Thursday Spotlight: Judy Brown

Yes, I know it’s not Thursday, but Judy has a show opening at the Griffin Museum at the Cambridge Homes and I wanted to get her interview in this week!

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in a small town in a pretty crowded little house in rural Texas with my mother, grandparents, and later my great grandmother. I went to Rice Institute (as it was called then) and U.C. Berkeley and then spent almost three years as a postdoc in solid state physics in Paris,where I devoted myself to improving my French helped by a couple of very generous French women who’ve been my best friends ever since. Back in the States I taught for many years in the Physics Department at Wellesley College and later simultaneously had a visiting scientist appointment at the Media Lab at MIT doing research in computer perception of music and computer classification of marine mammal sounds. Not a typical background for a
photographer though I did spend several years in my early days at Wellesley learning darkroom techniques and working on black and white images. Free at last from teaching I took a Photoshop class at RISD and was hooked. I followed it with other classes in their Digital Photography Program and recently I’ve managed to get permission to audit two excellent classes Studio Art classes at Wellesley College (one by Clara) which at this stage are extremely beneficial to my vision as a photographer.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

John Hames at RISD taught me to think of images in terms of form and texture. His landscape assignment connected with my passion for horses has led me to spend the past four years concentrating my most serious work on equine images. In a lighting course at RISD I stumbled on to the Karsh photograph of Mauriac, a superb example of rim lighting that has directed much of my work since, culminating in my most recent ongoing project of nude self portraits. Andrea Evans, my drawing teacher, deserves much credit for encouraging me on this last project and pointing me to the work of John Coplans and Alice Neel. Caleb Cole, who is a master of lighting and self portrait, has become a friend, and has been an extremely important source of inspiration and of encouragement in my “down” periods. And finally, Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director of the Griffin Museum, after a portfolio review has invited me to show my Elliott series at the Griffin Museum at The Cambridge Homes (Aug 6 – Oct 1, opening Sept 18).

Where and how do you get your ideas?

From my years as a scientist I remember that if you keep trying things, something unexpected and interesting will probably happen. With my equine images I didn’t sit down and plan the shots that I’ve found most interesting and expressive of my intent; rather I happened upon them. I was lucky, for instance, to find a pony with an unusual shape who was often in his stall with high window providing back lighting (my Elliott series). And for my nudes I’m relying on the adage “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” as I look through books of nude photos taken by photographers seeking interesting poses and/or nice rim lighting.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

Almost of my horse photos have been done with natural light preferably early or late in the day and often with back lighting. I’ve done a lot of photoshop on my Elliott series because of lens glare due to the back lighting. Then I clone to get a totally black background. The nudes are done with Calumet strobes; thus far with a single strobe with umbrella because I like hard light and want to show wrinkle contours.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative?

Long, long periods of thinking my Elliott series was better than anything that will follow, and that I’m a like a novelist who never writes a second book.

What is the best part of being creative?

Having an image jump out from the monitor much better than I’d expected.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

If you’re not independently wealthy, remember Kafka who had a full time job and wrote in the evenings. For most people, you have to make a living somehow, and have enough passion and energy left to do your art.

Judy’s website
Judy’s email: jbrown@wellesley.edu

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