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Reality with a twist: The magic of Adrien Broom's photography

Published 02/16/2011 12:00 AM

A little girl in a blue pinafore tumbles down a rabbit hole … women draped in gossamer wings drift in water like floating angels … a magnificent madam in a red silk evening gown stands all alone in deep, dark woods.

Things are - and aren't - what they seem in Adrien Broom's fascinating photographs.

A magician behind the camera, Broom creates illusions that play with reality and make the viewer believe anything is possible.

A Lyme native, Broom recently moved to New Haven where she continues to hone her art and craft. Her commercial work is focused on music, fashion, editorial and portraiture, and is as unorthodox as her fine art photography.

W magazine recently named her an "up-and-coming photographer to look out for."

"I like to put a veil over the reality of a situation and insert my own vision," Broom explains. "I want it to be believable, but I also want the viewer to know there is something a little off about it. It's my interpretation of a scene through a very creative, personal lens."

Statuesque with lustrous long black hair in dramatic contrast to her pale complexion and brightly painted red lips, the 30-year-old artist is as striking as her photographs.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in 3D Computer Animation from Northeastern University in Boston, Broom studied fine art at SACI (Studio Art Centers International) in Florence, and art history at Christie's in London - all experiences which have informed the composition and painterly quality of her work.

But the path Broom chose for a profession is most influenced by an early childhood experience: a trunk full of vintage clothes in the attic of her parents' Lyme home that she and her younger sister Margot (one of Broom's regular models) would spend hours dressing up in, inventing elaborate fairy tales and acting them out.

"It's why women and fashion are such major themes in my work," Broom says. "I'm most drawn to the female characters in fairy tales, derived from that point in my life. I get to continue to live out my childhood fantasies and escape from reality in my photography, take the world as I see it as an adult, twist it a little bit, and bring back that innocence."

Broom's "Wonder" series, which debuted at the diane birdsall gallery in Old Lyme last fall, brings the Lewis Carroll classic to new and unusual light.

The idea for the series came to Broom while she was walking through the woods in New Haven's East Rock Park at Halloween with her friend's young daughter, who was dressed up for trick or treating as Alice in Wonderland.

"She was running around, hiding behind trees, in her own little world," Broom says. "I thought how beautiful it was to be in that space and state as a child, and I tried to capture it in photos."

Broom shot more of the series (all the titles are quotes by Carroll) in Old Lyme. A monumental "Stick Work" by sculptor Patrick Dougherty on the grounds of the Florence Griswold Museum provided the perfect "otherworldly, organic" venue for Alice to fall down the rabbit hole and for the adult characters in the story to be featured, including Tove Vigen (at right. owner of Tova's Vintage Shop in Old Saybrook), as The Queen of Hearts with a "giant" rabbit sitting at her feet - on loan from a local farm.

"It's a little darker than my reality as a child," Broom notes, "drawing on my adult vision of the beautiful and bizarre."

Broom thinks it's important to allow people to experience her work through their own creative thought processes. In her "Storytelling" series, for example, she captures a moment in time and wants the viewer to imagine what happened before and after, based on the single image.

"I get swallowed up in these worlds I create," she says. "I'd love other people to be swallowed up as well, and have their own creative experience."