David Brookton is a photographer based in Denver, Colorado, who had a brief stint of living in Los Angeles. While he was here, we were able to catch a word with him before he exited gracefully from the Golden State. His shy demeanor was surprising based on the handsome photos we caught on his Instagram, but once we were able to make him comfortable, we were excited about how much he opened up.
As an LGBT advocate, he was incredibly inspiring, sharing his insecurities he has dealt with through the years and how photography helped him fight his negative thoughts. His latest project, a coffee table photography book, sets to inspire such causes as suicide prevention and exploring more of the LGBT community - sort of an 'it gets better' message, but with his personal spin on it.
Prior to taking this on, Brookton worked on amazing exhibitions that combine photography and fashion - printing his photographs onto t-shirts and framing them as pieces of art. He was lucky enough to land one of his pieces on the pages of Glamour worn by Anna Kendrick, which has opened doors for his future.
Labeling Men: Where are from originally?
David Brookton: Denver, Colorado.
Labeling Men: When did you move to LA?
David Brookton: I moved a year ago, August.
Labeling Men: Do you still consider yourself a newbie?
David Brookton: Absolutely, yeah.
Labeling Men: What part of LA do you live in?
David Brookton: I'm in Los Feliz, lived here the whole time and that's where I take my pictures.
Labeling Men: What is your favorite thing about LA so far?
David Brookton: I think just the fact that there is so much going on at the same time, diversity and culture and events and beautiful scenery. What about you guys?
Labeling Men: We really don't know. There is always something to do and it’s a lot cheaper then New York City. And the sunshine! What’s your least favorite thing about LA?
David Brookton: It’s expensive compared to Denver, but not compared to NYC or San Fran.
Labeling Men: Did you ever think about moving to New York?
David Brookton: Yeah, actually it was between New York and LA. I visited NYC in the middle of the winter during the worst of the worst and I was like “NO!” It’s cold like that in Denver, so I was over it.
Labeling Men: What was it like growing up in Denver?
David Brookton: It was okay. I always felt like an awkward kid stuck in the suburbs, like I was out of place, the black sheep of the community. But it was a supportive environment regardless.
Labeling Men: When did you take your first photograph?
David Brookton: I don't know, it’s such a good question! I think I started with my first professional camera in college when I was in photo class and thought of it as a real thing.
Labeling Men: Did you go to school for photography?
David Brookton: I studied fine art and had a big emphasis on photography with some video, web design and stuff.
Labeling Men: What inspired you to turn photography into a career?
David Brookton: It kind of fell into place. I was battling depression for years and when I moved here I was in a big rut, struggling with mental illness and all that. So photo gave me this opportunity to invite people into my space and photograph them and kind of see beauty and capture that and that process made me feel a lot better. I ran with it and it makes me happy, so that’s what turned it.
Labeling Men: We did a follow up with an interview we did, he's a musician slash DJ named Theo [Theophilus Martins], and he said depression for him was necessary to improve his art. Do you feel like going through depression brings out some of your best artwork?
David Brookton: I did feel that way for a long time, which is why I let it sit for a while. Then I watched Marina Abramović’s manifesto "The Artist is Present" and she talks about how depression doesn't serve the artist and that it needs to be treated because it creates stagnation and all of that, but I do think it serves its purpose. I was very interested in this sculpture called "The Goddess of Depression.” It’s this really beautiful piece garmented in a bunch of raindrop tears made of glass and she's immaculate, beautiful, and I would always reference it in my head. It was this beautiful sadness that propels creativity, but also kind of drowns it, which is this weird balance.
Labeling Men: What are some of your latest projects that you've been working on?
David Brookton: I've been doing portraits more and I'm working on a book, which is going to be about all of that. My main goal is to create exposure as a queer male for younger queer people to show youth that weirdness is amazing, to de-stigmatize mental illness, and especially with the reduction of suicide within the queer and trans communities.
Labeling Men: How do you feel about Caitlyn Jenner?
David Brookton: I think that regardless of the family celebrity and all the publicity that they get, I think it really boils down to the fact it’s awesome that there is all this publicity around trans media. She is really brave and it’s a good thing. The fame with this could be really toxic, but I support her 100% and she's great. Being able to watch her story, it really educated us and a lot of people out there. Some people say there is a chemical imbalance or that it’s wrong and watching that really opens up a new world to it and it’s amazing. Even though the Kardashians are such a strong presence in middle America, it allowed her to sneak in this wonderful thing which otherwise wouldn't have had any substance.
Labeling Men: It’s crazy how that one person in that family has been famous since the 1970s. If you think about it through the decades with Kris Jenner and them getting married and the show and now Caitlyn has stepped it up one more notch. Back to this! How does your work tie into fashion? You mentioned that you're starting to do shirts and stuff?
David Brookton: I was trying to take photos and put a print on it. I didn't want to see myself as taking photographs and making prints and selling them in coffee shops and stuff like that, I didn't think people of our generation would be interested in an inkjet printer art that they could print off the Internet themselves. My college thesis was about printing my photos onto fabrics and then putting those against the actual prints and disguising the shirts against the photos, so I was excited about that but that transition kind of taught me about fashion. I'm still continuing that by painting photographs and stuff like that, kind of blending the medium with painting and drawing. With fashion I think it ties into the portraits that I do because I haven't been interested in overt sexuality or nudity, and so I love making clothes and tearing clothes and distressing clothes and styling people who come through with random shirts that I make.
Labeling Men: Love a distressed shirt!
David Brookton: I'll hook you up!
Labeling Men: We just did a fashion video with this line called "Totally Blown", and they are out in Joshua Tree. To distress their clothes, they shoot with guns. We did a collaboration with them and there is a whole story line there.
David Brookton: There is this Ukrainian designer who distresses all their stuff with moths. They lock their silks in a room with moths and they just eat them.
Labeling Men: That's so cool and crazy; we need to find out who that is!
David Brookton: They are like really expensive though!
Labeling Men: Yeah I’m sure, it’s a great concept! What are your favorite fashion trends this year?
David Brookton: Not giving a fuck!
Labeling Men: [laughs]
David Brookton: That's my favorite fashion trend this year!
Labeling Men: We like that!
David Brookton: Wearing whatever you want, whenever you want, because you can.
Labeling Men: What’s your favorite decade for fashion?
David Brookton: Good question! I guess now is really good! I love that you could just wear anything, and Rihanna is such a good example of that. I could never see Marilyn [Monroe] wearing something that would reveal her boobs, like hold her cleavage so close and with diamonds and jewels, anybody could wear that!
Labeling Men: Are you single or dating here in Los Angeles?
David Brookton: I've been single for a bit.
Labeling Men: How do you like it so far?
David Brookton: It’s been good. Its’ good to focus on work; my work is my boyfriend.
Labeling Men: Have you dated at all in LA?
David Brookton: Yeah, on and off. It’s been a challenge. I'm so jaded so I'm going to try and not sound super bitter. [laughs] It’s a battlefield out there!
Labeling Men: Do you go out a lot?
David Brookton: In waves. I'll go out and I love to dance and lose myself. Lately I've been staying in a bit; it comes and goes with my paychecks.
Labeling Men: Do you go out to gay bars or just anywhere?
David Brookton: I'll go anywhere if there is good dancing. Usually at gay bars like Akbar, love dive bars.
Labeling Men: You've already touched upon this, but do you think a broken heart is better for inspiration or would you rather be happy and inspired?
David Brookton: That is a really good question! Yes, I definitely think there is so much to learn from a solid cry moment or really intense break ups have so much to teach us and terrible relationships, the worst of the worst. I think there is an amazing silver lining of wisdom, also creativity and inspiration from that is really impactful. It could also be bad though. I have a friend that I photographed that is in his 30s, was cheated on by his partner and just kind of left and he's so devastated, he's on three different antidepressants and numb, and that thing kind of kills me to see. But I think he's creating things and focusing on them. Heartbreak has inspired so many people.
Labeling Men: Miley Cyrus once said, "It’s so funny how you go through life without that person and then you meet them and fall in love with them and once you break up with them, its’ the most devastating thing ever, but before that you were fine." It really resonated because it was all-good before. Lastly, what are some words you like to live by?
David Brookton: I got “truth” tattooed on my body and I love to live by that. I think exploring and accepting your own truth is the most powerful thing a creative person has. Taking whatever they have within them and running with it, allowing myself to be this kind of melancholy person who is challenging mental illness and queerness, and I think that truth is so important.
See more of David Brookton’s work at DavidBrookton.com and follow him on Instagram and Twitter @davidbrookton
Interview by Amelia Williams
Top Photograph courtesy of David Brookton
Bottom Photo by Amelia Williams