Green Tea with Great Minds - Brooke Holm

Parlor Tea celebrates the art of living mindfully, slowing down and seeing the beauty in every day. Our Green Tea with Great Minds is a conversation series where we sit down with some of the great minds in our community. Together we discuss ways in which creativity, ritual and connection can be nurtured and maintained in our busy lives.

This month we sat down with Brooke Holm, an Australian-American photographer whose work investigates the complex relationship between humans and our environment. We loved talking to Brooke about her experience with isolation and creativity, especially at a time when our surrounding environment has been so small and sometimes restricted.

Brooke working in Namibia. Image credit: Jeff Albert

Who you are, where you are from and what do you do?

I'm Brooke Holm and I'm a photographer. I’m half Australian and half American and while I currently live in New York, I still think of Melbourne as my Australian home. I consider it my base, it’s where I did the most growing and experienced the radical transformation of becoming a person. I've been working as a photographer for almost 10 years and my work is a combination of personal work and architecture, interiors and still life for clients.

The world we once knew, has drastically changed. What four words would you use to describe the past few months in isolation?

Historical, momentus, contemplative and still.

Sea Lake I - By Brooke Holm

How does your work inspire meaning for you and have you used your creativity differently throughout isolation?

I think I'm naturally a very inquisitive and curious person.  I'm always searching for meaning, whether it's in my own life or through my work. I’m really interested in the relationship between humans and the environment, and during isolation our environment has been everything because it directly affects the way we feel.

There's so many ideas about spatial relationships with the body and the environment and while I notice this all the time, it's been particularly potent during the pandemic. I’ve been stuck in my room as I got sick with a mild case of COVID-19. It meant I was stuck in my environment for, like, two full weeks and I realised that it can really mess with your mind – I learned to appreciate my window more.

What has living within isolation taught you about yourself?

I am pretty good at being alone because I'm a little introverted but when I was in isolation I missed the balance. Not having the option to go out and meet people was really tough at times. I realised two months in that I hadn't had a hug from anyone in so long. I'm an affectionate person and I really missed human contact, not having it was really strange. When I got my first post-iso hug from my sister (after we all decided that I was safe and that I wasn't going to get anyone sick) it was so nice. 

I didn't learn anything new about myself, but I think the things that I had buried deep in my head became a bit more obvious. I think isolation for humans is very strange as we're not meant to live this way, we're social creatures and having to avoid each other is so unnatural.

Brooke working in Namibia. Image credit: Jeff Albert

Where do you go to find pockets of possibility or inspiration? 

I know I always say this but nature is really my major source of inspiration. And actually, I find it really difficult when I can't access nature. I live in New York City so there's not much of it around but I can go to a really beautiful park and just lay in the grass. There's trees, it's beautiful, and you can kind of escape from the city for a little bit.

Besides that, and it sounds really nerdy, but I tend to think a lot about space. I think a lot about looking up at the moon and the stars and find that very inspiring. It helps to ground me in terms of remembering where we are in the world. I think letting yourself feel small is a really good thing.

Nothing to see here. Brooke HolmNothing to see here - By Brooke Holm

Do you have a favourite park in New York? 

My favourite one is Prospect Park in Brooklyn but I do love Central Park. It's so beautiful. The trees are amazing and it's just about finding the right little pocket.

How do you think the past few months will shape the industry you are in?

Honestly, I really don't know what will happen because New York is still not opening back up and there's gonna be a lingering fear for a long time. If I were to work on a photoshoot, like a commercial photoshoot or editorial shoot, I imagine there would have to be a small group of people on set or everyone would need to wear a mask and everything would be highly sanitised.

How do you turn down noise, when we are so connected to technology and media, and find space for safety and quiet?

I definitely have time set aside where I don't look at my phone and I won't look at social media or the news. And then I have a few creative outlets that I have been able to use. I play the piano, I have played since I was a little kid and last year I bought myself an electric piano. So throughout this recent isolation I would just go to the piano, sit down, put my headphones on and play for hours and hours.  

I write music too, so I'll just start writing and recording it and messing about with it on the computer, and then by the time I know it I've spent a whole day just working on this song. It's never gonna go anywhere but I'm just so into it and I love the way my mind is completely transformed and transported. 

It’s like you’re unable to think of anything else, which is really awesome. I feel the same way about cooking, or reading a novel. All of those things kind of reset my brain, or take it to a different place.

Sand Sea 9 by Brooke HolmSand Sea IX - By Brooke Holm

What are some of the ways you have maintained a connection to friends, family and yourself?

I'm very close to my sisters and my mum and we video chat and call each other all the time. I have a very close circle of people that I talk to all the time and then I have an outer circle of people that I check in with every couple months. I’m not the best at keeping in touch with everyone I’d like to, to be honest.

Are there any rituals you have adopted during your time in social isolation that you would like to hold on to?

I definitely want to write more. And not just in the morning when I’m writing just to get stuff out of my head. I want it to be more meaningful. It might just be for me, but I think that it really helps me process my thoughts, it’s a way for me to distil everything that's going on inside me. Music and writing have really been therapeutic and helpful for me in processing everything that's been going on.

If you could sit down and share a cup of tea with someone you admire, who would it be and why?

Okay. So the ‘deadest’ person I would like to sit down with is Carl Sagan. For those who don't know, he was an astrophysicist, scientist, cosmologist and just a space-darling. I think the way he told stories about space and shared science with people made it very understandable and inspiring. His way of delivery and storytelling made a real impact on me.

Astrophysicists are my personal heroes. I wish I could sit down with Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson and really nerd out about space.

If there was one landscape in the world that you would like to photograph that you haven't yet been to, where would that be?

Two places have been on my list for a very long time and I haven’t been able to get there: Greenland and Antarctica. I want to see and document them before they’re completely changed but I do question if me going is making the situation worse. I guess all I can do is hope that the kind of work I do, and the conversations that I bring about in terms of climate change with my own personal work, is more of a help than a hindrance.  I always try to figure out the best way to approach it with the least amount of environmental impact. It’s a question I’m constantly battling within my head.

Brooke’s favourite books on the relationship between humans and nature: 

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

American Primitive by Mary Oliver

Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari 

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

To learn more about Brooke and her incredible photography, visit www.brookeholm.com.

September 2020. Green Tea with Great Minds - Brooke Holm.