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Shawn Brackbill and the Synchronicity of Light, Motion & New York Fashion Week

Fashion Week Journal for Thursday, February 19

Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of photographers at every Fashion Week: those who cover street style, those who shoot the runway and those who tell the story of the backstage—capturing the long, harried and oddly tranquil preparation as well as the final looks right before they step out into meticulously lit rooms for all to see.

Brooklynite Shawn Brackbill is in that last group; his clients include CR Fashion Book, Vogue and Interview as well as the designers and brands themselves. Upon the close of NYFW, Brackbill shared some of his favorite shots with us, along with his thoughts on visual drama and all-access narratives. 


Image by Jessica Carter

The Thread: You’re an in-demand backstage photographer and I know you do some scene stuff as well. What are your other beats? What other kinds of shoots do you get booked on?
I still do quite a bit of music work for labels like Domino, Matador and Mexican Summer. Record covers and portraits of the artists. I do quite a few editorial portraits and fashion work with magazines like Elle and Whitewall.

Marc by Marc Jacobs

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     Images by Shawn Brackbill

How did you manage to carve out this backstage niche? What was your first show or backstage experience, and what was the one that really turned the corner and solidified your place?
Well, I had never been to a fashion show before I had my first assignment for Dazed and Confused. Susie Lau was the editor of Dazed Digital at the time and she brought me in to cover Fashion Week. I started covering the smaller off-site shows, most of them downtown. It was really a great experience and entrance into backstage photography. Everyone was so welcoming, and with a little direction from Dazed, I was able to be creative in my coverage and find my own voice.

I think it really turned a corner when I started working with Interview. I was the only photographer covering Fashion Week for them, so I was shooting like 30 shows. They got great access and I was able to start shooting the big shows and took my first trips to the tents at Lincoln Center, which was a whole other world.

Alexander Wang

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 Images by Shawn Brackbill

What does your eye look for in those dark, anxious pre-show moments? What story are you trying to tell, and how much does it really have to do with the clothes or the models or the designers–or the consumers of fashion?
I think it really depends on the show and how much access there is. If given the opportunity for all-access, like when I’m working with the designers directly, I really enjoy just looking for beautiful moments. A synchronicity of light, motion and fashion. I really like to show the fashion as much as possible, and I love focusing in on the details as well as those bigger moments. I think it has to do with all of those things.

Phillip Lim

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Images by Shawn Brackbill

What would the 8-year-old Shawn Brackbill say about how your career has manifested?
I don’t remember what the 8-year-old me had in mind for a career, but I can’t imagine this was expected. I don’t know if the 20-year-old me would have expected it.

Where will we find you on your first day off after Fashion Week and what will you be doing? 
I will definitely be taking the opportunity to have a nice belated Valentine’s Day with my wife, Ashley. Seeing as how Fashion Week always overlaps Valentine’s Day, she has certainly been patient with all of the belateds. We really love this Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, Aurora, so that’s a possibility. I’ve been hoping all year to have a weekday off to head to the Met with our daughter, Hazel. She’s approaching three years old, and I think she’d really love to explore the Met.

All Fashion Week images by Shawn Brackbill

Part II here

Follow Shawn Brackbill on Instagram

—Laura Cassidy & Jess Carter