Viewfinder: Geoff Brown

Looking for a change in climate from his hometown in Upstate New York, photographer and musician Geoff Brown moved to Nashville. He spends time roaming the Tennessee backroads, hunting pictures.

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Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about your background.

Geoff Brown:  I was born and raised in a small rural farm town in Upstate New York. It was really like a Mayberry-type town at that time.  I graduated with 98 people in my class and I think half the people in my class had FFA [Future Farmer’s of America] coats that they wore every day to school.  So it was a very rural area, and very beautiful.  I don’t miss it in the winter, but I miss it the rest of the year.

 

DY: When did you leave Upstate New York?

GB: I went away to college, and then I moved to New York City in 1980 and met a girl there and ended up living there for a decade, so that was a real change of environment for me.  But I loved it.  For a kid in his 20’s, it was a great place to be.  There was so much going on.  I also lived in Alaska for a few years, and then back to Upstate New York before I moved down here to Nashville.

 

DY: What brought you to Tennessee?

GB: Music.  Change of climate.  I’ve always liked the South, and it’s always been somewhere I wanted to live.  I’m a musician and I didn’t move down here with any illusions of being a successful musician because that’s really hard to do down here, but the cost of living is low and the quality of life is good, and there are lots of cool things to do and see.  My girlfriend and I were tired of the winters back home, so we decided to move down here and that was that.

This man is 89 years old and he lives in the house he was born in. He still grows soy beans himself. He was just out mowing his lawn as I was driving around. I got out of the truck and was impressed this guy in his 80’s is still doing this stuff himself.
"There aren’t that many cotton fields in middle Tennessee and I wanted to shoot some, so I went looking for some near Smyrna, Tennessee. Down around there are some big cotton fields that I happened upon. It was kind of a stormy day so it made for some good shooting. There weren’t cotton fields where I grew up, so it’s very different to me. "

 

DY: Did you study photography in college?

GB:  No, I studied music.  I’m a self-taught photographer.  A girlfriend of mine got me a camera about four years ago, and while I’d always shot photos and used cameras in the past, it was really always an afterthought.  I didn’t really get into it until I got this camera as a gift, and then it just kind of took off and now it’s becoming more and more consuming. 

 

DY: What is your process like for taking and sharing photos?

GB: When I go out shooting, I just go out with a camera.  I get lost of back roads sometimes, sometimes I’ll go into the city and just walk around the streets and just see what there is to shoot.  You never know what kind of opportunity is going to present itself around the next corner in town or around the next bend in the road.

Most of what I do is kind of off-beat street style photography.  It’s American culture, a type of lifestyle that, for better or worse, is kind of fading away from the landscape here in this country. 

I have a blog [gbrown615.tumblr.com] where I post my work, and that’s the main way I share my photos.  The pictures that I choose to put on the blog are just photos that I like.  I put them there to share with other people and hope that people take an interest in them.

 

DY: When you’re taking pictures, how do you find and approach your subjects?

GB: I just get in the truck and go driving.  I go out and get lost and just see what’s there.

Sometimes I might go out with a specific location in mind.  That may or may not always work out, but really what I enjoy most is seeing new places. Most of the photos I take have been taken just by getting lost.

 

DY:  Not all of your images are rural, but many are.  What about rural places draws you to take pictures?

GB: It’s probably my upbringing.  I was raised in a rural area, so I’m comfortable in those situations and I’m comfortable with people in that environment. I generally find I have common experiences with them, so it’s a good way to talk to people.  I like to think I’m a pretty basic, down-to-earth guy, so that kind of helps me being able to make people comfortable.  It’s in my blood. Born and raised in the country, like my parents and grandparents.  I’m always really comfortable out in the country.

 

DY: Do you see a difference between how you take pictures in Nashville versus when you’re in a rural place?

GB: The process is always a little different each place you go.  In the city, you’ve got more spontaneity going on.  Situations move faster and you have more happening so you have to be a little quicker on the draw to get the shot.  In the country, the pace is a little slower generally, although that’s certainly not always the case.   But no matter what you’re just looking for something interesting.  I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing, because if I do that, I’m not going to get the shot.  I’m going to miss something.  As I shoot more and more, things come more intuitively and I can size up a scene a little more quickly.  That’s an ongoing process.

 

DY: The people and places you take pictures of seem to have an air of dignity about them.  Is that something you think about when taking photos?

GB: I don’t consciously think to myself, you need to be a certain way here.  I am respectful of the people I shoot.  I’m approaching them as a stranger, so you have to be respectful and I think if I came off as some kind of jerk, I wouldn’t get some of the pictures I’ve been lucky enough to get. 

 

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