Briony Douglas, Beyond the Frame

She opens up about straddling the sometimes uncomfortable line between artist and influencer.

A woman with brown hair wearing a white blazer sits for a portrait with a hand on her face
Briony Douglas. Courtesy Briony Douglas

In the past few years, photographer Briony Douglas has grown not only her primary career as an artist but also her social following. Along the way, she has been consistently confronted with the duality between how she sees herself—artist first—and how others perceive her. It’s an identity issue many artists grapple with, but Douglas has since found the silver lining in the exposure and opportunities influencer status has brought her.

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“Do I catch myself when someone says, ‘This is Briony, she’s an influencer,’ kind of twitching for a second? Yes,” she told Observer. “But there is nothing wrong with being an influencer, and if you can make your money doing that, why wouldn’t you?”

It may be that Douglas’ comfort stems from the fact that she initially struggled to build a viable lifeline in the arts. She never stopped creating, but she’s worked in many roles in many industries, from marketing to manufacturing. It was only when, at the age of 30, she quit her job and picked up a camera that she felt right.

“I know it sounds cliché, but there’s me before and then there is me that found my purpose in life,” she said.

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Still, learning the craft of photography and to understand the nuances of the industry wasn’t easy. At the time, there wasn’t the same level of transparency there is today and photographers weren’t as open to helping up-and-comers or sharing trade secrets. She relied on online tutorials and trial-and-error to grow her skills and define her style—highly motivated to quickly do both.

With nothing to fall back on, photography had to become a viable career. “I was either going to sink or swim, but I was going all in.”

People familiar with Briony Douglas’ growing presence on Instagram or her work with brands like Cadillac, McDonald’s, RedBull, Transition Lenses, Canada Goose and Adidas mistakenly assume she was an overnight success. But “there was no zero to one hundred,” she explained. It took an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes work to get to where she is today.

A woman wearing glasses and a silver dress sits for a portrait in front of a flower wall
Oprah, as photographed by Briony Douglas. Courtesy Briony Douglas

In fact, it took nearly six years of working around the clock and shooting daily for Douglas to finally be recognized as a serious photographer. Since then, she’s taken celebrity portraits for the likes of Oprah, Zac Efron, Hillary Clinton and Jennifer Lawrence at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last fall. She’s been dually recognized as an artist, building her first physical project for Holt Renfrew in 2019. Now she employs a small team and even has a talent manager—thanks, in some part, to the social media attention that put her on the radar of major brands.

An elephant made of textiles stands on a concrete cube
Douglas’ first physical sculpture. Courtesy Briony Douglas

With more than two billion monthly active Instagram users worldwide, many of whom are looking for the next photo opp, branded art moments and events have become a massive source of engagement for artists across genres and for brands seeking an edge. For Douglas, working with those brands and leveraging her art and photography on social media has proven to be extremely lucrative, but there’s judgment attached.

“People have called me a sellout, but I am fine with being a sellout because I love what I do,” said Douglas. As she sees it, the idea of the artist living outside of capitalism and starving to do what they love—perhaps dying young before finding success—is unhealthy and unproductive.

People, she thinks, need to be less judgemental and recognize that what they see on social media isn’t the whole picture. Images of art on Instagram and elsewhere suggest an ease that obscures the artist’s real process.

“Because of social media, people think my life is pretty chill and pretty fun—and it is fun,” Douglas admitted. “But I work harder for myself than I ever did for anyone else.”

A woman in a white t-shirt and tan pants sits on the floor in front of a Japanese wave painting
Recreating ‘The Great Wave’ with kinetic sand. Courtesy Briony Douglas

When asked if social media is parasitic, robbing creativity and integrity with constant comparison, she demurred. For her, the positive impact of the synergy far outweighs any negatives—perhaps because she’s careful to set boundaries. Douglas acknowledges that art-as-career can be chaotic (particularly working at the scale she does on the deadlines she does) but prioritizes balance in her life. She still has time and creativity left for personal projects, like the giant chess board she built last summer for a backyard party.

 

Therapy has tempered her outlook on the chaos, too: “My therapist at one point told me, ‘You just need to accept that your job is about things going awry and then you won’t be upset when everything goes awry all of the time.’”

That perspective has let Douglas view not only her work more positively but also the inconveniences, real or virtual, that might get in the way of it. She knows that this agility is key, and in 2024, she intends to continue enhancing her work with all the power of connection and amplification that social media can provide.

Briony Douglas, Beyond the Frame