Instructor Interview: Ellie Brown

Conducted by Rob Craig

RC: Can you give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started as an artist?

EB: I am from Boston, MA and stayed there for undergrad at Massachusetts College of Art. It was there that I studied with an AMAZING photo faculty and it became very clear to me that I wanted a life as an exhibiting, published, teaching and regarded fine-art photographer. I have and do play with different media from time to time but at heart I am really a photographer. It has been really wonderful to be able to travel and exhibit all over the country and world with my photography.

RC: What events or people inspired you as you developed as an artist?

EB: The professors I had at MassArt were Laura McPhee, Virginia Beahan, Abelardo Morrell, Nicholas Nixon, Stephen Toulentes and Shelburne Thurber. I was in awe at all of their expansive careers as fine-art photographers and they created a model for what I was to strive for in my career. As an artist, my development has come from learning to persevere and mature with a project.

RC: I am interested in finding out more about your process. What do you mean when you say, that as an artist, “[you] persevere and mature with a project?

EB: Nicholas Nixon taught me that some of the best projects can be lifelong. When I look at his 35 year project of the Brown Sisters (his wife and her sisters), I not only see a group of women aging together but I also see their shifting relationships with each other and even the photographer. Sometimes we don’t understand the meaning of what it is we are making until long after we are well into it, or even finished with it. Sometimes the significance of what we have done comes to us in unexpected ways. When I began photographing my sisters in high school, I had no idea it would turn into a ten year project a few years down the road in college.

RC: Could you tell us about some of your work? What do you find most interesting?

EB: My work has shifted a lot in the past four years, but it seems I am always drawn to issues of identity. The work I am most recognized for is called Two Girls: My Sisters 1996-2006. I photographed my sisters going into and through adolescence and their quest for identity in the interim. It seems that the notion of working on a long-term project by my old professors really stuck with me.

RC: Is there a single image from the series that you are most proud of?

EB: It would be hard to pick a single image from ten years of photographs. I am rather fond of the ‘last’ image, Emily Spreading Gown. It has so many levels of symbolism and significance for me; it seems like a tidy image to end the project with.

RC: What 5 words would you use to describe yourself as an artist?

EB: Adaptable, Tenacious, Witty, Creative and Driven.

RC: What is your greatest strength as an instructor?

EB: As an instructor, my strength is finding the strengths of each student and pushing that in them individually.

RC: What do you think makes for a good student?

EB: In my mind, a good student cares about being in the class, and with an open mind. Of course most professors love hardworking students, but I will take that one step further and say I love students who are not lazy and are willing to take risks and fail.

RC: What do you most enjoy about teaching?

EB: In teaching, I enjoy how every class is a completely different experience, even if the material is the same. I enjoy what the students bring to the table.

RC: How was POP!sicle Artist Marketing born?

EB: I have always been praised for my ability to market myself and get exhibitions and grants. After years of listening to my peers complain about not having time or the ability to do the same, I created POP!sicle to fill in the areas where artists may need help. A lot of my desire to start the business also has come from teaching for ten years and seeing how [few] life skills artists are left with upon getting their BFA or even MFAs. I know I was left with very little.

RC: How do you bridge the gap of the business side of art with the creative?

EB: To me, the business side of art is just the other side of the coin of being creative. You can make the most interesting work in the world, but if you don’t market yourself it may never be seen. There is so much art out in the world, it is essential to learn to be savvy and competitive with learning to achieve your personal art goals.

RC: What are you working on now?

EB: I am working on shopping around the BAG project. It is now having its first solo show in Urbana, IL (for which I got a grant to fund the exhibit). I have an idea stewing around in my head for an upcoming project which you ask me about if you are female. Sorry to the men out there….

RC: Why do you think viewers engage with this project and what is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of developing this piece?

EB: The BAG project engages viewers because of the eighty people photographed, there is someone who is perhaps a mirror for the viewer. The project can be seen on the basic level of “oh, what IS in people’s bags?” It can also be seen as a cultural anthropological look into the material things we deem important to carry on our person. The piece developed mostly organically where I would try out different ideas and realize that most of them weren’t working until I arrived at the ones that did. The lesson in that is to keep pushing through ideas because your first idea is very rarely your best idea.

RC: Any words of advice for aspiring artists?

EB: I have many words of advice, but to keep it simple, I will say to believe in yourself and your talent. An artist’s life is not an easy one, but if you hold onto the belief that you are worthy of being called an artist, it will most likely keep you steady.

RC: Could you share 4 or 5 images you would like to accompany the interview?

EB: These images are all from the BAG series. A book detailing the BAG series is available on

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