Brennan Booker is a photographic artist living and working in Columbia SC. He is currently finishing his final year of his Bachelors of Fine Arts in studio art at the University of South Carolina. His work focuses on the interactions between queer identity, the southern physical and cultural landscapes, and masculinity. In addition to his photography practice, he is the current Editor in Chief of the University of South Carolina's magazine Garnet & Black, a quarterly 56 page student run magazine. His work primarily serves to provide a platform for marginalized people to see themselves represented.
2017 – present
Honeysuckle is a collection of images that investigate the interactions between the queer masculine experience and the southern cultural and physical landscapes. I use photography to create a stage that sets queer masculine people at the center of a narrative cast in the south. In doing so, I am creating a space where these two conflicting identities can interact freely, allowing the viewers visual access into the complexities of queer identity.
Why University of South Carolina?
The photo program at University of South Carolina was never where I anticipated spending my time as an undergraduate. I began as a music major and when I realized that it wasn't for me, a friend who was a photo major at the time really encouraged me to try and find a home there, and I'm very lucky it wound up being a perfect fit. The program here is incredibly tight knit and encourages that sense of community to be at the center of everyone's art making. Due to the smaller nature of our program (currently around 12 BFA students across all levels) we all have a really intimate knowledge of each others work and have seen projects develop from the ground up. Additionally, our program is structured in a way that encourages long form work. During your last two years you can work on projects for as long as one semester to two years. Because of this I was really able to organically develop my studio practice around the work I felt driven to make.
Our professors are also deeply involved in our work. With three faculty members the student to faculty ratio is low, meaning they spend a lot of time with you and your work and can actually take time to get invested in it. Their guidance and difference in opinions have been invaluable to the growth of my own work. Kathleen Robbins, Lauren Greenwald, and Ashley Kauschinger are all incredible photographers and educators. They have made a wonderful gem of a program where people of all walks of life are welcome to create and be respected. As a queer artist living and working in the south to find a program and set of mentors who are supportive of my vision is something I consider myself very lucky to have stumbled into almost by accident.
How has your experience at University of South Carolina informed or shaped your work?
My work started at the beginning of my senior year, and now that it's almost over, looking back it really has become the summation of my time in this program. With a program located in the same town as my family home I was able to create really intimate family work for a long period of time and that really opened the door to the portraits in Honeysuckle. A lot of the themes that I was drawn to working in such as masculinity, family dynamics, the southern landscape, were things that aligned with what the work being made by the Professors in my program, so my work really fit in well with the environment I was working in.
USC's program is small but well equipped. We have a digital lab with iMacs, Epson Scanners & Printers including two large format roll printers. We also have an Imacon scanner for people using a hybrid digital/film workflow. Most of the students in our program are shooting this way. Working across different photographic processes is encouraged and a lot of students work in several different formats. It's great that in our program all of the processes feel equally respected. We put a big emphasis on the meaning of a photograph instead of how it was made. Here digital and film are both encouraged.
What kind of exhibition or arts-related job opportunities exist in the area for current students and recent graduates?
In all honesty, Columbia has a long way to go with the arts community. But the people and institutions working here are working hard to bring the arts to our city. We have an incredible art museum that is paying attention to the photography world and really working to bring that into the work people see in the community. We also just had our first public darkroom open. The one benefit to where Columbia is located though is that it's fairly centrally located in the South East, there's a lot of commercial opportunities if you're willing to drive a few hours. You're central to Charlotte, Atlanta, and Charleston where a lot of commercial photography is happening. If that's a market you're interested in breaking into, this is a good place to be based.
What’s the most memorable piece of advice you’ve received from a mentor?
You don't always have to be making work.
I think a lot of young artists struggle with this, myself included. It was ok to take time and rest my brain a bit. After my junior year ended, I spent about a month away from my work. I took that time to make photos freely and on my own time. When I finally felt ready to approach beginning another project, I had the time to reflect on what I wanted to accomplish with new work and why.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking to attend University of South Carolina?
Turn what may seem like a disadvantage into something that you can make work for you. I was nervous about being in a small program but by investing into the work of those around me I found a sense of community that has been central to my art making.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?