Cross MacKenzie Gallery is pleased to present a solo show of new photographs taken while the artist was traveling in Tanzania in 2013. John H. Brown Jr. describes his experience:
“While exploring the African Savannah, the grand sculptural qualities of the foliage (including Acacia, Sausage, Balanites [Desert Date], Umbrella, Baobab, Almond, Tulip, and Palm) captured my attention…. The trees of the Serengeti compelled me to photograph their majestic, fragile, and enduring beauty.”
We have seen Brown’s passion for foliage before in his very successful “Vine Series,” shown at our gallery in 2010, where he photographed twisted wisteria in all seasons and in multiple variations, and manipulated the images into silhouettes and abstract forms. Now, a new continent and a new subject have inspired Brown to capture the monumental structures with their broad canopies, using the same powerful techniques. He captures the essence of these iconic trees while focusing our attention on their stark outlines – leaving his subject to hover between realism and abstraction. Like in the “Vine Series,” the extreme contrasts and deep blacks create calligraphy-like effects and display a bold graphic power.
Brown reflects, “These trees stand apart regally, almost in a solitary manner.” The photographer’s high regard for his subject is made apparent in these carefully crafted images.
Appropriately, some of the photographs have been sepia-toned – recalling the rich, red soil of their surroundings and underscoring the history that these large tangled branches have witnessed. Brown’s African discovery shares the look and feel of his predecessors’ early photographs made in the 1800’s and reminds us of Peter Beard’s book of photographs, “The Eyelids of Morning.”
Hanging on the large gallery wall are 10 sepia toned photographs framed separately in a grid. Some of the photographs have the grid within their design – breaking up a single image into 6 or 9 individual parts juxtaposing the organic, seemingly disorganized, almost chaotic direction of the branches with the orderly geometric grid, creating a frame within the frame – an internal latticework. One gets the sense the photographer is attempting to tame the chaos of nature’s swirling tendrils and harsh equatorial environment with his darkroom manipulations as he takes his subject, “Out of Africa,” literally into his studio to make his art. Brown’s African journey ends in our gallery with exquisite trophies gracing our walls.
John H. Brown Jr. holds a master’s degree in art history from Boston University and did post graduate study of photography at the Corcoran School of Art. He has received grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts and has been included in numerous solo and group shows here and abroad: notably, “Reflections in Black, a History of Black Photographers,” at the Smithsonian’s Art and Industry Gallery and the acclaimed traveling show, “Take me to the River,” with exhibitions in Texas, France and Egypt.