Written by Ryan Lyons
Not every photographer shoots with a "how to" book beside them. Every photographer doesn’t shoot with a calculated rhyme or a reason. Sometimes it’s just because they're feeling the moment they’re in. Sometimes they are just documenting their own lives. Sometimes it’s because they want bigger picture for the viewer or for themselves. Photography can be therapeutic like that. When 26 year old Katelyn Brown talks about her work, it’s clear that she has plans to excel within her field. Her photos suggest her own femininity and that of her subject. Even with an iPhone, she's discovered a way to invite a slow shutter speed effect which grasps the clothing that the model may be wearing and pays attention to their curves. Currently she’s enrolled in school for photography at Mica surrounding herself in an artistic environment with the constantly developing creative community in Baltimore city. Our conversation surrounding her art is one of the best I’ve had in a while. We spoke about home, creative surroundings, and her journey as a young woman of color. Peep our interview below.
How long have you been shooting and what does it mean to you?
I've been shooting consistently since the end of 2013 I believe. I've been taking pictures here and there since I was 9 or 10. I sort of always knew I loved it but it just never stuck as a medium until recently. It means freedom to me. It means having a voice to express not only how I'm feeling, but a collective sound. It means taking risk.
What instruments have you been using to shoot? What inspires you?
I've been using this old canon Sx-something-or-other to shoot digital. It isn't a DSLR. I can't detach lenses or anything but it's great. I have two film cameras that I want to get more comfortable using. I also use my phone camera a lot. In high school, during our legendary MySpace days, I used a lot of disposables which I might get back into. My inspirations vary. My main source of inspiration is being black. Being a black woman in America is a crazy thing man. People want you to be superwoman, but then tell you you're not capable in the next breath. I'm really inspired by trial and tribulation, actually. I'm inspired to make work when people second guess me or tell me I can't. When people try to limit me or put me in a box. Somehow it makes me tap into my black woman magic and produce amazing shit. I'm also inspired by photos I see from other artists. I'm loving the show Shani Crowe has up, in Chicago I believe. I also love Quazi King. His work has a lot of power and beauty in it. I'm also meeting a lot of people in my graduate program that do amazing work. Inspiration is everywhere. Things I read, movies I see, it's everywhere for me. I go to this place in my mind that's Miles Davis, Nia Long in Love Jones and Bed-Stuy simultaneously when I'm in my creative hum. Its mad warm and zen. All I need is more plants and a record player to really put my studio space over the top. Ha.
"I go to this place in my mind that's Miles Davis, Nia Long in Love Jones and Bed-Stuy simultaneously when I'm in my creative hum. Its mad warm and zen. All I need is more plants and a record player to really put my studio space over the top. Ha. " - Katelyn Brown
You're a creative that has lived in both New York and Baltimore. How has that journey helped you develop on both ends?
Baltimore is home, but coming back "home" in my adult years after living in New York for a while-- this city is almost unidentifiable to me now. Baltimore, before I left, made me appreciate the arts and my education a ton. It's also where I had my first small dose of independence. It's where my family is. It's also a place I want to try and help because it needs some love from natives-- not just people that come from the outside. Living in New York, I think, really shaped me into a young woman and more of an artist for sure. It instilled even more hustle in me. Brooklyn also opened me up to other facets of blackness that I didn't know existed. I definitely learned how to work hard and work smarter there. I miss Brooklyn a lot but it's too fucking cool now. I'll be back when the hype dies down. lol.
You're one of the only people I know that can make such beautiful fashion images spring from an iPhone. What are you searching for in your subjects and what are you looking to bring to life?
Thank you! Ha! I mean in those instances of using my phone, most of the time I forgot a memory card, or the lighting was horrible on my camera and the photo would be out of focus. I think honestly I just have to use what I have and sometimes I get lucky. I think a lot of times, we forget that making the thing is what's most important. How you make it can vary. I don't think I'm ever searching for anything particular in subjects, other than truth. I want their truth to come through in the shots. So whatever the joy or sadness is, I want them to just be transparent humans. On a selfish level, I need a strong composition from my work and that's really it. The rest is straight from the improvisation of the subject. I may throw out some poses to reference but I sort of just let them do their thing. Unless I have a particular shot in mind, it's collaborative. I'm looking to bring beauty to life. And since beauty is so vast, I have a lot of shit to do. Lol.
"Baltimore, before I left, made me appreciate the arts and my education a ton. It's also where I had my first small dose of independence. It's where my family is. It's also a place I want to try and help because it needs some love from natives-- not just people that come from the outside. " - Katelyn Brown
In an interview, I heard you speak loosely on your journey to speak for black women. What exactly do you want to say?
It's actually kinda evolved into me wanting to interpret for black women. To advocate. To promote for us. I never want to speak for or over anyone. I want us to get out our individual messages as clearly as we can, I'm just the medium. I don't think women are treated with the adequate amount of respect and care that we should be in our community. I think a lot of times we're left to fend for ourselves and I personally want to feel more kinship between everyone. There are so many sub-cultural groups in our black community; I want everyone to talk to everyone. One of my professors asked our class, "If you walk through a neighborhood and never speak to anyone, are you really contributing to and/or being involved in the community?" I just want love and advocacy for us as individuals and as a collective. And clearly we have to do it ourselves, as usual.
Black women are being reported as the fastest rising group of entrepreneurs. As a young black women, can you speak to that journey?
It's fucking amazing. It's so inspiring and empowering to witness. It can also be annoying to constantly, like I said before, have people second guess you and your intelligence. But you gotta keep it pushing, ya know. I thrive off of proving people wrong, and even more so, proving them wrong while advocating for my people. *black power fist emoji*
How do we help bridge the gap between our parents and ourselves?
I think every generation is different, but not so different in that we're trying to reinvent the wheel or anything. Our parents were different from their parents and I'm sure there was pushback that they'll never tell us about. I think they have to remember, with the help of our gentle reminders of course, that everyone's path is different. The world is different. We, as young people, also have to understand that our parents have lived a little longer and some of the knowledge they have to drop on us is really valuable. I think each generation has things to learn from each other. I think though, we as artists whose parents aren't artists, they want to support us but it's hard to not be afraid for your child saying they want to make art in this world. Art is sort of stigmatized as being either superfluous or a luxury of the rich-- or both. They want us to make money and support ourselves because thats what all parents want, they just might not understand the artist mindset and avenues available for us to get money on our own terms. There's money out there! Love and value your parents man. Stand firm in your passion. Know when to take their advice to heart and when to let it roll off. The closer you get to your truth, the more pushback you'll receive.