Iowa Arts Council
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Iowa Arts Council

To Overcome Fear, Photographer Turns Camera on Herself

Click. Open. Unload. Develop the film. Mix the chemicals. Expose the paper. Watch the image appear.

Brittany Brooke Crow fell in love with photography as soon as she set foot in the darkroom at Johnston High School.

“Watching the print come to life in the development tray, it was just magical,” she said. “I loved every step of the process.”

Her process and tools are different now, at 30, but the Iowa Artist Fellow still uses photography to investigate the world and how she fits into it. She often turns the camera on herself to focus on and ultimately overcome her fears of intimacy and vulnerability — “to understand them,” she said, “to look them straight on, unflinching, and really see them.”

Last year, for example, Crow installed a solo show at the OL Guild, a smallish gallery space in a former gas station that Olson-Larsen Galleries manages near its main location in West Des Moines. She hung mirrors around a series of nude self-portraits, all facing inward in a circle.

“So people had to use the mirrors to see the work, to peek in through the windows in a really voyeuristic way,” she said. “Questioning the act of looking felt very important.”

Above and below: Brittany Brooke Crow’s “Exhibition(ist)” at the OL Guild in West Des Moines.

She shot the photos for that project, called “Exhibition(ist),” in her space at Mainframe Studios. But she plans to venture outside next spring to create a new series of nude self-portraits at three locations in western, central and eastern Iowa. She said she wants to challenge herself to step out of a controlled setting and merge her interests in self-portraiture and landscapes.

Crow has experience as a figure model. She started posing for studio classes as a student at the University of Northern Iowa, where she majored in photography and art history, and has continued to pick up similar work more recently in Des Moines.

“It feels meditative,” she said. “It forces me to slow down and just sit.”

While she was at UNI, she took a class in performance art that emphasized the human body as a medium for creative expression.

“I’m really interested in the meaning we attach to our bodies,” she said, “and to my own relationship to the artwork when I’m physically part of the process.”

In the age of the selfie, when many people casually snap photos with their smartphones every day, Crow’s artwork reconsiders an aspect of modern life that many of us take for granted.

“What happens when the model and the artist are the same women?” she asks on her website. “How do self-knowledge and identity influence how one portrays themself?”

From left: “A Gentle Retreat,” “A Caress” and “False Modesty,” by Brittany Brooke Crow.

For someone who works solo, Crow is unusually plugged into Iowa’s art scene. She has worked at the Waterloo Center for the Arts, managed the art gallery at Wartburg College, completed a summer arts residency at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls, and served on the board of the Iowa Arts Council. She frequently participates in group exhibitions, both as an exhibitor and a juror, and often documents artworks and installations by other artists, including several recent shows at the Des Moines Art Center, where she used to work as a security officer and volunteer as a docent.

These days, she teaches digital photography at Grand View University and continues to meet other artists at Mainframe Studios, where she started renting space in March.

“I’ve made a concerted effort to build connections,” she said. “We have a really small art community in Iowa, and it’s stronger when we work together.”

“Nineteen Months Apart,” by Brittany Brooke Crow

Michael Morain, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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Empowering Iowans to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by cultivating creativity, participation & learning in the arts.

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