Michael was raised in the Skagit Valley, a farming community in Washington State. Often using a camera phone as a primary recording device, his current work explores resource conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Sakhalin (2008), he captured the remote Russian island, while Broadway (2009) focused on New Yorkers amidst the financial crisis. He also put together a series of works from road and train trips throughout China (2010) and, as a contributing photographer at National Geographic Magazine, photographed several adventure stories for the publication. In 2011, Brown spent six months documenting the Libyan revolution using a camera phone, exploring ethical distance and the iconography of warfare. His upcoming book, Libyan Sugar, profiles that experience. Part of this work was shown at MIT, Instituto Cervantes (New York), The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Annenberg Space for Photography and will be at the Brooklyn Museum of Art during the fall of 2013. The subject of the 2012 HBO documentary, Witness: Libya, Brown was a finalist for the Oskar Barnack Award (2012), twice a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant (2011/2012) and thrice a finalist for Burn Magazine’s (Magnum Foundation) Emerging Photographer Award (2009-2011).
Name: Michael Christopher Brown
Year of birth: 1978
Based in: Congo / New York / USA
Website: www.magnumphotos.com / www.mcbphotos.com
Hey Michael Christopher Brown
where are you right now and what was the last thing you did before we started this interview?
Goma, Congo. Just rode a motorbike out to a lodge called Chalet to use the internet.
When and why did you start with photography?
Around 1991. My dad taught me to use a camera and later had a darkroom in our house. It was just a hobby then, something to do together.
Most of your work have been done in Congo and Libya, why are you drawn to conflict zones?
Just in the past few years I’ve been drawn to conflict zones. I am drawn to them out of a certain necessity that is tough to pinpoint, at least for now.
Was there any one project that was especially difficult for you to realize?
The current one, here in Congo. I am still at the beginning of it, not knowing where it will lead.
What makes the good picture stand out from the average ones?
The definition of a good picture varies depending on the person looking at it, and what the purpose of the image is, if any.
Location and weather conditions seem to be a crucial aspect to a successful picture. How do you handle these unpredictable factors?
To me, a successful picture has more to do with content than say weather conditions.
As someone who’s worked his way into Magnum, you must have an interesting perspective on the agency as a whole. If you were asked to sum it up, what makes Magnum so important in the photography world?
As a whole, Magnum has set the highest standards with regards to documentary photography. It is about having a vision, about being an author, that separates Magnum photographers from the rest of the documentary community.
What do you think about the future of documentary photography, with all the new technology?
Tough to say what will happen, but good documentary photography will probably not change so much. It is just about using the new technology to feature good documentary in different ways.
Can you walk us trough the actual process that you use to se up a documentary project?
The process varies depending on the project. Sometime it begins as a concept, while watching a movie or reading a book. Sometimes it begins watching or reading the news. Much of it is about wanting to have an experience, which varies from year to year.
What are the 5 most important items you always pack besides camera gear, when working in a conflict zone?)
Medical kit, body armor, helmet, mobile phone, good luck charms.
Cinema, Museums, Poetry.
Three people you would love to work with:
I would love to photograph on the set of a Malick, Kiarostami or Almodóvar film.
Who do you think is one to watch?
A question from the photographer we had a talk with last week:
What`s the scariest thing you want to overcome this year?
The idea that one is more productive when independent is something to overcome.
A question for the next photographer:
What is the toughest thing you will do this year, photography wise?