Reinventing herself

Photographer L.A. Brown honors her window of time.

0

Updated Dec. 20

A lot can happen in seven years. For Island photographer L.A. Brown, it was a time for artistic expression, collaboration, independence, and loss.

Brown has photographed Martha’s Vineyard since she was 12 years old. She’s 54 now, still capturing weddings, sports games, landscapes, portraits, and anything else that falls into her frame. She’s known for getting “the shot.” Not 10 — not 20 — one really good shot.

You’ve seen her work at summer Artisans Festivals in West Tisbury, on the walls at Featherstone, and at Night Heron Gallery, an artist cooperative in Vineyard Haven. Brown has been a staple there since its second season in 2012. On Thursday, Dec. 27, Night Heron will close its doors for the season. It’ll reopen again in April, but for Brown, that’s it. After seven years, she’s moving on.

“They say you’re supposed to reinvent yourself every five to seven years,” Brown said. “For me, energetically, I need to reinvent myself.”

The decision comes after years of juggling many passions at once. She’s an independent artist, she’s part of a co-op, and in April 2018, the board of directors at Featherstone asked Brown to join along with executive director Ann Smith’s recommendation. 

“I’m so drawn to Featherstone,” Brown said. “I always have been. There’s a magic there that’s fully inclusive, and I’ve supported it practically since it started.”

On top of all that, Brown lost a lot of family. “I lost seven family members in six years,” she said. “Cancer, age, Crohn’s disease, sudden illnesses, all these things. My husband and I were at the Brussels bombing with my sister in 2016. Ed Jerome was my brother-in-law. The window of time in our lives is short. I’m only 54. I’m taking stock in what I want to put my energy toward.”

Brown is deciding to invest more in her role at Featherstone. “I want to continue to be a part of artists at large,” she said. “I want to help Featherstone work toward being as great, or even better, than it’s ever been. I’ll finally be able to dedicate myself to this fully.”

In addition to Featherstone, she’ll continue her independent art, and prioritize time with family.

“The artists at Night Heron are some of my closest friends,” she said. “I’ve known some of them since we were kids. This isn’t an uncooperative parting. It’s just my decision. You have to allow for evolution in people, and this is mine.”

Brown was a just a year old the first time she came to Martha’s Vineyard. Her grandparents bought a house in the late 1960s, followed by her parents in the early ’70s. She vacationed here as a kid, and moved to the Island full-time in 1986, after graduating from Providence College. “I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve had here,” she said.

She worked at LeRoux, the Chilmark Community Center, Farm Neck, Chica, and several framing companies. “All while doing my art alongside it,” she said.

One of her big breaks was when Art Buchwald bought her art in the late ’80s. She spent the next few years discovering life outside the Vineyard, eventually coming back.

Ed Jerome hired Brown to be the photographer for the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Jerome introduced Brown to his brother-in-law Brendan, whom Brown would end up marrying. The couple has tons of family on-Island. No kids, but 24 nieces and nephews between the two of them. “This is the gathering place for my family,” Brown said of the Island.

Brown is known for her wedding photography, and has shot somewhere between 300 and 400 of them. Her work has taken her all over the world, from Belgium to Lake Tahoe, to Miami, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, and New Zealand, to name a few. Now she’s shooting an average of about six weddings a year, usually local, for close friends or clients familiar with her work.

“I only like to take one photograph,” Brown said. “I’m kind of old-school in that sense. I don’t want to edit on a computer. I wait for the right light and get one shot, and I’ll know I’ve gotten it before seeing it.

“When my clients ask me about my process as an artist, I say this: I love to play tennis, and I love to be at the beach with my family. If I took a photograph and had to do something with it on my computer, I lose tennis and beach time, and I didn’t do my job…which for me, is capturing that moment in that very moment.” 

You can find L.A. Brown’s art at Artisans Festivals and on her website at labphoto.com. Her work will be available at Night Heron Gallery for the remainder of the season, until Thursday, Dec. 27.

Updated to correct Brendan’s relationship with Ed Jerome, and the season Brown joined Night Heron Gallery.