We are pleased to share the work of Leslie Hall Brown.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Oklahoma and spent my child years in Tahlequah, a small town known as the Capital of the Five Civilized Tribes. My dad was an English Professor at the state college and enjoyed enchanting my childhood. He brought home an Edwardian castle, built a tepee per the instructions in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, let me be a participant on the Drama Club floats in the annual Christmas parades and when opium poppies were made illegal to grow, he planted his entire vegetable garden in stunning red opium poppies. Be an individual and not a follower were lessons he taught. He indulged my imagination, allowed me to roam freely, create forts and to believe there was an Indian Chief buried on our land.
We went to Walden’s Pond, Longfellow’s house, Cannery Row and dozens of other literary locations all with Dad’s quoting the words of each author. He attended Harvard when I was four and took me to my first art exhibit, following which I announced that I was going to be an artist. I begged to purchase a ‘picture’ and was allowed to. I chose a large print of Degas, ‘The Ballet Class’, which I still have. It was acknowledged and embraced that I would be an artist.
Since my teen years I have lived in and around Springfield, Missouri. For the last eight years life has been on a small farm with dogs, horses, cats and a donkey.
How did you get started in photography?
I was a college freshman working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in sculpture at what is now called Missouri State University, which was where my dad was then teaching. The local Art Museum was exhibiting a massive traveling collection of black and white photography. Walking into the main gallery I faced prints by Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro and many others. I was simply awe-struck. I went straight to the university library and checked out all of the photography books. That same year the Art Department hired Alan Brown, who had been Jerry Uelsmann’s first graduate assistant, to start a photography program. The courses filled immediately before freshmen or even sophomores could enroll. I went to Alan and begged until he added my name.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
There are so many and interestingly they are mostly black and white. Charles Harbutt’s Blind Boy has stayed with me since the beginning of my introduction to photography. I still recall the photography class and where I was sitting when the slide with that image came up. In the black and white photograph you are looking at the back of a young boy with his hand following a line of light on the darkened wall and then you realize he is blind and following the warmth of the light on the wall. It still gives me goose bumps.
Would tell us about your Woman Who Runs With Wolves series.
It began with a bad dream I had in Mexico, in which I found myself alone in a house I was sharing with my adult daughter, and my cell phone was dead. I was afraid to go outside to look for her, thinking I would get lost and not be able to find my way back. In the dream I imagined her out walking around alone and not the least bit fearful. The dream was out of left field and fit with nothing that made sense to me but for how fearful my own mother had always been.
Our daughter had met us in San Miguel de Allende and after the dream I found myself looking at her differently, perhaps for the first time seeing her as an adult.
For days in Mexico I observed and photographed my daughter through different eyes and marveled at her, she was confident, strong yet comfortable with her vulnerable side. As I watched her I thought of a book I had read 20 years earlier entitled ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’. As the author Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Jungian analyst states, “Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species.” I had held an image in my mind’s eye while raising our daughter, which was that of a ‘woman who runs with wolves’. It was what I hoped for our daughter and for the first time while there in Mexico I was seeing her as just that.
This series is about a woman finding and making peace with her wild and natural side. It is part fairy tale and part myth. It is about a woman’s struggle in life to develop her true nature in spite of social and family expectations. This presidential campaign has illuminated that as a nation we have far to come in terms of our base attitudes toward our daughters, sisters and mothers.
© Leslie Hall Brown
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Probably #2 from the series NOT MY PRESIDENT. I made the image for myself trying to reconcile my feelings about the outcome of the presidential election. Making the image was cathartic and gave me a feeling of having a voice.
With the first image of what has quickly evolved into a series I held back, but with the second I did what I felt. I have never made images in a political or protest vein before. I also had not planned to ever share the images. But doing so has given me such a sense of community. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned first hand is that art can draw people together offering a sense of mutual support and belonging in a group. Until this image my photography has been mostly about my personal world. I am in new waters by having delved into this series and it was this image that cemented the need to push on and see where it takes me.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
A good day creatively is when I have a whole day of freedom and the ideas are bubbling. I love aha moments of inspiration. Used to be a day in the darkroom with Robbie Robertson’s song, “It Is a Good Day to Die”, cranked up was my perfect creative day. I no longer have a darkroom but I love Photoshop and being able to create almost anything my imagination conjures up. I love photographing, but drive a lot of fruitless miles searching for images. It is a bit like panning for gold, you go on for weeks without a nugget and then one appears and you forget how long it took. It can almost be like an altered state of consciousness when photographing, when you feel like you are seeing acutely. I would call a day great creatively if I have had that tingly feeling of knowing I am seeing really well, whether photographing or looking at images I have shot or working in Photoshop. It really is as though time stops and you go to some other place deep within.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
First and foremost is a camera. I used a Diana camera almost exclusively for 25 years, before that I had a Nikon, a few Leicas, and some 2 ¼ format cameras. I am using a digital Olympus now, and like the immediacy of digital. I will always miss the darkroom but not film development. Photoshop is an imperative piece of equipment. I love making images and I literally feel like I am playing when I am working in Photoshop. But of course play is serious business. Early on I was influence by Jerry Uelsmann’s work and putting together images. I enjoy the challenge of working on photomontages and fitting together parts from up to a dozen images. I enjoy working toward conveying a story or idea and do a great deal of experimenting in Photoshop.
What’s on your walls?
Primarily my husband’s and my black and white photographs and a few constructed pieces from my Cirque du Psyche series. After graduating with my BFA in photography I married my photography professor and taught in the photography program for nine years. We live, sleep and eat photography.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or the photographic world?
I don’t care for rules and I get tired of the debating over one camera or process being the best or more valid. I love photography and all forms of it. I like the photographic image period, however it is made or processed or altered. If it works it works and I don’t want to debate what is more valid or less valid as a photograph. I like what Charles Harbutt said about photography being “a unique visual language that cannot be expressed in words and if it could be expressed in words, then it wouldn’t be worth doing.” All that matters to me in the end is if the image is working and has an inherent power that speaks to me. The getting there is the individual photographer’s journey, but the image they create is what I care about.
What’s on the horizon?
I am about to retire from a 30-year career as a psychotherapists, Registered Art Therapist and Registered Play Therapist. Because there was only so much time I chose to use my free time making images and quit entering shows for a many years. Three years ago when I reduced my private practice to part-time I began entering juried exhibitions again. I am excited to be getting back to photography full-time. Also until eight years ago I primarily used only a Diana and so I have been experimenting these last few years with many different approaches. I had never worked in color or with Photoshop and so I delved into both to see how they felt. There are several projects I am rolling around but mostly I am spreading my wings and trying to be open to what comes.
Thank you Leslie for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about the of Leslie Hall Brown please visit her site at Leslie Hall Brown.
6 thoughts on “Leslie Hall Brown, Photographer”
Great interview…I love your work
As usual, love your interviews.