Art Talk: Jonathan Brooks, Photographer and Visual Artist

Jonathan Brooks is an award-winning photographer/visual artist, who was born and raised in Miami, Florida. Brooks graduated magna cum laude with a BS degree, double majoring in Advertising and Fine Art Photography with a minor in Marketing from the University of Miami. His studies in graphic design and architecture, and extensive backgrounds in the fashion industry and music industry have also helped to influence his work. He attended one of the Division of Cultural Affairs’ workshops given as part of the Professional Development for Artists program, presented by Citizens for Florida Arts, Inc. in partnership with the Creative Capital Foundation.

Brooks worked for Eastman Kodak during their transition from analog to digital. His photographs have been published in numerous anthologies and periodicals. His Fine Art Photographs have been featured in major movies (Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates, and Uncle Drew), the Emmy nominated short film series celebrating the 50th anniversary of National Endowment For The Arts- United States Of Art, and television shows (David Makes Man, Southern Charm, The Vampire Diaries, and Germany’s Only Love Counts).

His work has been exhibited in Miami, New York City, Amsterdam, France, Germany, Greece, and the United Kingdom. This includes Art Basel, the Louvre, and the biggest billboard in Times Square.


Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us a little about you and your history. What are you currently working on?

Silver Palm Trees by Jonathan Brooks

Jonathan: I’ve always been artistic and it shows in all I do. I was very much into performing arts in grade school through high school, and totally involved in drama and chorus. I grew up with Twilight Zone and Creature Feature, movie stars and rock idols, the photographs of Time, Life and Vogue magazines, LP records and mixed tapes, and MTV videos. I was always a doodler, until taking two and half years of Architecture at community college, in which I found its rigors ruined drawing for me. I later changed my major to advertising and fine art photography at the University of Miami, where I graduated Magna Cum Laude.

I started out entirely into portraiture and was obsessed with the work of my photography idol Herb Ritts. I continued to enjoy shooting fashion and portraits, but it seemed my photography was slowly becoming a hobby due to circumstances beyond my control.  In 2013, after deeply feeling the effects of the recession, and assisting with my father’s five-year long battle with cancer, his death found me refocusing my efforts on my art photography. I found death, mortality, and our journey as my main topics of interest. I suddenly began using skulls in my portraiture and images. 

Winning Photo Of The Year 2014 during Miami’s prestigious art week at the inaugural Miami Photo Salon, and having my skull series used as the work of a photographer character on the CW Network’s hit series The Vampire Diaries, really helped to boost my confidence and encouraged me to continue to pursue my art.

Blue Coconuts by Jonathan Brooks

As of late, I have found a new interest and appreciation for simple still life photography, in contrast to today’s trend of issue based photography (ie. Feminism, climate change,…). I believe the focus on the mastery of photography becomes more important than the underlying reasons behind the photographs. Today, everyone is a photographer and has access to a camera via their cell phone. The rules and techniques of great photography is what ultimately sets the average ones apart from the great ones.

I’m currently working on finding the right place to exhibit my Blue Palms series. I’ve been surrounded by palms for over half a century, and like the great Cuban poet and national hero Jose Marti, I find them inspirational symbols of my birth place and ancestry. It is important to me to find the right venue for this work because I believe it deserves and commands it.

I’m continuing to enjoy botanicals and still life, and want to focus on my ongoing interest in the Everglades, but I am missing my days of portraiture. While enjoying some recent work involving live humans, I’ve begun to play around with masks as identities on individuals, and want to begin a series I have been wanting to start for a while regarding our use of old vs new technology. 

DCA: Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Jonathan: It is innate in me and I really feel that because of that it chose me. I’ve found that my artistic abilities influence everything I do. Whether it be the renovation of my condo in 2000 that was featured in a national publication or in the contents of my Kickstarter funded book The True Cuba that I self-published in 2014. Aside from my photography work, I’ve always gravitated towards all things artistic. In every kind of work I do or have done, I find that there is some level of artistic prowess involved.

A Bubble Bath & A Glass of Wine by Jonathan Brooks

I firmly believe that a true artist expresses themselves in all that they do. Because of that, I would say a career in the arts is much more of a calling, rather than a choice. I know there is a bit of “the artist” in all of us, but I think a few take it to another level, and even fewer take it to another place all together. 

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Jonathan: The best part about being a photographer is that I am able to find beauty in all that surrounds me and share it with others. It is a great outlet for my creativity and my preferred way of creating art. Every image captured is documenting history, freezing time, and capturing a memory. Finding beauty in the day to day and sharing your vision with the world is an amazing way to connect with others. Showing others how to look at things from a different direction or angle, or helping them see the beauty in themselves is a powerful and rewarding tool.

I’ve always loved the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  I believe photography is probably the strongest means of communication there is and a universal language that anyone can understand.  As children, we learned through picture books before we learned to read. The power of an image to deliver a message is something that is worldwide and transcends limits and boundaries. 

Another great thing about being a photographer is that you can apply your skills to an array of different subject matter.  You are never bored or need to deal with the pains of monotony. One day you can aim your camera at fashion and portraits, another at nature or architecture, and another at street or documentary. As a photographer, the world is your oyster.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that you and your art have made to your community?

Jonathan: In my opinion, exhibiting, displaying, and selling my art has a great effect on one’s community, and enriches the lives of all of us. It helps economic development and increases business, improves social well-being, and it brings people together to help celebrate the community. It also encourages interaction in public spaces, engagement in community activity, promotes diversity of culture, builds personal and professional relationships, and educates and entertains. The impact is felt not just in museums or galleries, but all around us.

2 Pink Flamingos & A Thunderbird by Jonathan Brooks as exhibition promotional poster in Athens, Greece. Photo courtesy of Blank Wall Gallery

I think my greatest contribution to my community has been garnering attention and recognition for my art outside of my community. Whether it be other cities and states in the nation or other countries paying attention to my work, this contributes to the positive image of our community when it comes to tourists and foreigners. I take great pride in having my work displayed at the Louvre in France, Amsterdam, Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom, and New York City’s Time Square. I also believe having my art used in major movies and television shows adds a credibility to my work and makes it a part of pop culture.

I feel that probably my greatest contribution to my community is having my work in the Emmy nominated short film series United States of Art, celebrating the 50th anniversary of National Endowment For The Arts.  Inclusion in such a historical, meaningful, and recognized piece of work truly makes me proud for being able to represent my community, Miami, and Florida in such a manner.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

No Vacancy by Jonathan Brooks in Shep Rose’s bedroom on Bravo’s Southern Charm. Photo courtesy of Margaret Wright for Parachute Home

Jonathan: I hear that a state without culture would be pretty boring and uninviting. I think Florida is lucky to be extremely rich in art and culture, and because of this many are drawn here. The abundance of art and culture available in Florida through our many and diverse communities has always established Florida among the most cultural places to be. Some of the hottest destinations for tourists from all over the world are in Florida. Orlando, Miami, and the Florida Keys are prime examples of the excellence in art and culture that the state offers. 

Florida locations are also widely used and sought after in television and movies because of our art and culture. From the vintage Flipper series to Miami Vice to the Golden Girls. I am extremely proud to be one of the Florida artists who will have their work featured in the upcoming Oprah Network’s original drama series David Makes Man. The coming-of-age story from Oscar-winning Moonlight co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and starring The Cosby Show’s Phylicia Rashad is set in the Florida projects.


The Division thanks Jonathan Brooks for his participation in this interview. To learn more about him and his work, visit his website: http://www.jonathanbrooks.net

Interested in being featured on Culture Builds Florida? Please fill out this form: https://goo.gl/forms/3sMwuJWA3bM1orPl2 (Note: submission does not guarantee inclusion.)

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