10 minutes with Malcolm Brown

Interviews with Photographers September 30, 2011 10:26 am

How did your career path lead you to become a photographer?

Photography was not a straight shot for me.  I went to college for Environment and Behavior Studies which taught me to critically observe and analyze how people collaborate and interact in built spaces like schools, museums or offices.  Take an architect, a sociologist and a tailor and roll them into one – that’s essentially what I was.  I worked in the city here as a design consultant for 3 years but realized that I wanted more creative freedom.  In 2007, I made my official shift into photography but i think there were stirrings of that decision in 2004 during a visit to India.  Taking pictures during that trip really connected me to the people and the architecture in a way that I would not have experienced without my camera.  This is true, partly, because I was shooting without any parameters, goals or clients in mind.  It was all very pure and it was a refreshing change to using photography as a way of observing and analyzing people in their environment.  I also must mention my grandmother, who was and still is an excellent professional photographer and a huge inspiration to me as well.  Her work brought her around the world from Haiti to Japan to Pakistan.  I think that what she has accomplished and made possible has framed my perspective to dream big and enjoy what I do.

 

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

 

Who would your dream subject or place be?

That means if somebody calls me up tomorrow and says my wish has been granted, I would have to accept.  So dream big.  I don’t know, maybe a tangy editorial piece on what the members of Obama’s Cabinet wear to bed.  I know what Hillary’s view on border patrol is but don’t you wonder if she is more silk night gown or old Stanford t-shirt.  Obviously, I am being a little wise here but it would actually be quite interesting to see the personal side to very polished public figures, that is what I am getting at.

 

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

 

How would you describe your work?

My work tends to gravitate towards images that are lighthearted yet dramatic, quirky but not goofy and often conceptual.  And I love the tension and feeling of freezing an action moment.  Because of my background, I believe creative decisions should be made for a reason.  You should be able to justify the nuances of your image.  I like to collaborate with my subject for ideas because if they are invested in the shoot as well, it will show in the final product.

 

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

 

You said that it is important to be able to explain creative decisions, can you give an example?

Sure, I am working on a series of scenes that portray vignettes of character.  I just finished this image below featuring a massive card castle.  I had a vision that for me, plays out a certain concept, but I embrace that for others it may mean a host of things.  The image shows a woman standing behind a card castle that still stands despite a large gust of wind.  Compositionally, the scene is divided into two halves, above and below the table.  In the top half, her facade is calm and confident and even a little smug, yet there is something off because the ostensibly fragile castle is still standing strong (minus a few flyaways).  The bottom half reveals more truth.  You see a set of nervous legs and a dripping bottle of glue.  It is about first impressions and about deception.  In terms of details, I even went as far as to steal a red heart from a playing card and replace one of her red polka dots on her chest.

 

Mac Brown

 

Are you currently working on any other personal projects?

Yes, I am roughly half-way through a 30-person portrait project on all of the artists in The Invisible Dog Artist Community in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.  Much in the way an exhibition is pulled together, Lucien Zayan, who is the director of the community, has curated a curious mix of artists to occupy the studios – sculptors, illustrators, toy makers, jewelry designers, miniature set designers and all coming from around the world – Korea, Portugal, Chile, Italy, Cuba, France, Connecticut, California and New York.  Because they are all my subjects, the images are all inherently a part of my vision and style but a goal of mine is to be very honest with how I portray them.  It is important that my images capture the idiosyncrasies of their work and themselves but not dilute their personalities.  Often each shoot starts with a 2-hour conversation about the artist’s work.  Stay tuned for details about a solo show in March of 2012 where I will show all pieces.

 

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

 

If you could go back 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

I think that it would be to not worry too much about what you will become as a professional and instead to gain rich experiences traveling and experiencing new roles.  Inspiration comes from not sitting still.  I think in the beginning, I was too static.  Some of the most interesting people are successful at what they do because they have had a very rich and varied history.  So in a way, I guess I am saying that studying photographs may not make you the best photographer.  Drawing inspiration from completely unrelated topics and subjects can create amazing results.  However, you can’t be haphazard about your trajectory.  Start with some clear goals and take action towards reaching them.  If things change along the way, and they will, then adjust and move on.  I think I needed that candid advice.

 

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

Mac Brown

 

What is the best advice for somebody starting out?

Find a way not to fall in line.  Focus on creative work that reveals a unique view rather than mimicking something.  Sure, it is good to look around at what people are doing but don’t let that direct your ideas.  Force yourself to see things differently.  Impose a handicap on yourself so you aren’t viewing things as they are.  Have you ever heard a radio playing but it was too faint to make out the song?  Your mind will work extremely hard to fill in the gaps and decipher a recognizable beat, voice or rhythm.  You end up hearing things that do not exist and your mind can put together some amazing things.  The goal, of course, is not to figure out what song is playing, but to let your creativity fill in the blanks and try to compose something new.  In a similar way, I get some of my ideas for photographs when I catch only a glimpse of an image or a snippet of a TV commercial – just enough to stir up lingering fragments stewing away in my subconscious.

 

(Malcolm is based in New York. See more of his work, here.)

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