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--- 13 MIN read

“The Specialness of the Street” with Bryan Brock.

Photographer, designer, community mentor and Combine-member Bryan Brock speaks with almost Buddha-like calm and humility, as we sit to discuss the creative need for space, time and the ins-and-outs of Street photography— including how it feels to lose 36 of the best pictures you’ve ever taken.

Q: So Thailand eh? You were there recently in the region, what were you looking for there? What did you find?

A: Yeah, I was on a 3-week vacation. Typically, I want to unplug when I travel, so I won't even bring my camera. But I was traveling to the other side of the world, so I was like, hey, let me at least bring my film camera.

Believe it or not, I had a lot of issues just getting my film and my camera safely in and out of different countries. I was in Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia, so every airport was a little different when it came to scanning film through security.

One of the best rolls of film I've ever shot (36 frames), was ruined in one second. I had made a mistake when loading the film. The film never actually advanced past the first frame. So I had all these incredible images that I shot, but when I developed that roll of film— it was all gone. Fatal error.

At Angkor Wat, [in Cambodia] one of the 8 wonders of the world, I saw four young monks standing there. I was walking by and saw the sun was coming from behind them, as they overlooked the water. One holding an umbrella was looking directly at me. I took two shots and felt like, my God, that's the best two shots I’ve ever taken. Nope: they don't exist. But the image is forever burned into my head.

Photo by - Bryan Brock

What are you looking for in a street photography subject from people?

I want to tell a story. There's a story in a person's face, or maybe they're busy with some kind of activity— but it’s got to evoke an emotion. I don't think you can have something timeless if there's no emotion attached to it.

Photo by - Bryan Brock

How do you decide what to shoot and what to just let be?

I don't think I've made a conscious effort to be like, “enjoy this moment”. I'm always trying to capture that moment

What happens is you see the moment, but you may not be quick enough to react or you might not be in the right position to capture it the way it deserves to be captured. So I've learned to be okay with letting go of photos I miss, because there will always be another one. But that's the Specialness of the street, right? That split second is never going to be duplicated.

Photo by Bryan Brock

How do your experiences as a street photographer make its way into your studio process?

I'm still finding my voice in photography. I think street photography is actually my first step to finding my voice. But I do really like the studio. I didn't think I would. I had no idea what I was doing at first, because I'm a natural light shooter out on the street. But when you're in a studio setting, there are a few cool things that happen.

First: You're not chasing or waiting for a scene to unfold. I wasn’t great at telling someone how to pose or move. It felt awkward. You have a deliberate hand in creating that scene, controlling what happens in your frame. So that was interesting to me, and a totally different way to create. When you start, it might be just you and one other person, but I’m at a spot now where I've done commercial shoots. As the lead photographer, with an assistant, a hair and makeup team, a stylist, the manager and/or the client, and the model — or models — everyone's looking to you for the answers.

Second: it challenges you to get better with people on an intimate basis. Because most times, on the street, people don't even know you're taking their photo. And when they do, it's usually through a very quick conversation to build a basic level of trust. In the studio, you’re going from concept development to getting the gear, to the backdrops, or whatever else is needed to bring the scene to life, there's a lot of thought behind that. And a lot of relationship-building with people to make the ideas come to life.

The funniest thing is everyone takes photos every day with their iphone and no one blinks an eye.

How does your studio experience bleed out into the street?

I think the studio work has allowed me to get out of the shyness I had on the street. Because on the street, you’re dealing with absolute strangers, and you have no connection to them whatsoever. At least in a studio setting, even if you're with strangers, you're both there for the same reason, which is to create.

That being said, on the street, I've had a few confrontations I’ve had to de-escalate. Either, I've taken photos, or people thought I was taking a photo without asking. The funniest thing is everyone takes photos every day with their phone and no one blinks an eye. No one comes up and says, why did you just take a photo of me? But the minute you have a lens or a film camera that looks old school, for some reason, people get more suspicious.

Studio Portrait by Bryan Brock

In the ideal scenario, what kinds of spaces do you envision viewers seeing your finished work— is it pretty traditional, or is it more digital nowadays?

For me, when it comes to sharing your work, social media is a gift and a curse. Because it's here today, gone tomorrow. Like doom-scrolling. People might like your photo, but they don't spend the time your photo might deserve, in order to take in all the layers. So they miss the messages that exist in the image.

If I want my work to affect change, I feel it needs to live in bigger spaces and spaces where people can take their time. That could definitely be a gallery. It could definitely be in coffee-table photobooks.

But I think your work can live in different installation styles, not necessarily the gallery, but even on the street. Or it could be on apparel or on products. It's technically endless. So I don't want my work to only be on social media. I want people to feel it, and that happens more when you're in a physical space and you have time. That’s why art galleries and museums exist, right? I'd love it if I was creating work that could live in those spaces, even when I'm no longer here.

What are you looking for in a creative community?

I don’t have a prototype of who should be in my community. I have an open door policy. On my photo walks, for example, I've got folks as young as 13 years old, and their parents who come out, and I've had people in their fifties and sixties. Some beginners, amateur photographers and some are professional photographers.

But, there are certain folks that have been on my photo walks over the course of, let's say, two years: people that started as beginners and dove into street photography to better their craft. If you look at their photos from day one and look at their photos now, it's like two different people. I can't really take credit for that. It's just cool to see, because I'm creating a space for everyone to come, learn together and feel comfortable. When we look at each other's work, it's like, holy, like, you went from: not knowing how to hold a camera, to; creating a shot I wish I took. That's probably the coolest experience. They're now the next generation on the come-up. I just hope I'm able to do this for the rest of my life.

What tools are you experimenting with right now?

Two years ago, I started a YouTube channel. In the last year, I’ve started taking it seriously. I’m not what you’d call an extrovert. I can turn it on, but I'm not naturally like that. I'm generally the guy in the corner at the party, hanging out until someone comes up and talks to me. So getting in front of the camera instead of being behind the camera was a crazy change of pace for me. Huge challenge!

But, I wanted to explore beyond my craft as a photographer and explore the craft of being a verbal storyteller. To share my words, share my ideas, some form of inspiration or education through my art. And how do I do that? Well, people call it YouTube University for a reason, because people go there to learn.

The doors are open. Let's create something that doesn't exist everywhere

Photo by Bryan Brock

Where do you see the biggest barrier to effecting change with art?

Exposure. I feel like, as a Canadian, (not to say that there aren't successful Canadian photographers, but), there's this stigma where you have to leave Canada to become successful and then come back. It can put you at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to gaining world exposure and how people find out about you.

But if I stick with this and I'm consistent, doors can open, and I make connections, I can create networks so that I don't have to feel stuck within a border.

How did you gravitate to The Combine?

When Amin [of OneMethod] brought around this idea of the Combine, we’d already worked on a few projects together, and respected each other’s hustle and grind.

I was invited to be a member and bring people – my community – into this space and activate. For me, it's just a cool thing to say, hey, like here's probably, I don't know, one of the coolest office spaces and studio spaces in the city of Toronto. The doors are open. Let's create something that doesn't exist everywhere. It's inspiring. And it allows me to use this space as my own creative playground.

What do you think makes a good playground?

It’s got to be big enough that, if you're going to do something like an art activation, the community can come out, show out and represent properly. So this space has that. Other things that are important are resources and tools. So whether that’s equipment, breakout rooms, the ability to contact or ask someone a question, even if it's not a full out mentorship, just a quick one-two.

And then, I think it's imagination: Like what ideas can you come up with and how can The Combine support that idea and bring it to life? A lot of times, we artists get stuck in our heads like, “man, I don't have a space or I don't have enough money or no one's going to come,” or whatever. Whatever thing we think of that holds us back. When you come into a space like this, you have the support of The Combine team. You have the ability to get funding or sponsorship or ideas off the ground with little to no costs. And I think the aspect of community, well, there's a million people that work here that are all in the creative space. You should definitely want to connect with them. The doors are big enough that you can open them wide. I don't think anyone would feel out of place here. The people that come through the door will help define what The Combine is.

Photo by Bryan Brock

How do you also just give yourself time to rest and let it be?

In the beginning, I wouldn't have given myself time to rest. I would have just gone until I burnt out or came as close to it as possible. The old version of me would have been like part of that hustle culture and that idea of there's no sleep for hustlers. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

I did succeed really early on, but it was at a pace that didn't make me feel good. I was unhealthy, you know, didn't have great relationships, drinking too much— all the things you could put into that mix.

I don't subscribe to that mentality anymore. Now I take my time, I slow down. It might be like 10 or 11 at night, and I'm like: I could go on working, but my body's telling me, “I think I'll be better if I work tomorrow and rest right now, and I'm cool with that.” I listen to my body and I don't care if it takes me longer to succeed because I'm going to succeed at a pace that feels good.

I’m taking the long, winding path and I'm not putting pressure on myself to hit the finish line tomorrow. I've learned that I want to enjoy the process more than ever before.

- Bryan Brock is an inaugural member at The Combine, and mentor and Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Remix Project. Curious to hear more of Bryan Brock talking? Check out his channel on Youtube, where he offers up insight from a life spent exploring creative worlds.

Written By:The Combine

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