What Inspired Frank to create Compawssion: Portraits Of Rescued Dogs

We each have one life in which to make a difference—to inspire, to find our own path, and to accept each crossroad as it comes. The more I stimulate my sense of observation and explore this wild and untamed force called life, the more I unlearn and dismantle my values and my beliefs one by one. With the passing of years, I’m surprised at where life takes me, while it whispers in my ear, “Don’t expect anything; enjoy the ride!”

This book is for the underdogs in all of us.

Being a dog photographer is not a profession I chose. It chose me. It happened in a most unlikely time and place. In the midst of my tears, while scattering the ashes of my puppy Rosalie in the park she loved so much, I made myself a promise to use my talents to contribute to the welfare of animals. Out of my devastation and grief came a vision for this project, and I began to work on a book of portraits of dogs rescued from the streets and from shelters. It was time for me to give back and to contribute to a cause that grew bigger and bigger in my heart. Dogs give us so much love every day that I wanted to reach all those wondrous souls all at once.

My dream is that there won’t be homeless pets anymore, anywhere. My hope is to see breeders with a conscience. My wish is to see all puppy mills abolished as well as all stores that sell puppies. An important aspect of this project is awareness and education as a means to prevent innocent animals from being killed every single day.

The more people payed attention to my work, the more I realized that my pictures go far beyond dog photography. They show a certain reflection of our own humanity, of our own capability of being inspired to do what we can to make something happen. We are the change we want to see, and we all have what it takes to contribute and to make this world a better place.

Most of all, I want COMPAWSSION to be about mutual respect, love, joy, and the celebration of the rich emotional connection between dogs and people. There is definitely a greater awareness growing everywhere, with wonderful, dedicated people rescuing and placing dogs every day. With each picture I take, I plant a seed. I hope that one day the seed will become a beautiful tree. I probably won’t be around anymore to stand in awe in front of a forest, but it’s all part of the traveler’s tao, “the destination is not important.”

—Frank Bruynbroek

The Journey To Becoming An Artist

Frank Bruynbroek grew up in Brussels, Belgium with a desire to work with children as an elementary school teacher. His mother was a housewife, his father a Plexiglas sign designer whose discontentment with workaday life and ongoing artistic frustration became increasingly evident to his son. Bruynbroek truly believes his passion for black and white imagery was inspired by his father, who would retreat into a back room and create stark, haunting, black and white paintings. “With black and white, you have no ‘miss’ factor,” he says. “There’s no distraction. Everything is stripped down to its essence.”

Indeed, Bruynbroek went to St. Thomas College in Brussels and obtained a degree in elementary school education. After graduation, he took a friend’s advice to apply for a teaching position in the U.S., and signed a nine-month contract to teach French in Moreauville, Louisiana, in the heart of Bayou Country. Extending his contract, he stayed for two years, teaching five- to ten-year-olds the nuances of his native language. While there, he began taking pictures with his first camera, an old German model given to him by his older brother, Marc. Inspired by film icon Faye Dunaway’s fashion photographer character in The Eyes of Laura Mars, Bruynbroek bought his first serious professional camera, a secondhand Nikon F. During his time in Louisiana, he periodically took time off for photographic expeditions to the southern states as well as Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia.

Moving back to Belgium, Bruynbroek went to work for Bob Van Hammée, a friend and a top video and commercial film editor in Brussels. During this time, he spent three consecutive winters in the mountains of France, skiing and working with kids as a camp counselor. Seeking to satisfy his growing wanderlust, Frank and his childhood friend Dominique Dillenbourg shipped their motorcycles to New York to explore North America for six months. They traveled more than 16,000 miles on a “three-dollar-a day budget—one for food, one for gas, one for lodging.” He was also continuing to photograph: “Being on a tight budget, I was very selective with my shots,” he recalls. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to look through the lens for half an hour and never settle on something I liked enough.”

Back in Belgium, he met a man of peace who changed his life, a folk music singer named Julos Beaucarne, “a true troubadour with deep, amazing lyrics.” Beaucarne hired Bruynbroek to be a roadie, which quickly led to a position as his lighting director. His gig evolved into more creative roles, with Frank backing vocals and becoming Beaucarne’s overall music director for an unplugged troubadour style tour and working with the folk singer on a recording project. Slowly becoming an artistic Renaissance man, Bruynbroek at the same time was working as a casting director, location manager, and director of commercials for a company in Belgium.

A high school friend who was studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in California sent Bruynbroek a postcard. Bruynbroek never gave acting much thought but surprised himself by imagining, “Why is he there and not me?” Soon he was saving his money to attend the Lee Strasberg Acting Institute in Los Angeles. “I thought I’d come for a few months, but I got very deep into acting, and really wanted to make a career of it,” he says. “The Strasberg teachers are really into method acting, where you get the experience of finding out about the ghosts and demons that hide in the closet of your past. It was a profound awakening. You get to know yourself; it was very insightful.” While Bruynbroek was working as an actor and being a Californian, he maintained close ties with his native cultures of France and Belgium. He and his traveling friend Dominique created West Forever, a company that arranges and produces special road trips for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts from France who seek to ride across America on the famed motorcycles.

During the course of his life, every turn led him to a better one with no difficulty in choosing the right direction. Now for the very first time, he was at a confusing crossroads. His quest for a life transformation led him to participate in the Absolute Freedom course taught by Breck Costin, a well-known life coach in Los Angeles. It was an intense examination on the very way we think, feel, create, play, and love. “The idea was to look into the proverbial mirror and ask, Am I repeating the same behavior again and again in an attempt to bend life to my will?” Bruynbroek is still taking weekly classes with him, and has learned the valuable lesson of accepting the truth of our life. “Breck believes that our fantasies must die for our dreams to come true. With Breck’s valuable help and his incredible talent for authenticity, I realized that I hadn’t committed fully to my own potential. Walking one day with my dog Aja, I thought to myself, ‘What is the thing I really care about? What is my mission? I want to take pictures that matter.’ My passion for photography is the one love that I know would be hard to live without.”

“I remembered this incredible shot I once saw by Cornell Capa of John and Bobby Kennedy in silhouette, with the President whispering to his brother,” says Bruynbroek. “That inspired me to strive to make a difference in the world through photography. With animal photography, it’s about creating an emotional response by capturing the essence of my subjects and how they relate to the human experience. Whether I’m shooting dogs or people, my eye is always on the magic of a beautiful and inspiring moment in time.”

—Jonathan Widran