Finding My Success by Exploring Light with André Brown
“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” – Gordon Parks
To be perfectly honest, I truly had no interest in becoming a photographer. My father has always had an interest in photography but was not a “photographer”. What did fascinate me about the art form early on was the idea that what the naked eye sees looks completely different from what’s on the back of the camera. At the time I was living in Los Angeles, CA and had success working in the music industry managing songwriters and producers.
In 2012, I decided to move to Atlanta, GA and a few years later, I left the music industry after more than a decade of success. A friend of mine, actually a producer that I’d worked with on a few projects, mentioned that he dabbled in photography. He was planning on doing a visual social arts project about the homeless community that would put a face on the ongoing epidemic facing this country. He was going to rent equipment but at the time I actually owned quite a bit of gear I’d accumulated while in L.A. In my head it was cheaper for me to buy it than keep renting it for music related projects. So I offered him my equipment and agreed to assist him on the shoot.
Thinking back, I am grateful for that experience because that was the catalyst for me becoming a photographer. We handed out snacks and water and had great conversations with those who didn’t mind the company. We met a number of amazing people that day, different races, from different places. The stories that they told were full of life, loss, and heartbreak, you could not help but to be drawn in and immediately invested in each and every one of them. While we chatted we asked permission to take their pictures. Those stories will forever be tied to those photographs. Even to this day I remember most of them, one in particular was a named Joe.
What struck me about Joe besides, his story was that he shared my dad’s name, who was also born and raised in South Carolina. He was traveling west but wanted to stop in GA to see his son who he’d been estranged from for some time. At some point he fell on hard times and got stuck in Atlanta, living on the streets, occasionally living in a shelter on the days he could secure a bed. It’s all just ironic. This father looking for his son set off a spark in me that later gave me something to bond with with my own father but that was the day my love for visual story telling was born.
My degree is in music sound engineering but photography and music are pretty similar. Creating success from a bunch of different visuals placed in a space, it was the same with music – songs don’t just appear on the radio, there is definitely a process of piecing together the right verse with the chorus and finding the bridge, each layer builds the acoustic image that becomes a song (Track, Lyric, Vocal) It was the same thing with photography (subject, light composition)
At that time I knew nothing about photography. The only professional photographers I knew of at the time were Gordon Parks, who was spoken about in my favorite movie, Nigel Barker, because I know him from Top Model and Nick Saglimbeni, an acquaintance of mine from my days in entertainment. My Dad and my sister were my biggest supporters. For me, this all started with a couple of practice photographs that I’d taken of my nephews that were posted on facebook. From that day on I’ve been receiving inquiries and booking sessions. In 2015 I founded Andre Brown Photography and that’s when my journey began. Like most, I started small with headshots, family photos, and kid portraits and then came my first wedding opportunity. At this point, I have never even attended a wedding let alone photographed one.
Things began to move fast and I remember thinking to myself, “how do I capitalize on this, how would I stand out, what would take my work to the next level. Honestly at the time I didn’t have a style, I was just replicating what I saw on the popular wedding blogs. High Key light, light and airy, kind of whimsical. Not that there’s anything wrong with that style but it just didn’t suit me. I wanted to do something different then what I’d been seeing. The presence of black culture on those sites and in mainstream publications was fairly non-existent outside of predominantly black publications like Essence and Ebony, there were very few publications that highlighted any type of work featuring black artists let alone photographers. I wanted to be different from what I’d seen at the time but wasn’t sure how that would go over considering everything I’d seen up until that point was completely opposite. Ultimately I decided to use the influences of my time working in entertainment and photograph weddings with more of a high-fashion, editorial photography style. Showcasing my clients, and my culture with style and opulence. Creating drama with light and the absence of light.
To my surprise, it did not take long for word of mouth to spread and I quickly found myself traveling all over the country shooting engagements, weddings and maternity shoots. My work was a success and began to be featured by publications such as Black Bride, Munaluchi, Essence, & the Huffington Post. Although my goal is to have a more mainstream appeal, I am still trying to break down the walls and fight for inclusion in the places many like me have been excluded.
I feel it is important for me to pass along the things I’ve learned on my photography journey. In the last few years I have also had the opportunity to teach and lecture all around the world including some of the industry’s top conferences, including the first conference I’d ever attended when I was starting out, ShutterFest. I’ve begun hosting my own workshop, The Embrace Workshop, a comprehensive photography workshop where I help new photographers expound upon their current training to grow their business just as I’ve grown my own.
I’ve also added the moniker of award-winning photographer to my title after meriting with high honors in some of the industries most prestigious image competition. So what next – I see myself stepping into a global ambassador role. Currently, I am honored to be an ambassador for Magmod. I’ve been sponsored by a number of companies like Shootproof and Bayphoto. My ultimate goal is to become a Canon Explorer of Light, where I will continue my mission to find ways to educate the up and coming class of visual storytellers success. To me this is the highest of honors. To be a pillar for up and coming photographers but also photographers who look like me have not largely been represented throughout the industry. I credit my family with encouraging me to take my art to the next level and in spite of not being seen by the audience that I envisioned, I will continue to push for my seat at the table!
The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will find success. – Gordon Parks