Mirrored: A Portrait Session
Expressive and vulnerable - New York-based writer, model and actress Maddie Brown captured by photographer Mike Kobal in his East Village studio.
Photography Mike Kobal
Featuring Maddie Brown
Interview by Guido Avelino
Maddie Brown knows how to express herself, and gets intimate while at it. The multi-faceted whizz talks about expression, vulnerability, and her artwork alongside with a photo shoot captured by photographer, and long-time ZOOT contributor, Mike Kobal.
Brown’s work approaches visual communication with authenticity, ruminating her self-image in a balance between pathos and ethos—navigating through different media platforms to speak on contemporary topics. In this alliance, Kobal captures Maddie in his best fashion—approaching beauty and life in raw flair.
What made you pursue a career in acting and modeling?
At an early age, I felt more comfortable being on stage than being in my real life. There was always a natural appeal. To me, acting and modeling are raw forms of expression in the sense that the process feels very intuitive – even mysterious. I love using myself as an instrument and experimenting with expression, whether it’s through a character or myself
What challenges are you faced with in the industry?
There’s a lot of grinding involved to get auditions and find opportunities. I know a lot of actors and artists can relate. It’s hard to always have the energy and time to devote to such an unpredictable profession, especially when you’re trying to pay bills. I’ve tried to separate myself from the industry some and focus on my own work, as it’s easy to become jaded. I’m accepting more and more that being an artist isn’t a linear journey, and it’s ok to take breaks.
When do you feel the most comfortable when expressing yourself?
Shooting with a photographer who I trust and admire (like Mike) is an incredibly meditative experience. I find myself in some kind of relaxed trance when I’m shooting, even if it’s just a simple portrait session. There’s a magical flow in my mind and body that takes over.
Where would you like to see your career headed?
In the past couple of years, I’ve focused more on commercial/print jobs with acting and modeling. I shot an experimental feature film this year, which was really exciting and challenging. I love filmmakers like David Lynch, Yorgos Lanthimos, Todd Solondz, and Gaspar Noe. I’m drawn to art that’s highly psychological, strange, and surreal, so I hope to be working more on projects in that realm.
What grabs your attention when deciding on what to work with?
Art that hits me in the gut is my favorite art. I like art that takes risks, especially stylistically. When it comes to photographers or filmmakers, I am interested in working with people who embrace the experiment of it all and aren’t afraid of getting things wrong. I think that’s key for creating freely, as you can then throw yourself in all the way.
How do you think societal roles play a part in the entertainment industry?
Thankfully, there’s been more diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. It’s essential to engage with art that’s outside of your own medium, style, culture – but still hits on those universal truths. It’s cool to be a witness to it.
Having your picture taken can be a very vulnerable thing to do. What is vulnerability to you?
It’s definitely vulnerable to get your picture taken. It can be tricky to give yourself up to someone’s vision and let go of control. That’s just how it goes. But it’s all about letting go in the moment, having trust and good communication. To me, it’s incredibly vulnerable to accept that process, and run with it.
How important would you say it is to be able to express vulnerability and raw emotions through images?
Images certainly have that power. I find it beautiful and cathartic to express those raw emotions, and it’s absolutely the reason I love modeling.
What is a collaboration you would like to do in the future?
I’d love to shoot with Nan Goldin one day. She really captures the messiness of life, through environments, objects, and people.
When did you first start exploring expression through art and communication?
The high school near me was looking for young kids to be in The Sound of Music. So that was my first play. I was nine years old and played Gretl. After that, I didn’t want to stop.
How do you think the media we consume interferes with what we create?
Media has become so oversaturated, it can become overwhelming. It’s amazing that we have technology where people can express themselves and put their art out there, but with that comes this flipside of overstimulation. Personally, I focus on my own collaborations and try to limit what I take in (not always successfully). While seeing my results is really fun, the process of creating is much more empowering for me. If something I created resonates with someone, that’s wonderful. But I try not to get too sucked in.
Are there any areas you’d still like to expand as an artist?
I’ve been interested in performance art for years. There’s a personal project I’ve been wanting to explore about the duality of self-objectification. I also really enjoy photography and love shooting my friends.
Storytelling seems to be a big part of your work. What do you think differs from telling a narrative through writing and through imagery?
As opposed to modeling, I am much more intentional with my writing. Initially, I have a focused idea on the story I’m crafting. Since I’m using language as a tool, there’s this figurative screen between the art and myself. As a model, that “screen” goes away. When I step in front of the camera, even if there’s a concept in place, I feel like I’m taking a leap of faith. I don’t necessarily know what the story will be, but that’s what’s so thrilling.
Check out more about Maddie and her work here.