Artist of the Week: Brooke Squillante


Artist of the Week: Brooke Squillante

February 27, 2024

Warwick Valley High School sophomore Brooke Squillante is an award-winning photographer. She remembers how her photo-savvy aunt would position her and other relatives for family photos on holidays and special occasions, and shared that it was her aunt’s creative process, and the pictures that would come of it, that first captivated her and piqued her interest in the art form.

“I’d always watch her; I was just really interested in it,” said Brooke. “It was about five years ago that I ended up getting my first DSLR camera for Christmas. It was the same as [my aunt’s], because I wanted to do the exact same thing she was doing. And, over the years, I’ve just been gaining more interest in it.”

Back on February 2, Brooke won a Gold Key Award in photography at the regional 2024 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, hosted by the arts department at SUNY New Paltz. Her winning piece, entitled Green Gecko, represents one of Brooke’s favorite photographic subjects, animals. Brooke said she started taking pictures of her cats right away when she received that first camera.

“I was always around them, so it was consistent, and I just started practicing on them whenever I’d get the chance,” said Brooke. “I loved getting up and close, trying to capture the look in their eyes.”

The more Brooke photographed her household pets (her three geckos included), the more she realized just how much she enjoyed wildlife photography, and began seeking out additional sources of inspiration.

“I’d watch National Geographic documentaries for hours,” said Brooke, adding that she also loves to peruse their website, taking in all of the amazing wildlife photography for which Nat Geo is well known. When she received her first zoom lens two Christmases after getting her first camera, that interest really took off!

“The lens was a 70-200 mm! That was fun. It helped me with a lot of my photos,” said Brooke. “I started going out and following bald eagles around where they live; I’ve been doing that for a while. It’s really inspiring.”

Brooke’s interest in wildlife photography also intersects nicely with her academic interests. She is currently enrolled in, and enjoying, Earth Science, and enjoyed her Living Environment and Animal Science classes last year. Living near Greenwood Lake, she said, has been a benefit when it comes to exploring habitats and finding subjects. Some of her favorite moments to capture are birds in mid-motion flight.

“I’ll go down by the lake and there might be some mallards, some swans occasionally, or I’ll catch smaller birds sitting at the edge of the trees. I try to capture as many different species as I can,” said Brooke with a laugh. “I’ve spent way too many hours watching birds, just sitting there waiting for them to come around.”

As for that award-winning photo, Ms. Penny helped Brooke choose Green Gecko for the competition from a selection of Brooke’s own personal favorites.

“In my opinion,” said Ms. Penny, “all of Brooke’s photos are worthy of winning awards. She is exceptionally skilled, and anyone who takes a look at her personal work and school projects, they’re as impressed as I am.”

Brooke said that at first she was shocked to find out she’d won the Gold Key Award from Scholastic, but that she is proud of her accomplishment.

“I didn’t really expect to win,” she said. “It was definitely a surprise. It felt even bigger when I got to the ceremony and got up on stage to receive the award.”

Brooke took Digital Photography I with Ms. Penny earlier this year, and even though she’s not currently enrolled in a photography class, still spends as much time as she can in Ms. Penny’s room during the week, discussing and exploring photography. Having recently upgraded her camera set-up, Brooke is as motivated as ever and determined to continue working on her craft, including looking forward to Digital Photography II next year.

Does Brooke have any advice for young students and photographers?

“You’ve just got to keep trying. Try everything when you can; everything you can think of,” said Brooke. “It might take a little time, but you’ll figure it out, and you’ll figure out what you like and what you enjoy.”


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