I’ve know mountain photographer Charlie Brown for almost two decades. His commercial and at times more explorative imagery of Falls Creek, other mountain scenes, family, friends and valley floor landscapes have always made me question things. I’ve wanted for so long to understand his viewpoint and what makes him get excited, visually.
It’s true that each individual sees things differently, and in Charlie’s body of work, or as much as I’ve seen, there’s a stark contrast between those bright and flashy tourist brochure pics, blasted across city billboards vs. his more tender photographic moments – these perhaps being of winter’s leafless trees, soft human expression, dark and menacing hillsides, subtle sun reflections, darkened water ripples and attacking stands of burn-out alpine ash.
Being a longtime observer of his photography, and working along side him on several projects for Essentials Magazine, sort of as a co-director; over time, one thing has become apparent: Charlie has perfected his commercial craft, and all the while discovering impossibly beautiful artistic and highly emotive imagery, virtually accidentally.
The Victorian alpine fires of 2003 and 2009 tore through thousands of acres of ancient woodland, particularly below the mountain village peaks of Falls Creek and Dargo High Plains. What was left after these abrasive disasters were immense destruction of life, leaving the sky-high tall pin-sharp stands of alpine ash forest vertically still standing upright; however visually as dead and desolate as the dusts of the moon. When I first caught a glimpse of these I felt shock. But for Charlie, at the time, he simply saw beauty.
Falls Creek offers great high-up views, offering a perfect visual perspective for photography. Add to this Charlie’s skills: he’s a first-rate skier and knows the Vic alps mountain country well, and more importantly how to move about in the region with a camera whether it be on foot or skis. Over the years, post 2003 and 2009 fires, his work evolved into a new magical perspective that clearly explained to me his eye. He did this by focusing his lens skimming atop those burned, black and white stark distant treetops. In doing so he displayed a new vision. He saw composition, subtle light and shade. He waited, saw and captured a layering of textures, a story of mood; and crafted images with such an empowering voice that I felt forced into the landscape – or perhaps a part of it.
Charlie’s alpine ash ‘twigs shots’ as I like to call them, feel both dangerous and gentle in the one breath. Printed on textured canvas, in large format black and white; these grand self-discovered images translate into an emotive experience at a level greater than any verbal language-based explanation. I feel there’s a sense of us all in these works, perhaps a sense of evolution – something well all know, fear and love at the same time. They remind us that the unforgiving nature and rawness of the wilderness is never far away, and that mother nature can be explosive, yet in doing so can craft a structure as sweet and soft as a child’s freshly-washed hair. Charlie’s ‘twigs’ or layered stands of alpine ash have all of this and more. But his work also goes beyond this message.
There are messages in the clouds, rare unusual structures and secretive exploratory shadows in the snow. Charlie shows us the fine fragility of ice and water vapour; and the still loneliness of mountain-high, distant landscapes. It’s a feeling I look forward to exploring more as I eagerly await his next epic mountain shot.
Charlie Brown’s Mountainside exhibition is on this Queens birthday weekend, at the QT Hotel Conference room, 11-12 June, open 10am-4pm daily. Visit and meet the artist. Individual works are for sale, and are ready to hang.