AJ Brown is a local architectural photographer. While that might sound like a pretty niche market as far as photography is concerned, his keen eye for detail makes his images come to life. Wether it’s brand new modern structures and buildings or garbage dumps he’s shooting, AJ does excellent work. This is not merely his hobby, this is his vocation. So, we got to sit down with AJ to ask him how his job as a photographer shapes him as a person, and how his faith and the Gospel shape his work and the way he sees the world. We think what he had to say can be an encouragement to all Christians, no matter what workplace you are in.
Q: AJ, how and why did you get into the world of photography?
A: My Grandfather was an amateur photographer and so was my Dad. All the pictures on the walls of my grandparents house were pictures my grandpa took. Although he was an amateur, he had a distinct style and subject matter that he honed in on. Most of the images were of old barns, train tracks, windmills, or hot air balloons. For some reason as a little kid I really liked those pictures. Thinking back on it now I think it was deeper than it seemed. My family was uniquely close and my grandparents had a huge impact on all of our lives. I believe that really shaped a huge part of who I am as an adult.
I always leaned in the creative direction but I was not great at drawing, painting, or any other typical creative processes. I struggled for a while trying to figure out what I really liked. I have a friend that has a tally of how many jobs I have had and it is embarrassingly high (like in the 30's)! I would always do really great when I started something new but I would slowly stop caring and begin to not put in my full effort. This is still something I struggle with today. Because of this, I new at an early age that I absolutely had to do something I really loved and figure out how to make a living doing it. I tried to be a rock star for a while and that was working until I moved out of my parents house! Haha. After the "rock star" phase I turned back to the camera that I had always loved but only dabbled with. I was 25 years old and I made the decision that I needed to go to college so I could get a real job. I got married and we moved off to California so I could study commercial photography. People tell me that I do in fact have a real job now but it doesn't really seem like it to me. I am just doing something that love and I work for myself so I can't get fired.
Q: In one of your blog posts, you closed out by saying, “I’m always learning new things about myself through this medium (photography). I don’t know what the point of all this is. I guess that’s the funny thing about photography. Sometimes you can have a clear idea of what you want in your mind but in the end you have to let your eyes do the leading”. I love the honesty and vulnerability there. Can you speak on how you learn more about yourself through your vocation?
A: My vocation reveals a lot of things about myself. I am a prideful person and my job continually puts me back in my place. If I was to step back and look at it from a wider angle I would say that it teaches me humility. I love art and created things. I am amazed at the things man can visualize in their mind and then create with their hands. My vocation has many creative aspects but when it comes down to it I am only hired because someone else created something. I photograph architecture. I photograph some one's creation, not my own. My job is not about me at all. Everything I do is to make someone else look good. It is extremely humbling to dedicate all my hard work and effort to making someone else's work look amazing. Over the years I have realized this and have grown to like it this way. It is an honor to photograph these buildings. The architects I work for dedicate years of work to one building. I come in for one or two days and make pictures of it for them. My part of the process is important but it truly is minuscule in the grand scheme.
Q: And to the last part of what you said about “letting your eyes do the leading”… I know you were talking about that from a photographic standpoint, but can you speak to what it means for you as a Christian to consciously take time to look for beauty in a fallen world? And what value would you say slowing down enough to really look at what’s going on around us has in the life of a Christian?
A: This is a hard question!
It is possible that God has blessed me with a natural inclination to see beauty. I do realize this is a fallen world and sin has tainted everything but I can see beauty everywhere. That's what so exciting about it to me, sin has corrupted this world so badly and by God's grace to us it is still beautiful. I can't even begin to comprehend what the new heaven's and new earth will be like. I sometimes sit back and try to imagine the natural beauty of a recreated earth and the things man will be able to create and accomplish without the weight of sin crushing down like it is now. For me slowing down to really look at what's going on has brought me peace. I do see destruction and corruption all around but when we hold fast to the truth of what is to come it will bring us joy here and now.
If this was just a fallen world there would be no beauty, hope, or peace. But the fallen world we live in is only part of the story, and it's the part of the story that takes a back seat because of what Jesus has done. The weight of sin is no longer on my shoulders, the load has been removed. I feel free, this freedom let's me see the world in a positive light. It gives me hope. There is darkness all around us but I continually see Jesus changing lives, killing addictions, saving who I write off as hopeless. And he is using me and my church to accomplish these great feats. For me, it's hard to not see beauty in this fallen world.
Q: Anyone who takes even a cursory glimpse at your work can see that you value excellence and beauty in what you do, and your photo’s really capture and highlight the beautiful and hard work other people have done in with architecture. In light of that, what would you say to the Christian who is just “working for the weekend”, as some may say? In other words, as someone who captures beauty in a fallen world for a living, why should people (and Christians in particular) work for the beauty and renewal of all things?
A: Oh man, working for the weekend has always been one of my biggest fears. My heart really aches for those of us that are just working for the weekend. When I was a little boy learning how to play the guitar I would never play in front of people, my mom would come into my room while I was practicing and tell me,"You know Adam, you don't have to play for me but you can always play for God. It brings him joy. You can do anything for God." I slowly began to understand what she meant. I started playing my guitar for God. I practiced really hard because I figured God was really good at the guitar. I started riding my bike for God. I would peddle as hard as I could to be the best bike rider I could be. I think this translates to what we do for work. We work for God! Our bosses may not be encouraging or give us approval but God does. God is proud of us and God wants us to do our best and work hard. That may not motivate everyone but it sure does motivate me.
Lastly, this may not be something everyone agrees with but, I am a huge proponent of doing what you love for a living. Maybe if you hate your job you should ask God to help you find a way to love it, or figure out what you love and find a way to make money doing it (in a responsible way of course).
You can find more of a AJ's photographs on his website.
You can also follow his blog, where Adam shares his thoughts on recent shoots he has done, and even gives tips on how you can take better pictures yourself, and learn to see and capture the beauty that is around you.