Michael Christopher Brown

BY Elisabeth Biondi, November 1, 2013

In late 2010, Michael Christopher Brown realized he was ready for a change, geographically and artistically, from his work documenting the rise of the new China. News of the Arab Spring had fueled his imagination. He had read extensively about the region, its history and upheavals. Its mystery intrigued him, and the political ferment, especially, triggered his journalistic curiosity. He decided to go to North Africa.

It was his first time in frontline conflict. With his new work he hoped to make a new kind of image. He searched for a way to communicate what he saw by moving beyond the barriers of traditional photojournalism. In his first two weeks there, though, his digital camera broke, and he was forced to turn to his iPhone. This posed a real challenge in 2011, since at that time there was a 20-second delay after each image made, meaning he missed many pictures. Even worse, the phone application would crash, and he would need to restart the phone. These delays, however, allowed him time to refine his observations, and despite unfamiliar risks, confusion, and danger, his pictures were excellent.

His book, Libyan Sugar (Twin Palms) will be published in the winter of 2014, and the roughly 300 photographs that became his edit make it clear that he found a way to show news events in pictures that go beyond the news. Brown’s work is less about the individual image than it is about sequencing and juxtaposing images as an entity. They add up to a powerful tableau of a certain time in a certain place in Libya. Two years later, they feel even more resonant than they did then.

While in Misrata, Brown had long discussions with Tim Hetherington about the moral imperative for visual reporting. All along Brown questioned his purpose for taking these pictures, their truthfulness, and honesty. On April 20, 2011, Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed a few feet away from him, and he was seriously wounded. It seems evident to me that he has become even more uncompromising in looking at himself, the world, and the images he takes. His quest is ongoing.