Capturing moments and creating narratives, Don Brodie’s documentary works are here to spark conversation
Through evocative imagery and film, the American photographer of Jamaican heritage tells us why his main aim is to provoke thought.
- Ayla Angelos
- 8 July 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
The son of “hard-working aspirational West-Indian parents”, Don Brodie was born and raised with three siblings in Maryland, US – including his identical twin brother and two elders. Growing up, the four of them were surrounded by the culture of their parents’ Jamaican heritage, an influence that Don now attributes to much of his photography practice.
After studying at Howard University in Washington, Don went on an “expanded path” to New York. After which he graduated from Parsons, The New School in 2010, and then started working at a studio to develop his “expressive voice in the photographic community,” he tells It’s Nice That. Now freelance, Don’s far-reaching portfolio spans editorial, documentary and creative projects – a collection of works that he uses to tell narratives and provoke thought from his audience. He also refers to himself as an “avid world traveller and fan of people,” meaning that Don’s pictures have ended up in various local and international exhibitions and publications.
“I envision my editorial work as a means of capturing moments in time, creating narratives and evoking thought,” he continues to explain of his practice. “Not always limited to reality, this work deals in concepts; ones that are often evolving into bigger pictures and continuously striving to do so by encoring an in-depth and thought-provoking perspective.”
This perspective is enabled through Don’s depiction of race, sexuality, culture and social status – elements that are detailed consciously throughout his documentary style of portraiture, editorial and film. Striving to spark conversation, Don adheres to an ever-evolving working process, usually commencing his days with an hour’s meditation and reading – what he calls a “device-free time” where he blocks out all screens and artificial light. A calming moment before he starts with communications and project prioritising, he makes sure break up his day by going for a long run. “It’s a great time to refresh my thinking and feed my fitness,” he says, before heading back to work feeling energised with the ideas that have brewed in these “unscheduled moments”. His best thoughts come while in this state, and he will continue to work on these ideas long into the early morning of 3am.
On the topic of Don’s most recent projects, he first points out Anything In Jamaica. “Land of wood and water – Jamaica is my second home,” he says. “Out of all the places in the world that I’ve travelled, nothing beats the eruption of clapping and cheer once landed in the land I love. Everyone share the same feeling of the return; I love working in my parents’ homeland, it makes me feel closer to my heritage.” Alongside these experiences, he particularly enjoys working with friends, crew and the “amazing” talent who all call Jamaica home. In 2019, specifically, he was asked to shoot two editorials with Symone Lu, a native Jamaican model who’s based in the country, and was able to staff a majority Jamaican team. He also notes how both projects were somewhat challenging, as he’d just come out of a surgery and had to produce most of the shoots on his own. “Independently, the shoots illustrate different lifestyles Jamaica has to offer and paint a picture of the positive and good vibes many have grown to know through pop-culture.”
Supporting tradition and freedom, the imagery within this series presents a much-need message of positivity, whether that’s the buzz around the late-night party scene in Kingston or celebrating dancehall culture with local performers. Of course, these parties are currently on hold due to the pandemic, but this doesn’t stop the locals from partying within their own homes or listening music on Billboard Selector or World Mixer.
A further project, titled Cliffhanger Project (Self Portraits), sees Don address his dream of the many places in the world that he’s had the privilege of visiting. “Stuck inside in the current pandemic times, I travel there through my mind despite the reality of the walls that keep me confined at home,” he says. “As I could see the quiet city outside of my window, I was allowed a time to pause and think about colour and what makes me different. It’s about our bodies and how we treat ourselves, as well as the way we have been viewed and tended to considering a long history of inequality.” Turning a critical lens onto the devastating effect that the virus has had on Black and Brown Americans, his lockdown self-portrait series is there as a reminder of the impact that this has had on communities of colour. “What happens when we all get the little bit of time we always wanted and asked for? Do you turn it on yourself? Do you turn it on your community?” He concludes: “Maybe we use it as a mirror to things we were gonna do but just did not have the opportunity to do it.”