When you meet Tracey Brown the first thing you’re likely to do is smile. This is probably because she was smiling first and once you see it, you just can’t help but join in yourself. It’s just one of those things. Such was the photo shoot and interview. ¶A commercial and editorial shooter, Tracey photographs people and building equally well, an enviable skill. Her very graphic style is a natural fit for her many corporate, medical and architectural clients, yet it complements, rather than overpowers, the subject’s personality. ¶The shoot took place in her fantastic studio on the third floor of an old factory in Baltimore– one of those with incredibly high ceilings and the old wooden floors that most of us can only dream about calling our own. The space is light and airy with just enough eclectic props to make it feel personable but without the slightest sense of clutter. It’s the kind of place that just makes you want to create images…
Photos and text by Matthew Rakola
Okay, first question. Tell me about Paper Camera. What’s in a name?
I decided on the name Papercamera, as I was looking for a name that fit my business and was memorable. My name is unfortunately very unmemorable! Papercamera to me describes what I do, as I’m working with a camera, but my images get translated into annual reports, brochures, magazines, and the like. It’s also a nod to my background in Studio Art, which is what I studied in college.
So you studied studio art in college – what led to the transition to photography? Do you ever wish you had gone a different route?
I studied everything in college- drawing, photography, painting, ceramics, printmaking. I would say that my twin passions were photography and drawing, but photography made more sense as a career, since I wasn’t interested doing illustration commercially. I don’t have any regrets over the way anything turned out, and I’m happy with the direction of my career.
Do you think that this background has influenced how you shoot? Can you see any similarities, stylistically between how you illustrate and how you shoot? Composition? Color Palette? Lighting?
Yes, I believe it does. In both drawing and photography, I am drawn to the effect of light and contrast, as well as texture in my work. A good image to me is where the light works as a player in the image, setting the scene and creating the feel of the finished image. I think that’s what draws me to architectural and interior work especially, but I try to use it in all of my work.
how did you find work when you were starting out in the business? And, is it different than how you find new clients now?
I’m sure I’m not the poster child of how to run a business!
I found work in unexpected ways when I was starting out. Sometimes, I would get a job referred to me from a photographer I assisted when the job was too small for them. I would also research clients I wanted, ones I thought I would be a good fit for and contact them and try to meet and show them my work. This is so unpredictable though. Sometimes, I would come out with a good feeling and never hear from them. Other times, I would hear from them months later and get a small “tester” job to see if I was a good fit with them. I would also do mailings to keep my work in front of people I was interested in working with.
I definitely think I find clients differently now. This is partly because I’m more experienced at it and understand the business end of things better, and partly because of where I am in my career. I think making connections with people is still critically important, but I think social media is also important because it’s a great way to get seen and keep your work in front of people. It’s definitely still a multi-pronged approach.
So a mysterious benefactor hands you a blank check and tells you to spend two weeks on any project you’d like, what would you shoot?
I’m not sure if I need a blank check to do this, but I would love to photograph the old mills surrounding my studio that aren’t rehabbed yet. I love all of the textures, the light, the history of these places. They definitely have personalities that I like to document, sort of like portraits of places.
[Too bad the blank check couldn’t buy me a building! Or access to places.]
Hey, why not? When we were shooting we talked about how we both loved to have a shooting space to call our own, even if that’s not where we make the majority of our pictures. What kind of building would you buy? And what do you think it says about you?
I would definitely buy an old industrial building, as I love the character of old buildings. There’s just something about the quality of the materials used, and the attention to detail in these older buildings that is missing in so many structures.
So what do you think that says about you?
I think it says that photographers generally enjoy having interesting locations to work with! (laughs)
Seriously though, I think it says that I appreciate the built environment, especially when done well. These spaces often have great light, because the builders wanted to bring in as much daylight as they could to light their space, since artificial lighting wasn’t the best at that time. These spaces tend to be a great combination of wonderful light, great textures, and solid construction. These spaces often have great nooks and crannies that are great to explore. I like exploring and working with what I find.
You started your business in 2000. If you could text message your younger self, and offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
I think I would tell my younger self to position myself for growth. I became a photographer because I am passionate about the art, not because I’m a business person. In the beginning, I knew less about running a business than I do now, and getting any type of work was a big deal to me. I would text myself the importance of how to price myself, when to start passing on certain jobs to be open to other opportunities, and just the importance of doing what you’re good at and outsourcing other tasks, rather than trying to perform every aspect of my business, so I can focus on the things I am essential for. I think that these things help one do more of the type of work they want to do.
Last one: three words that describe you as a photographer.
Creatively. pursuing. perfection.