Embracing the mystery
Local artist takes on balance between beauty and suffering

Embracing the mystery

Durango photographer and aspiring filmmaker Jacob Brooks has traveled the world for his art and will now host an art opening in his hometown of Cedaredge./ Courtesy photo

Stephen Sellers - 05/25/2023

World-class globetrotting film photographer and aspiring filmmaker Jacob Brooks, along with his musician wife, Annie, have called Durango home for almost two decades. In that time, he has worked as a Red Snapper bartender, a private school educator and a wildly successful wedding and fashion photographer. As a filmmaker, his 2017 short, “To the Muse,” which was shot in Havana, Cuba, racked up awards at film festivals in Oaxaca, Denver, Orlando and even Durango.

A book could already be written about this man and the thousands upon thousands of images and art he’s painstakingly created with the utmost integrity and sincerity – and someday most likely will. Until then, enjoy this brief snippet of conversation with Brooks about his latest exhibit, which is on display a few hours north in his home town of Cedaredge.

Tell us about your new exhibition “The Life That Vishnu Dreamed.”

It’s an exhibition of my work in India, spanning seven years. For a long time, I really wanted to go to India, and a client asked if I wanted to come shoot their engagement party in the south of India. On my second day being there in 2016, I was at this temple taking some pictures, and there was this guy, and I wanted to take his portrait. He said, “You can take my portrait if I read your palm.” He grabbed my hand and stuck a pin through a gap in my fingers. He said, “You’ve recently been robbed and lost everything.” And, in fact, Annie and I had just been robbed in Greece of everything. He went on to tell me that my father had died of cancer, but not to worry because my mom was happy, living out her dream of traveling. All of these things were true. I walked away from that and was so fascinated by that experience and the experiences I continued to have in India. When I got back home to Durango, all I could think about was getting back to India as soon as possible.

Tell us a little bit about the process of weaving such a wide array of content into the exhibit.

That’s been one of the most challenging parts of putting together an exhibition. I’m only hanging 27 pieces. I’ve shot thousands of images and have spent the last couple years going through boxes and boxes trying to decide which to use. I went into this, because I was curious and drawn to what I was seeing. As time went on and I went back several more times, I started to look at my images, and there was a common thread of exploring beauty juxtaposed against depravity. That’s what makes India feel so human, and why I feel so connected to it as a foreigner who knows basically nothing about the depths of that culture.

What is the significance of the title, “The Life Vishnu Dreamed?”

The universe as we know it is just a single breath in the dream of Vishnu. He’s dreaming, he’s sleeping. Every breath, there’s a new universe created and destroyed.

For me, having spent a lot of time in a religious context, that defined a lot of my youth. So, coming out of that, I’ve always been perplexed at this question of, “If there is a God, why would he dream of a world where people suffer?” It becomes a mystery, and that really is at the heart of this exploration. Just exploring this place where there’s so much beauty and so much pain.

How does shooting on your Contax 645 film camera differ from shooting on a digital camera or an iPhone, even?

You’re limited in so many ways with film. It’s different in almost every possible way except composition. I become dependent on the people that I am shooting, because I need them to participate with me. I’m trying to get the most depth out of them. Shooting film helps me draw that out of them. It brings the best out of myself and brings the best out of others.

Why are you holding the exhibition in Cedaredge?

The exhibition will be at the Grand Mesa Arts Center, which is this old brick building on Main Street. My family used to own that building in the 1930s. It was the first gas station and service station in town.

The space itself is my family’s history. The building’s history parallels my own. Watching my dad turn wrenches and turning into an artist myself. It feels like the hardest place in the world to have a show. If I can have a show there, I can have a show anywhere.

What is the value of having an actual placed-based exhibition?

It’s bringing people together. It’s creating an environment. I’ve always felt that art is as much about the thing as about the space that it creates. Creating a space where people can come and participate in a thought together. Digesting a body of work and talking about it creates conversations that are important.

Thinking about this moment in the arc of your story as a photographer, where do you want to go from here?

My hope is that I can get that ball rolling more with motion picture film. That’s one arm of what I see growing. Some music videos and short films. The other arm is publishing. The dream of getting my work in books. I think things need to be overlapping, though.

You plant a seed, and you plant another seed. You water the first seed, and it’s a little bit ahead of the other one, and you just try to keep all the plants happy and growing together and in a way that’s harmonious.

“The Life That Vishnu Dreamed” is on exhibit May 15-July 3 at the Grand Mesa Arts Center in Cedaredge. See several images from the exhibition and a whole lot more at Jacob’s website: www.jlambertfilm.com 

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