Featured: Spencer Brown

Interview with Spencer Brown

How long have you been involved in photography?
20 years. I got my first paying photo gig senior year of high school and was a staff photographer at my college newspaper. All my jobs have been photo-related since then.

What motivates your photography?
I love the challenge of visually exploring something with the hopes of capturing a full story in a single shot.  The art is in what’s excluded just as much as what is included. I love finding a strong, clean composition that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

What tools are you using to assist in the creation of these images?
If I’m being paid, I shoot digital. If it’s personal or fine art I choose my camera for the project, usually digital but sometimes an old film camera. Studio lighting plays a significant role in my portraiture and I have been working it into my landscapes recently too. It really broadens what you can do with an image. I have never liked tripods, It makes it hard to be spontaneous.

What other photographers inspire you?
Galen Rowell was a huge inspiration to me early on and largely why got into photography. I also love Henri Cartier-Bresson for his timing and composition, Avedon for how he worked with subjects, Edward Weston for the beauty he found everywhere and Sebastian Salgado for his total mastery of the craft. I also find inspiration in good photos anywhere I see them, it doesn’t matter if they are professional or not, a good photo will always stand out.

Do you find other arts forms play a role in your work?
My work tends to be very representational and I envy photographers who can pull from painting to create more freeform imagery. I do notice common themes in work across the arts. My best images always have an element of luck, such as stumbling on perfect natural light or an unexpected location that inspires me. My compositions are driven by discovery and feel.

Are you engaging with your subjects as you shoot?
I am constantly working with my subjects but my approach changes by individual. I talk through most of my shoots. Some people crave direction and some just need good conversation to keep their mind off of the photography itself. The common thread is that whatever mood I am going for in the photo I need to get the subject there in real life, if even for a split second.

What is going through your mind when you push the shutter?
Timing. Just as there is a perfect time to take a picture of a baseball player hitting a ball there is an arc to emotion on a persons face. Sometimes a half second makes all the difference in the story you are trying to tell.

Do you find yourself working the scene or do you quickly capture and move on?
It depends on the amount of time I have with the subject and the shot we are going for. Sometimes I’m trying to get three distinctly different looks in 5 minutes, for others I’ll spend an hour or two on a singe shot. I’m not a naturally technical photographer, that has gotten better over time, and I shoot a lot by feel. This means that if an idea pops into my head I quickly change gears and recompose the shot. It’s a lot like sketching, I get some ideas down fast and then refine what worked best if there is time.

What are you trying to say in your work?
For portraiture I am always aiming for honesty in expression. You can see a fake smile a mile away and it’s my job to make it real. At a broader level I hope to create images that engage by being both recognizable and utterly different. It seems like now days everything has been photographed a million times, how do you keep it fresh and exciting? I look at other people’s photos for inspiration but am happiest when I create something I have never seen before.

Is there a common theme or narrative in you work/style?
Bold color, clean compositions, and good light. Beyond that, I tend to shoot wide angle over telephoto. I also often include some human element in my landscapes.

Thank you so much for your time today. Is there anything you want to add?
The Harvey Milk Photo Center is unlike any other! I’ve been a proud member since 2001 and recommend it to anyone looking to hone their skills!

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