VICE Loves Magnum: Michael Christopher Brown
Photographer Michael Christopher Brown documents places and people in transition—occasionally eschewing a camera for a camera phone. From Libya and Russia to Broadway and his current base in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brown said he explores the “relationship between distance and honesty.” To paraphrase, Brown believes that as we are pushed to our limits, we become more honest.
His work in Libya in the aftermath of the fall of Qaddafi was the subject of the HBO documentary Witness: Libya and will appear in his forthcoming book, Libyan Sugar, to be published in 2014 by Twin Palms. With the phone lines failing us, I caught up with Michael over email.
VICE: What do you think of the work that you do? Do you see yourself more as an artist or a journalist?
Michael Christopher Brown: I always made a living from photojournalism, but ultimately it was too rigid in structure to allow for much growth. I never identified with photojournalism and was always more inspired by street or documentary photographers. Then, a few years ago, I found that I could express things better while writing than taking pictures, and through the writing realized the photography lacked definition. I entered a transition that continues to this day, aiming to use photography more as an individual, a citizen, than as just a photographer working to illustrate or report something. It was a big shift, from solely documenting the outward to documenting and analysing the outward and inward.
How did your career as a photographer begin?
The photojournalism career really took off after I was given an internship at National Geographic magazine. Partially thanks to those jobs at NG, I was able to begin getting consistent work soon after moving to New York City in the winter of 2006.
When you are working in conflict zones, do you worry that your photography will end up being dominated by pictures of guns and injuries? How do you find art in conflict?
Well, I live in east Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is an active conflict zone, but I’m not covering the frontlines of armed conflict. I have the itch but avoid it because it is more related to addictions than beliefs. I need to identify with whatever is happening before planting myself on a frontline. I need to feel involved to a great extent—as if I were a participant. I felt this in Libya but not since then, except briefly at the beginning of the Syrian war. Not in Congo, however, because, although I am beginning to understand it, it is a conflict based on ethnicity and power and I cannot strongly identify with race or with the powerless or powerful. At the end of the day, I am just an average white boy from the Skagit Valley—an alien.
Ambushed in South Sudan
The war in South Sudan began in murky circumstances in mid-December, when tribal factions within the country’s army, the SPLA, began fighting each other in the center of the capital, Juba. The SPLA quickly fractured into two camps: an insurgency drawn from members of former vice president Riek Machar’s Nuer tribe and troops who remained loyal to President Salva Kiir, of the Dinka tribe. Both sides have been accused of committing gross human rights abuses during the conflict. VICE News arrived in Juba and found the army desperate to dispel rumors that rebels were advancing on the capital. Soldiers were keen to take our correspondents on a trip with them into the bush to recapture the strategic city of Bor from the rebels… only the raid didn’t turn out quite as they had expected.
Cheers to the Revolution: Kiev’s Beautiful Molotov Cocktails
Kiev’s Euromaidan protestors use fire to their advantage. With fire, the protestors were able to defend their barricades, extend their lines, and fortify their positions. They were mobilized throughout the city to collect as many bottles as possible, and thousands of Molotov cocktails were used to set fire to tanks, other armored vehicles, and buses. These little bombs were the only real weapon protestors had against the government’s well-armed forces.
Donald Weber spent this February in Kiev photographing for VICE. Follow our coverage of breaking events in Kiev on VICE News.
All photos by Donald Weber/VII Photo