Earlier this year we hosted Photographer, Videographer and owner of Owley Studios, Brad Devins, through our Artist Fellowship program so he could disconnect from the noise and find some inspiration in nature. After his stay, we chatted with Brad to hear more about his creative process and his escape to nature. Here’s what he had to say.
Fill us in on your background—personally and in your creative practice.
I am a photographer, video producer, and art producer based in NYC. Creative expression and access to nature have always been essential parts of my life. I grew up surrounded by the northeast forests – it was my playground as a kid and is still a major source of peace & balance in my adult years living in New York City. The first photo I ever took was with a disposable Kodak that my father handed to me when I was 12 years old. Some of the photos I took in that roll are still favorites to this day and all of them were of natural landscapes. In college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to “do” with my life but knew I always loved studying and performing music and photography; these things made me happy and felt like sometimes the only ways to truly channel emotion. With the environment being something I cared very much for, I chose an undergrad & graduate degree in environmental engineering and hoped I would find enough time for creative pursuits on the side. Ultimately, the creativity was always taking a back seat and it was difficult to figure out how to make it feel legitimate. I eventually moved to Brooklyn for a job placement in consulting and I was so inspired by the artwork, music shows, food, diversity, pop-ups, and overall creative expression in the area. I remember on my ~4 hour drives to and from my day job, seeing graffiti covered trains in Newark, or murals in Bushwick, or even people dressed creatively bustling around the city. I just wanted to be around it because it gave me this energy I had never felt before. One day, my roommate said that a mural was being installed down our block while he was out for a run and told me to come check it out. There was a moment of hesitation, but something told me just to give it a chance. I immediately was fascinated by the process of seeing an artist using spray cans, brushes, and more to create an original piece. My engineering mind and creative mind both started turning gears. I started filming it on an iPhone at the time and found myself totally immersed in experiencing this creative process. I then started using the night hours (outside of my day job in engineering) to focus on teaching myself filming, photography, interviewing, and editing videos and photos of artists, dubbing the idea, “OWLEY” since I could only do this work nocturnally; it was like a light turned on in my head that I had never felt before, and I just followed it. I trusted the process. Capturing moments and saving them for others to appreciate became one of my favorite things to do. I eventually left engineering and pursued this new world without expectation. I would run around the city asking local businesses if my artist friends could paint their walls while I would film and photograph it in the process. I finally was able to buy a camera, and then over 5+ years, I went from chasing murals in the streets of Brooklyn to documenting architecture, art, and design in the offices of companies like Spotify and Meta, to collaborating with creatives and art groups across the world while being able to hire some talented friends in the process. This work has become one of the greatest opportunities and responsibilities in my life. It isn’t all shiny or easy running your own business, in fact, I think it’s the most demanding and difficult thing I’ve ever faced, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’ll test you in ways you’ve never thought before, but that can be the best part. Through all of this work, nature is still one of my favorite things to document and experience. It reminds me to be present and to not feel the pressure of societal expectations – it’s just there for you to relax and reflect. The essence of walking through the woods as a kid, or taking photos with my father, or even watching my grandmother create award-winning flower arrangements from elements she found in her woods, all spoke to me and all helped shape my love and appreciation for nature.
Also, I have been a musician for as long as I can remember. I hear music in nature, through sounds all around me in the city, and am so inspired by how sound can shape our lives. This paired with imagery is what makes video production so special to me. Capturing and preserving moments and turning them into memories is a gift, and you don’t need to be a professional to harness that essence of it. Some day, that photograph or video you took might be one of the most important things in your life. I didn’t realize how powerful it was until it became my path. I hope anyone reading takes more photos and more videos – some day they might mean more to you than you realize.
How does your connection to nature influence you personally, and how does it influence your art?
Nature reminds me to be present and gives me such a creative boost with my photography and filmmaking practice. It reminds me to balance the desire to capture moments with the need to simply exist in those moments without pressure. I love observing the colors and textures of different plant species and how they grow through varying environments, or watching the way animals behave and interact with each other and how we can learn from their resiliency and resourcefulness, or listening to water and wind slowly carve out landscapes, and how they all work together to sustain ecosystems that have been around for so long. It reminds me to separate from my humanistic thinking for a while and release the worries of yesterday or tomorrow; just appreciate the current moment.
The process of discovery is something that is unmatched in experiencing nature. You never know what you might encounter, and there is such a thrill and excitement to that. I love finding new trails and taking my gear with me to see what shows up. Trusting my steps over various terrain and using my intuition and tools as a guide is an important practice for me to relinquish senses of worry or overthinking. Waiting to capture animals or landscapes reminds me to be patient and trust the process. Watching and capturing animals as they hunt, gather, sing, migrate, etc. can be a very emotional and heartening experience. They are focused on their tasks no matter how the landscape changes, and they do what they can to keep going. I love that sense of resiliency and commitment. It reminds me to keep going in my own life, and follow my intuition as my landscape changes as well.
Nature paints these beautiful moments without the touch of a human hand, and if I time it right, I can get that shot that means so much later on. Sometimes, I’m only given seconds or even milliseconds to capture the moment, or alternatively need to take minutes to set up for the right settings and angle. This dedication to setting up the shot the way I feel is best feels like it becomes an extension of me, and the commitment is always worth it. When I come back to the city, I often look back at these photos on a large screen to admire the beauty that nature gifted me that day. Journaling the details of those moments is also something very special to me, because it puts me right back in that moment with all of the details I might soon forget.
This work is part of my own creative practice when I’m not documenting others’ art practices, which is an important balance for me to maintain. It feels like my own way of painting or creating dialogue around what already exists. It’s my own way of paying respect to my environments and showing gratitude to what is already here.
We can learn a lot by just co-existing, respecting, observing, and listening to nature. It’s out there for you, and (often times) it’s free.
How was your Getaway? Did your free time in your cabin influence your process or inspire any new ideas?
My Getaway was serene, and creatively rejuvenating. I shut my phone off as soon as I entered the House and had no desire to turn it back on. I fell asleep guarded by silhouettes of trees with a dense background of shining stars, not knowing what time it was throughout. On this trip, I studied how the concept of the dark is scary, but here it was beautiful. I wrote in my journal that sometimes we are so scared of the dark that we want to turn on the lights or hide from it, but sometimes it’s there for us to adjust to it. The moonlight delicately illuminated textures of trees and I could see the stars between the limbs. I was enamored by the beautiful, quiet landscape before me. When I was meditating and allowing myself to relax, I wrote to myself that “here, I am choosing to no longer paying attention to time, and instead just allowing myself to ‘be'”. I then had one of the best full night’s sleep that I can remember. The sunrise through the large window was such a calming way to wake up. I loved watching and filming various animals harvesting their breakfast while I made my coffee (inspiration for the videos I made for this trip). I loved opening the door to fresh, crisp air and the scent of pine. I then spent most of my time hiking through local forests and around beautiful lakes, exploring towns and small businesses. It feels so nice to see a sense of community again, something that is hard to establish in a bustling place like New York City. I loved bringing back locally raised meat and veggies to cook over an open fire, which inspired me to make a short reel about cooking outside (also not something we can do very often in NYC). I read the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by a crackling warm fire and couldn’t have been happier. I wrote poetry and made music with no distracting noise or light pollution. I heard owls communicating in the late hours of the night which you might be able to hear near the middle of my cooking video. I believe when you hear or see an owl, it’s a message that only you can interpret; it will make you feel something so surreal. This trip gave me an additional boost to continue sharing creative work that is just for me, and can be shared for others.
I loved my time in the Getaway house at Eastern Catskills. Waking up to fresh morning air and going for hikes, exploring lakes, and moving about upstate New York is such a gift. Can’t wait to come back!