Preserving the artist's heritage
Will Brown

Interviewed in 2013
Sponsored by Drexel University
Emily Farrara, Intern
Rob Kates, Videographer
Lydia Hunn, Advisor  
To email Will Brown please click here.

Click here to view Will Brown's gallery.                                          Click here to view Will Brown's video.

Artist's Statement

As most kids, I drew and painted from boyhood, and as a teenager taught myself how to use a camera and a makeshift darkroom. My first formal art training was at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I drew from casts and the figure and studied painting.

My time at the Academy was less than fruitful. The instructors there then seem to have gone to the Academy themselves; there was not a single outside critic.
I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture one summer. This was a great eye-opener: 35 different students with 35 different points of view. We talked, ate and drank art. The resident artist teachers were terrific. Each Friday a new visiting artist would give a talk, and then that Saturday criticize the student work. Some of the artists that summer were William and Marguerite Zorach, Alex Katz, Walter Murch, Ben Shahn and Fairfield Porter.

In my 3rd year at the Academy I enrolled in the coordinated program with the University of Pennsylvania. There I studied with Neil Welliver and Rudy Burckhardt. I’m especially indebted to Rudy, the photographer and filmmaker who became my mentor.

I had first heard about him when I was a student at Skowhegan and he was looking for extras for a film he was shooting. Once we knew each other well I assisted him on shoots at Philip Johnson’s Glass House, of collectors, and of artists such as the choreographer Paul Taylor. Rudy seemed to know everyone in the art world. He told wonderful stories, and we ended up summering in Maine near each other. He was a generous artist and friend.
I began teaching photography and film at Swarthmore College at the pleasure of the painter Harriet Shorr, who headed the college’s art department. Two solo shows of my photographs were mounted during my time there. In 1971 Anne d’Harnoncourt and Joseph Rishel attended one of the shows and were the first to purchase my work.
Concurrently I worked in art conservation under Ted Siegl at the Academy, and later at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1971 I was asked to photograph part of a collection at that museum in a free-lance capacity. This led to my leaving teaching and conservation. I gradually acquired the skills, equipment and reputation for photographing works of art - my main means of supporting my family for nearly 40 years.
I spent time in our first years of marriage wandering our neighborhood in South Philadelphia, which was desolate and crumbling. I was interested in the play of light and shadow but also in what the neighborhood had once been, in sensing who had lived and worked there.

Neil Welliver and Rudy Burckhardt continued to be friends and strong influences, and in 1971 we bought an old property in Waldo County, Maine not far from each of theirs. The painter Rackstraw Downes also had a farmhouse nearby. From this time on we were enmeshed in house repair and restoration both in Philadelphia and Maine.
In the city in the early 1970’s I took pictures in the early morning, preferably on Sundays when the streets were empty. Winter mornings were especially captivating because of the quiet and cold, clear air. Sometimes a wrecked car sat marooned on the sidewalk from the night before, leaking fluid or a lonely person was seen staggering home from an all night binge.

My interests were not only in the visual aspect of my subjects, but also in the historical significance of what I was recording. In spite the ordinariness of what I was photographing, it had a certain beauty, which could easily go unnoticed, this is what I was looking for.

In 1973 I had a solo show at the Peale House Gallery of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, thanks in part to Anne d’Harnoncourt’s influence. She and her husband purchased my work there as well.
My desires to photograph waned as practical matters took precedence: the hands-on house reconstructions took what was for us enormous amounts of time and money; I was discouraged by the fact that my shows had created little interest in the press or elsewhere; my wife Emily’s art work was beginning to be noticed and was worth supporting; and in 1975 our daughter was born.

I continued photographing works of art, antiques, early documents, architecture and the like for many sorts of clients. As a free lancer I have traveled a good deal, meeting fascinating people in interesting places. The houses we worked on in the 1970’s are done, and others have followed.

In spring 2008, few weeks before her unexpected death, Anne d’Harnoncourt and her husband Joe Rischel donated their collection of my works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The new photography curator there, Peter Barberie, noticed them and visited my studio to see more. From that visit, Barbarie included 20 of my photographs in the exhibition "Common Ground" at the Philadelphia Musuem in 2009. The New York photography dealer Charles Isaacs saw the show and has been representing my work since then.

Peter Barberie wrote and said about my work:

Brown's photographs offer no narrative. They don't add up to a portrait of Queen Village or the broader city, but stand as discrete, momentary records of interstitial places. In 1974 he identified his subjects as the "little pieces of our life," evidently meaning the moments and spaces we experience yet disregard in the course of any day, because they seem marginal to our notions of who we are and what we do.

Brown had described these pictures by saying that each of us, every day, go through many moments when we are not thinking about where we are, or what we’re looking at, going from …one purpose to another. He wanted to make photographs of spaces and moments that we all sort of overlook and ignore in the course of getting from Point A to B.

Recently I have been photographing different subject matter with not only traditional black and white film but with a digital camera as well.



1967      BFA Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania
1963-67 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts- Painting
1964      Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture (full scholarship)
1960      BA Gettysburg College - Biology

1971-2012   Free lance photographer, specializing in the photography of fine arts.
1966-71      Taught film making and photography at Swarthmore College
1967-71      Assistant to Theodor Siegl, Conservation Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
1966-67      Assistant to Theodor Siegl, Conservation Department of the Pennsylvania  Academy of the Fine Arts.
1966-67      Assistant to Rudy Burckhardt at the Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania
1961-63      Private in the U.S. Army
1960-61      Lab technician in a private medical laboratory

Awards and Prizes:

1989-1992   Member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers
1971-72       Post-graduate Fellowship in painting, Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania.
1964            The Print Club Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1964            The Perspective Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1964            Skowhegan Scholarship Award, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

One Man Shows in Photography:

1973     Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Peale House Gallery
1971     Swarthmore College
Group Shows:

2013      Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image, James A. Michener Museum of Art, Doylestown, Pa.
2012      35mm:Photographs from the Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pa.
              Common Ground, Eight Philadelphia Photographers of the 1960s and 1970s.
               Philadelphia Museum of Art,     Philadelphia, Pa.
1969-71  Painterly Realism, The American Federation for the Arts traveling exhibition.
1969       Swarthmore College
1967       Swarthmore College
1964       159th Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Miscellaneous other work

Films include A Film by Will Brown, 1966 (about the oyster fishermen of the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay) and Dog Dream, 1966.
Assisted Rudy Burckhardt in filming the Paul Taylor Dancers, and Burckhardt’s Cowgirl.


2013.   The Picture that Remains, Poetry by Thomas Devaney and Photographs by Will Brown,
            The Print Center, Philadelphia, Pa.    (pending)
2012    The Bucks County Intelligencer/Courier Times, December 11, 2012, pp. D1and D2
2012    WHYY Friday Arts, feature with Tom Devaney and Will Brown, October 2012
            Word Choice, “One Poem”, by Tom Devaney, Bomblog,
2011    The South Philadelphia Review,
2009    Roberta Fallon, ArtBlog, October 7.
1973    The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 20, p. 8-B

Public Collections

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pa.
Yale University Beinecke Library, New Haven, Conn.

Publications include primary credits for many catalogues, monographs, posters and history books. Clients have been artists, collectors, galleries, museums, universities, historians, publishers of books and magazines, and others.  A few selections include the following:

2013     Ann Percy, editor, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz
             Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art
2003     Storr and Smith, Lee Bontecou a Retrospective, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, (principal photographer).
             A monograph published in conjunction with the exhibition of the artist Lee Bontecou shown at the
             Hammer  Museum, Los Angeles (2003); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2004); and the
             Museum  of Modern Art, Queens, New York (2004).
2003     Fairbanks, Becoming a Nation, Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department of State,               Rizzoli, New York. (Principle photographer)
2002     Peterson, Brian, Pennsylvania Impressionism, University of Pennsylvania Press, (Principle photographer)
             Stroud, Marion, New Material as New Media, The Fabric Workshop and Museum
             MIT Press (Principle  photographer)
2001     Tanis and Thompson, Leaves of Gold, Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections,
             Philadelphia   Museum of Art, 2001. (Principle photographer)
2000     Carlisle and Henderson, A Sailor's Life, Antique Collectors, London, Fall 1999 (Principle photographer)
2000     Fabric Workshop and Museum, Changing Spaces, Selected Artists Projects. (Principle photographer)
1999     Detweiler and Claptor, Official White House China, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Principle photographer)
1991      An Industrious Art, Innovation in Pattern and Print at the Fabric Workshop
              W.W. Norton, N.Y. (Principle  photographer)
1980      Maurice Sendak,  Harry N. Abrams, N.Y. (Principle photographer)
1977     Garvan and Wojtowicz, Catalogue of the Collection of the Green Tree Collection,
              Philadelphia (Principle photographer)
Represented by Charles Isaacs Photographs, Inc., New York.: