Monday, 9 July 2012

Like Father, like Son

South Dakota & New York © Michael Christopher Brown

Some boys in the Skagit Valley of Washington State learned practical things from their fathers, like how to farm, build houses or repair cars. I learned how to take pictures, just as useful though not as obvious. Though I worked the fields a bit growing up, picking berries and spinach and driving a combine at night, neither I nor my father, Gary, understood the effort required to tend the mustard in front of our home but we could appreciate the light falling upon it. Light bound us together as the land does a farmer and son.

Washington State & Washington State © Michael Christopher Brown

Washington State & North Dakota © Michael Christopher Brown

South Dakota & North Dakota © Michael Christopher Brown
Not much has changed now, twenty years later. We just finished a road trip, driving 5400 miles from New York to Seattle. There was not much time to gander so we planned a destination each day but let ourselves be taken if pulled in another direction, which often led to some memorable experience in the afternoon. It might have been an Amish farmer working his horses in Lancaster, Sioux youths readying for a Sun Dance atop the Missouri or a proud woman in a pink rimmed white convertible in Chicago's south side. It also might have been a lightning storm in the Badlands interrupted by the best storm-sunset light ever or a long afternoon at Buffalo Bill's Hotel and Bar in Cody, which kept us in the Wild West long after we left town. Whatever it was, we recorded it and our thoughts onto disc as we fell deeper into the country, passing through mostly abandoned old downtown areas while avoiding strip malls, following local roads more than expressways to avoid those new American areas which all look the same.

Washington State & Montana © Michael Christopher Brown

Idaho & Pennsylvania © Michael Christopher Brown

Montana & Washington State © Michael Christopher Brown

If Dad liked the service he said so, tipping a waiter well and having me photograph them together. When helped along the way by the various workers-of-america, he took time telling them how he appreciated their service. Sometimes they did too good a job, as at Gettysburg when Dad was so excited by the guide's information that he kept trying to interject his thoughts and ask the guide to pose for pictures with me in front of the battleground. Other times he playfully entertained himself, having me pull over so he could stand inside a giant field sprinkler and pretend to drink from a spigot. He even asked for my advice: where to stay, what to eat and where to drive to. But mainly he seemed to want to watch me enjoy things, something both parents and children probably want more than anything. He mentioned the joy of being a father driving cross-country with a son and hopes I have a chance someday. I say even if I do not at least I drove it with him.

Michigan & Illinois © Michael Christopher Brown

Montana & Indiana © Michael Christopher Brown
North Dakota & Indiana © Michael Christopher Brown

He really enjoys taking my picture. No matter how the image looks in the viewfinder or afterwards, as long as I am in the frame and smiling he seems happy. I realize there is something I was distanced from, and distanced myself from, for some time. All along I was supposed to take pictures of America for a Leica project but his energy and enjoyment while taking pictures often left me just observing him. As different as we are we share as many idiosyncrasies. I only felt right about the trip if I paid total attention to him, even in the silence. What started as a picture trip became a thinking trip.

Montana & Illinois © Michael Christopher Brown
Indiana & Ohio © Michael Christopher Brown
New York & New York © Michael Christopher Brown
Illinois & Ohio © Michael Christopher Brown
Michigan & North Dakota © Michael Christopher Brown
South Dakota & Iowa © Michael Christopher Brown

Michael Christopher Brown (Foam Magazine #27/Report)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sure looks like family farms will be gone. Most will be purchased by large industrial farms who will offer to keep the original owners on as workers.

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  4. These pictures are brilliant. They remind me of the days I spent in my grandmother's house in the countryside from when I was a kid. broiled porterhouse steak

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