Polaroid for several years before the #NewOriginals opportunity came along.
At age 13, Rochelle’s father passed away, and she realized she didn’t have many photographs of him. So she made it her mission to begin capturing friends and family, as well as generally documenting time, so that she would have, in her words, “something to look back on.” To do this, she began using a Polaroid 600, which she eventually lost, before moving on to another camera. She describes her use of instant analog as something she pursued at family gatherings or more playful setups.
So when the #NewOriginals opportunity came along, Rochelle was well-acquainted with the format. But she tells Polaroid Originals, amidst some laughter, that she was thematically lost. The quantity of film stock, combined with assurances that she could shoot anything, caused a creative paralysis, albeit a temporary one. But a suggestion to “keep it light” proved useful in devising an aesthetic strategy.
“I hit up my friends and some Instagram followers that I’d been inspired by, picked a random date and told them to come,” she says. “I didn’t really want it to be performed for the camera—I just wanted to capture them as they were. I wanted the photos to be as diverse as possible in the time frame I had,” she says. “One of my friends had this big veil that he dyed pink and it’s just a long train and we shot in Prospect Park.”
Rochelle mostly shot her subjects in exterior locations, as she feels somewhat limited indoors. The locations were, as she says, random. Only a few places, like Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and its Botanical Garden, were selected in advance. She did some setups in the Botanical Garden’s Conservatory, which features four different sections of plants (aquatic, desert, bonsai and tropical). She and her model visited every section but the aquatic one, which was closed at the time.
A conscious decision was made to avoid using studio lights. Instead, Rochelle opted to use available daylight and get familiar with the camera’s built-in exposure. “I was learning the film,” she discusses on shooting with the OneStep 2. “Some of my photos turned out a bit dark, so I had to play with it.”
“With some of the photos—essentially when I was indoors at the conservatory with windows all around, since it wasn’t controlled light—it wasn’t really hard to figure out where I should shoot, but you can’t see it right away because it takes like fifteen minutes to develop fully,” she adds. “I shot them at really cool angles and some of them didn’t really come out well, so that was the only trouble I had with the film.”
A number of her photos feature women of color—again, in all shapes and sizes—posing casually on New York City rooftops. Often she frames these models relatively small against vast expanses of sky or carefully selected cityscapes. It’s an exceptionally interesting aesthetic choice, and the results are eye-catching in a very beautiful way.
Apart from producing a number of new and dynamic images for the #NewOriginals, the project reaffirmed her personal maxim: “just keep working.” It’s an approach that she believes can motivate other young photographers trying to find their way in a world of images. “Sometimes I feel that I’m not where I want to be when I compare myself to someone else,” she explains. “But my friends will say, ‘But wait, Rochelle, you’ve shot for so and so’, and it is quite a big deal. Don’t compare yourself to other people: you don’t know what it took for that person to get to where they are.”
“Put yourself out there,” she adds. “Post your work online. Take classes if you can. Utilize the internet and make friends who do what you want to do. It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of.”
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