British Photographer Andrew Brooks with the Visual Power of the Romantic Painters

Fine art photographer Andrew Brooks happily acknowledges he is standing on the shoulders of giants when it comes to creating his own unique atmospheric pictures.

Seven years ago British photographer Andrew Brooks took me on after a series of unexpected events kick-started my life as a freelance writer.

As he was my first ‘proper’ client it meant I was nervous as jelly, recording every conversation we had on iPhone memo because I didn’t want to miss a single a word he said.

He soon put me at ease though with his kind and sensitive manner and by making me a cup of lemon and ginger herbal tea from a comedically small grey plastic kettle in the corner of his Salford studio.

In our first conversation Andrew told me he works for weeks photoshopping hundreds of images together to attain the same deep feeling created by Romantic artists such as William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, and Caspar David Friedrich.

I distinctly remember, as he spoke about these 18th and 19th century artists, how his whole being changed, his eyes lit up and a soft beatific smile spread across his face as he drew from the well shaft of his own creativity, ‘Atmosphere,’ he said quietly, ‘it’s all about the atmosphere.’

What is Romanticism?

Romantic artists believed intense emotion was a true source for aesthetic experience (beauty and taste). According to German painter Caspar David Friedrich, ‘The artist’s feeling is his law.’

These intense emotions the Romantic artists were channelling into sublime works of art were in reaction, in part, to the key characteristics of the modern age – the Industrial Revolution, urbanisation, secularism and the cold-hearted rationalisation of everything – especially nature – by those pesky scientists.

Emotions such as alienation, loneliness, horror and terror, repulsion and awe in nature dominated the work. The darkest of these emotions is widely accepted to be captured by English artist William Blake, when he wrote and illustrated the words ‘Among those dark Satanic Mills’ as part of And did those feet in ancient times in the preface to his epic poem Milton.

The Andrew Brooks Effect

In contrast, Andrew is genuinely one of the nicest and most uplifting artists you’ll ever meet. He recently told me he goes onto Twitter ‘for the good vibes’ so it is no wonder he took the idea and feeling of awe in the Romantic philosophy, and ran with it clicking left, right and centre on his favoured Nikon D850 right into the 21st century.

Now he is a bit further down the line of life, has had a kid and moved out of Manchester into his own patch of England’s green and pleasant land near the Peak District, it is inspiring to hear how he is still a Romantic at heart.

He said, ‘I am always inspired by the work of Caspar David Friedrich, the timeless way he captures a kind of heightened version of the landscape. He positions people within his paintings to draw in the viewer and create a kind of emotional connection with the view he shows.

‘Also Turner’s work feeds into a lot of what I do. I like the progression of his work, how it moved from quite representative views of the landscape in his early career, to more abstract views of nature later on. These more abstract works seem to really aim at that idea of capturing the distilled atmosphere of a view and of the experience of being in the landscape.

‘That pure atmosphere is almost all they contain towards the end of his career which I adore.’

Nicholas Jackson’s observation in his piece in the The Atlantic gives us a good idea about the source of Andrew’s magical effect when he said, ‘He takes hundreds of pictures… and transforms typical scenes and landscapes into places that look like they could only have been constructed in your dreams.’

Ian Hay, Director of Saul Hay Gallery in Manchester, who represents Andrew’s work, said the artistic connection is clear between Andrew Brooks and the Romantic Era.

He said, ‘From the moment I first saw the work of Andrew Brooks I was struck by its painterly qualities. Andrew is an artist with a clear vision and one who is not afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve.

‘It came as no surprise that at the forefront of these influences are the Romantic painters. Like them Andrew is clearly in awe of nature, is truly inspired by it and is unafraid to give in to the power of the emotions it gives rise to. His glorification of nature through his photography is much more than the presentation of a beautiful view but offers something more like the subliminal and perhaps even spiritual feelings one gets when actually in the landscape and in awe of it – exactly as the Romantics did.’

He added, ‘Visually and emotionally I think Andrew’s Derwent Edge in the Falling Snow and Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog have much in common. Friedrich’s work is clearly designed to inspire and to make the viewer, who takes the viewpoint of the figure, feel somewhat insignificant in the face of nature’s majesty. Andrew’s view is more contained but no less inspirational. Both capture brilliantly the power and magnificence of winter.’

With what looks like a bleak winter ahead, we could do with more magnificence in our lives. Andrew’s good natured spirit combined with his unique photographic eye for detail can make us see the greatness in everything – not just landscapes and seascapes but urban areas as well. He extends the Romantic vision to include the alleged monstrous trappings of modernity. Where William Wordsworth abhorred the train going through the Lake District, Andrew Brooks accentuates it, where Caspar David Friedrich sublimates humanity’s existential terror in nature, Andrew Brooks offers hope and inspiration, and where William Blake saw the devil, Andrew Brooks gives us the angelic view.

Andrew Brooks: Snowdon Mountain Railway
Brooks: Hope Valley, Castleton
Andrew Brooks ‘Angelic View’ from the top of Manchester Town Hall

Anyone who responds to the art of the Romantic Era should check out Andrew Brooks’s artist and commercial websites.

Andrew Brooks is represented by Saul Hay Fine Art Gallery in Castlefield, Manchester, where you can buy the limited edition Derwent Edge in the Falling Snow plus much more.

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