Carolyn Brown ’58: She travels with a camera

Carolyn Brown ’58 comfortably resides in unusual spaces. In 1969, when Brown began her career in photography, a woman trying to carve out a career in a male-dominated field wasn’t exactly the norm. The places she traveled with a camera in hand are all the more striking, as her photographs reveal.

Carolyn-Brown-'58 and her dog
Carolyn Brown ’58 and her Olde English Bulldogge, Leroy Brown. Photo by Lyndall Dyer

For a young woman from the northeast farming community of Fort Morgan, Colorado, she points to her travels as the fire that helped her grow and evolve.

“The fact that she is a tall, dramatically red-haired American created somewhat of a stir as she entered mosques or monasteries, but her charm, easy way of dealing with diverse people, and energetic enthusiasm more often than not won the day, and diverse administrators, priests, and other officials allowed her to set up her tripod and spend the time it takes to arrive at a perfectly composed and calibrated photographic image,” writes Richard Brettell, the founding director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH) in “Carolyn Brown, A Retrospective.”

Brown, whose photographs are on display at The University of Texas at Dallas, where EODIAH has published a retrospective on her work and career, has another book featuring her work on the Fort Worth Stockyards at the end of this year being published by A&M Press.

After graduating from Cornell with her degree in art, she pursued pottery, earning her master’s degree in studio arts from Texas Woman’s University, but took up a camera with a desire to document the places she traveled while in Cairo, Egypt, studying Islamic art and architecture. And she never put the camera down, traveling all along the Nile River.

“Egypt is rich with magnificent mosques—as well as famous Pharaonic structures,” Brown says. “The experience of photographing and studying in Egypt changed my life.”

Brown went on to photograph throughout the Middle East, building a collection of ancient architectural imagery. She moved to Dallas and focused on her architectural photography career, documenting places and people in the Southwest, and traveled for 10 years back and forth to photograph both pre-Hispanic and Spanish architecture in Mexico.

She approaches photography with a designer’s eye, which is evident in the compositions she forges with her camera, from the squares lit up from the sun’s rays in a stained-glass dome at the Johnson County Courthouse in Cleburne, Texas, to the weathered wooden doorway of an abandoned plant in Fort Worth to the brilliantly colored Iznik star tiles at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Design is always a part of what I do,” Brown says. “I am very conscious of design, and that’s why my work looks the way it does. When I go back and look at my work, I look at the photographs I’ve made at various times of my life and places, it’s as if I can be there for just that moment. And it is quite remarkable, because with travels without a camera, soon those experiences are gone, but if you have a photograph, you can relive it.”