CREATIVE LIVING - HAYLEY LOUISA BROWN
Hayley Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of BRICK, a publication that shines a light on hip-hop and its surrounding culture, championing the work of photographers and musicians working within the scene. A photographer by trade, she’s shot some of hip-hop's biggest names, including Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams. We were invited into her home to talk medium format, Elvis Presley, and amplifying talented voices.
For those that don’t know, tell us what BRICK is about.
BRICK is a bi-annual printed publication with a focus on hip-hop and its surrounding culture. The first issue was released in March 2015 and we’re currently working on Edition 05. The magazine came as a reaction to the crazy consumption of information that platforms like Instagram were giving us. I wanted to make something that firstly covered a culture and a genre in the in-depth manner it deserved and secondly put value back into the work that creatives were making. I’d so often see me or my friends’ photographs on Tumblr with thousands of notes and no credit. It’s minor, I know, but it seemed to sum up the larger problem of people disregarding the context of images, and not respecting the work that went into making them. BRICK gave me a platform to show the work of my contemporaries, the incredible musicians and architects of the culture in a well-thought-out and respectful way.
How did you first get into photography?
I was totally convinced I wanted to get into fashion, and I was studying for a BTEC in art & design at college with the intention of applying to CSM for university. For one of the projects, we had to take some photographs, and I remember my tutor telling me I was good and that I should take more. So I did, and I slowly spent more and more time in the darkroom at college, and I loved it. I was still kind of stuck on the fashion thing though, and so I studied photography at London College of Fashion. I was taught by Mark and James Lebon and Itai Doron, all of whom are incredible, and that gave me the confidence to step outside of fashion (which wasn’t really for me, it turns out) and into portraiture.
Can you remember the first photographs you ever took?
I can. I remember taking pictures of my friend Claire in our garden when I was about 12 and trying to make it look like it was from Elle Girl or something. I don’t know if that really counts, but it’s the first memory I have of intentionally trying to take a picture.
You’ve shot Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, Wu Tang Clan and plenty more. Who was the most memorable shoot with?
I was the most nervous to photograph Kendrick, because I was (and still am) so in awe of him and his work. This was a really long time ago too – it was his first time in the UK, between him releasing Section 80 and Good Kid, so it was a world away from what the experience would be like now, I imagine. It was just him, Dave and Ret (from TDE) at the Universal Records building in Kensington and Noisey and I were the only people there to do press. He was incredibly nice, thought-provoking, and interesting to talk to, and I’m looking forward to the next time we get to make pictures.
If you could shoot anyone in the world, who would it be?
I’ve been dreaming of photographing Frank Ocean since 2011, so I would love to make that happen. I’ve had the shoot concept in my head for that long too. Also, Paloma Elsesser and Rihanna, they’re both unbelievably beautiful and unbelievably badass.
Above: all photos above by Hayley Louisa Brown from the series 'Children of Graceland', 2017.
What are your reasons for shooting exclusively on film, and more particularly, medium format?
I really enjoy the process and the method of shooting with film, it feels so much more intentional and thoughtful than shooting a huge number of images and choosing the best one later. I also love the print aspect – I use Labyrinth Photographic in Bethnal Green to process and print my work, and it makes me so happy to see my work as a print rather than a file. I have boxes and boxes of prints and contact sheets and I love having that as evidence of my image making. Medium format has been something I’ve always loved, a lot of the photographers whose work I loved most when getting into photography shot this way. I bought my first Mamiya on eBay when I was 18 or 19 and I’ve been shooting on it ever since. Not being able to instantly see the images makes the experience of shooting much more intimate too, as the sitter can’t spend any time being self-critical and self-aware having looked at a picture on the laptop screen and hating what they see there.
Where did your fascination with Elvis Presley come from and what was it like to visit Graceland?
I have wanted to visit Graceland for years – as long as I can remember. I have a real interest in youth culture and music, which started out with punk when I was around 12 and developed backwards to the ‘birth of the teenager’ and Elvis Presley. The way he seamlessly appropriated black culture and fed it to the white masses was fascinating to me. There’s a great book called The Death of Rhythm & Blues by Nelson George that discusses this whole phenomenon much better than I could explain here. The idea of photographing young fans came from my curiosity regarding the longevity of Elvis’s legacy, and who was replenishing a fan-base that was, as morbid as it sounds, dying out. The artist Peter Blake was interviewed about his work featuring images of Elvis Presley and he said he was interested in the legend of Elvis, rather than the man himself, which is sort of how I feel too. Also, Graceland is the weirdest place, last year in particular. I was there for a month and during Elvis Week, the week of his death and the time of year when they have events on every day for the duration, it’s a constant barrage of foot traffic, Elvis t-shirts and the same 10 Elvis songs blaring from the speakers drowned out by chatter and parents yelling for their kids to stay close-by. But after Elvis week, it’s a ghost town. I spent so long just sitting and waiting for people to appear that I could photograph, sweating in the humidity and subconsciously learning every small adlib on those aforementioned 10 songs.
With BRICK being a physical, printed mag, does the rise of digital media concern you?
No. With BRICK we have purposefully created something that wouldn’t work in an online setting. Again, it’s about being thoughtful and intentional. There’s something about a physical object that’s uniquely valuable. I don’t know what it is but so many photographers and writers that I speak to still love to see their work in print, regardless of whether or not it will be seen by as many people as it would online. Print is special and I think it will always have a place.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m still listening to Ctrl. by SZA a lot, Freudian by Daniel Caesar, Rex Orange County, Sade, Prince, Sonder Son by Brent Faiyaz and Jorja Smith.
What can we expect from yourself & BRICK in the future?
Personally, I am planning to go back to Memphis again this year and continue shooting. The city is incredible and full of so many interesting people. I want to go back and do more outside of Graceland. With BRICK, we’re currently in the midst of putting Edition 05 together to be released in the spring and launching our website later in the year. We’re also going to be doing more events in 2018 – we actually just had our first one of the year with Soho House where we hosted a panel discussion about what it’s like to be a woman in the music industry, with Jamz Supernova, Olivia Rose, Nina Bhadreshwar, Poppy Ajudha and Nadine Persaud. They’re all amazing, powerful women who have carved their own paths in the industry, but don’t often get to talk about the reality of working in one that is so male-dominated. I’m excited to do more with BRICK to amplify the voices of the talents we’re lucky enough to collaborate with.