BCA News: Spring 2019
Member Profile: Matthew Brown
You could say that I started with no direction on a path filled with possibilities. In 2001 when I graduated high school, I had no clue what I wanted to do. My amazing parents gave me the opportunity to find myself at the local community college, and I took a class in every subject while completing my associate’s degree. It was when I took a basic photography course that everything changed. I was absolutely enthralled with the power of light and film, but what to do with this power.
The summer of 2004 is when I saw Sally Mann’s What Remains exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It made me think about life and death differently as well as the value of beauty in both. This idea of beauty in death haunted me, but I didn’t know how to channel it into a career in photography. I recalled a criminal justice class I took and realized that was it, Forensic Photography.
After completing the Master of Photography Certificate at Montgomery College, I took a Photo Documentation Series with the National Transportation Safety Board, and went on to study forensics at the University of Baltimore. While I completed a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Studies, I took an internship with Baltimore City’s Mobile Crime Unit which allowed me to photograph crime scenes and autopsy examinations at the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
It was the fall of 2008 when I became a Forensic Photographer for the Washington, DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). The job responsibilities at that time were, almost solely, to photographically document forensic examinations of decedents along with evidence that may accompany them. We would periodically have to produce prints of our images for court cases which was always exciting to me. It’s fun when we get new projects, but in reality, the photographs we take play a pivotal role in many peoples’ lives. Whether it’s one of our medical examiners trying to explain their findings to a jury or a mother trying to identify her child, seeing my images being used as a resolution to injustices is a powerful motivator for me.
Almost eleven years later, I am now the Lead Forensic Photographer working under a very different organization with the same name. When I first started there were two photographers which has now grown to three. The caliber of work we produce now is far superior to the work we did when I started. This has a lot to do with the organization giving us the opportunity to grow, learn, and challenge us for a better product. We not only provide photographic documentation, but we create posters and pamphlets for national conferences, logos for newly created events and organizations, and provide training to international partners. No day is ever the same but they all present their own challenges.
Our day-to-day setup consists of a Nikon D810 with a 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF lens, SB-5000 speedlight with off camera flash cord, and for our macro work, a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Macro lens with a Sigma EM-140 DG ring flash. We have various shooting tables and copy stands depending on our needs, but we also operate a Fujifilm X-T1 IR when shooting with alternative light sources. Some special projects require the use of our 360° cameras or 3D handheld scanners.
When I am photographing outside of the office, I really enjoy nature and wildlife photography. It’s my way of engaging in the beauty of life. For over a year I volunteered at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park as a Reptile Keeper Aide, and really miss being able to interact with so many different creatures. However, a nice Sunday afternoon is sitting in my back yard with my Nikon D7500 and Tamron 150-600mm lens photographing the Chickadees and Warblers.
All of my favorite photos remind me not to take life for granted. The Classic Car reminds me of the road that I’m on and the importance of family. This photo was taken at a local car show while I was with my wife and my parents just enjoying my time with them. This car particularly struck my eye because red and black are my two favorite colors.
The Blue Daisy tells me to stop and smell the roses. Beauty is all around us in various forms, large and small. Precious moments can be found by laying on the ground and staring at a flower. This was taken at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.
Skyline Drive reminds me that life comes in waves of good and bad, but there will always be light. The texture in this image reminds me of a cool fleece blanket ready to be warmed up by a fireplace. This was taken on Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
If I had any advice to offer, break up the monotony when working in a regimented working environment. While the work is important, sometimes you have to stop and try something completely different to deconstruct stagnant cycles. Get uncomfortable from time to time.
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