Polly Brown was a social-documentary photographer whose photo-essays and editorial work have been published in the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, Family Therapy Networker and Psychology Today. She is the co-author of the book, City Limits: Images of Boston in Transition and the book American Route 66; Home on the Road. She was associate professor of photography at the Art Institute of Boston for nine years and has taught at the International Center of Photography in New York, the University of Hawaii, the Maine Photographic Workshops and the Santa Fe Workshops. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and is in the permanent collections of the Fogg Museum, the Rose Museum, Polaroid Corporation and Friends of Photography. She has received numerous grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Massachusetts Artist’s Foundation Fellowship, a Friends of Photography Grant, and a New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.
She lived in New Mexico with her husband, the writer David Fowler, and their dog.
She died on October 18, 2016.
PERSONAL STATEMENT AND MUSINGS ON PHOTOGRAPHY
My photographic life has been a long and circuitous one. Like many emerging photographers I was first drawn into the medium by the images of Robert Frank in his landmark book, “The Americans”. Ensuing influences came from the photographers in the classical documentary genre such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Eugene Smith, Walker Evans and William Klein. For me, their photographs opened up a new way looking at the world, and I wanted to do that with my own vision. However, for many years I went in other directions and explored portraiture, advertising and travel photography. For a while I had a peddler’s license and sold my prints on the streets of New York City.
It was in the 1980s that I returned to my photographic roots in earnest. I began working on projects that dealt with the issues of our culture in our time, such as teenage mothers and men’s rituals and the socialization of boys. My self-initiated work has emerged from a personal connection, so that these projects not only addressed our societal issues but my mine own as well.
I photograph to learn about my world. I spent a good part of my childhood in a protected and insular place and was plagued by a debilitating shyness. When I discovered my passion for photography I realized that I wanted the images more than I needed to cling to my innate tendency of retreat. And by wanting those photographs I pushed myself into new horizons beyond my circle of comfort. These photographs have such meaning for me because they also represent my ability to overcome my old demons as well as connecting me to different worlds and the universal human condition.
As much as my images are rooted in the real world, I also believe that photographs always lie. A photograph is a surreal, usually two-dimensional object that is a rectangle or square, representing a fraction of a second or at most a few minutes. It is made at a certain angle and possibly made with electronic light, which can only be seen in the photograph.
So ultimately, my photographs have to be metaphors for reality. In our most intense times of our life, when we are being born, when we are dying or when we are making love, hopefully, we are too busy to photograph. The challenge is to bring to the image the same intensity of life in the real world.