michael christopher brown – sakhalin [EPF Finalist]

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Michael Christopher Brown


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Emerging Photographer Fund – FINALIST (number four of eleven)


Photographed predominantly in the broken, rusted, skeletons of communities around Sakhalin Island, Russia, these images explore the wintry atmosphere of a remote land and its people, long scarred from the Soviet era and left behind in modern times.

Artist Statement:

I have always searched for obscure places to escape to and explore. I spent much of my childhood carving trails in mustard and cornfields and wandering the roads and woods of rural Washington State. As I grew, my interest turned to extreme sports and through these activities I reaped fullness in life. Moreover, as a stuttering youth these solo, expressive pursuits were seemingly vital vehicles of communication.

After physical injuries alienated me from this lifestyle and my friends, my father taught me photography. The camera led me inward and I discovered the richness in not only documenting experiences and the physical world but in visually interpreting my surroundings by noticing what was happening inside myself. To see beyond the depressed emotions in my life, photography, paradoxically, showed me a way to recognize the life behind things, a means of expression beyond the physical world.


Raised in the Skagit Valley, a farming community in Washington State, Michael earned a BA in Psychology and Art from Western Washington University and the University of Hawaii in 2000.

After completing an MA in Visual Communication from Ohio University in 2003, he won the College Photographer of the Year Competition and completed internships at The State Journal-Register and National Geographic Magazine before beginning freelance work in 2006.

In 2007, his essay profiling industry in the Pearl River Delta Region of China was broadcast on PBS during The News Hours with Jim Lehrer. Later that year, American Photo named him one of fifteen emerging “photo pioneers.” In 2008 he was selected for the World Press Joop Swart Masterclass, named a Magenta Emerging Photographer, a PDN 30 and a ‘Young Gun’ by The Art Directors Club in New York. In 2009 he won a Juror’s Choice Award from the Santa Fe Project Competition.

A contributing photographer to the Grazia Neri photo agency, Michael is working on a project about Broadway.


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Michael Christopher Brown

Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay..Futher discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks…david alan harvey

64 Responses to “michael christopher brown – sakhalin [EPF Finalist]”

  • still down in mexico and can not view the images… but am very familiar with this beautiful essay and so THRILLED michael is one of the finalist. congrats mi amigo!!! will buy you a beer at LOOK!!

  • I agree with Gina. I knew this essay by Michael already and love it too.
    I look forward to seeing more and now this might happen if he gets the grant.
    Congrats Michael and good luck!

  • Congrats Mike! Good to see your work in the final 10.

  • Some very good images. I guess the appeal of some of these images is that they were taken in a place few people will go. But I don’t really feel any emotional connection to the people you have photographed, which is echoed in the generic captions, which remind me of the soulless captions VII photographers tend to use. You need to make me care about these people.

  • LOVE IT.

    You can just drop these into Geographic! Love the style, feel and texture.

    I am sure this will make a great book when finished.

  • Congratulations to Michael for being a finalist first of all but more importantly for a beautiful and extremely well edited set of images…

    Good luck.


  • Some really wonderful images here! I feel exactly the opposite of Jim in regard to the portraits. I think you’ve captured some really authentic moments between people and between the subjects and yourself. I think that because I’m a 4×5 shooter, I get a little annoyed by the tilted perspectives in some of these photographs. Sometimes this sort of off-kilter view helps emphasize the content of the image, but other times it just feels distracting. All-in-all, I really enjoyed this set of photographs. Good luck!

  • Congratulations..I love the way you think and see..very touching.

  • I’ve also seen this essay before and love it very much. So glad to see it among finalists! Michael, congratulations! Keep my fingers crossed for you to be the winner ;-)

  • nice to see you on this mike. love this project. nice stuff amigo.

  • I’m speechless. This is amazing work. Love the color, light, texture. Congratulations Michael.

  • Strong essay. Gives me a chill. Brrrrr!!!!

  • Love the work, I remember this essay and can see all the new additions as well. I love 19 and 20 and the one in the club with the dancer. I really related to your comments of physical injuries and it leading to Photography, we have that in common, so even more amazing how much you have achieved. Congrats! a well deserved EPF finalist and I must say what an impressive Bio!

  • YES!!! beautiful mike, beautiful.

  • I have seen some of this before right? strange sense of deja vu anyways. Really like the use of colour. Overall has a good feel to it. I think the captions are a bit flat but that is to be expected here as we are looking at a photographic essay and any expanded text will be written when this is published at a later date[right?]. I think its generally strong and it does give me a glimpse into this world. I am with jim slightly on the distance i feel from some of it, but that well be that i am distant from most things anyway :)
    Good work. Love the crossing dog shot.


    This latest edit of your Sakhalin essay seems like quite the strongest yet. I think you have succeeded admirably in combining evocative and authentic ‘sense of place’ documentary with your personal reaction and interpretation of the place. Some of the images are much stronger than others and could easily stand on their own (1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 15, 16, 19, and 20) but I saw nothing that I felt should be left out in order to improve the essay as a whole. Number 15 in particular I think encapsulates the entire essay, and I personally like it better even than Number 1 which is similar in theme. Seeing Number 20, I can’t help but be reminded of Sam Abell’s famous pears on the windowsill with the Kremlin in the background… I wonder if that photo was a conscious influence in your developing your style?

    ‘Sense of place’ documentary is what attracted me to photography in the beginning, and it is still my central interest. I have never been to Sakhalin, though I have seen its southern tip from the top of a mountain on Japan’s northernmost island, and have read a bit about it over the years. A Japanese photojournalist friend of mine, Ito Takashi, has worked there documenting the Koreans who were left behind when the Japanese surrendered the southern half of the island to the Soviets in 1945 (unfortunately, I cannot find any of his photos from Sakhalin on the Net). So it’s a place that I had at least a vague image of and some second-hand knowledge about. It is a pleasure to learn a bit more about it through your eyes. The Sakhalin you present is a place of winter, but of course it has other seasons besides (I’m told the bugs in summer are really unbearable)… it would be interesting for you to go back there at another time of year and present another facet of the place.

    I see by your bio that you are originally from what is now my part of the world. I live within walking distance of one of your alma maters, WWU, and sometimes give guest lectures there. I wonder if coming from a place where the landscape, climate, and natural world are such dominant factors in everyday life possibly makes you more sensitive to ‘sense of place’ and the weather than is true for dyed-in-the-wool city people?

    Best of luck to you, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

  • I looked at these for three times and the first time was without reading the artist statement. I have to say that I got a “dreamy” feeling of this essay. Somehow I don’t see this kind of remote areas as a “dreamy” thing… Maybe it was because of this vaseline-on-lens kind of softness in many pictures…I dunno. Little bit monotonius mood also comes from positioning the subjects in most o the pictures in the middle of the frame…

    About the contact with people: in my opinion the overall feeling is that the photographer is definitely outsider. Only couple of pictures shows the contact (like boys sitting in car). The distances to the main subject (and the size what main subject takes from the frame) is too similiar in most of the pictures that visually it gets maybe dull…when viewed as a essay. I can definitely see the potential of this story — the overall mood is definitely good, but it needs variation. I would like to see more contact, to getting closer – technically and mentally. To be an “outsider who is inside”.

    My favourite so far of the finalists.

  • Very nice…Not everyone sees these kinds of photos and that is the first reason why I really like these. I fealt a bit like I was looking at some of Jonas Bendikson’s work from the former Soviet Republics.
    I also like the way you get an overall idea of where you are, meaning aerial images and others close to people. These pictures have a soul.

    great work Michael!

  • I like these images very much. It reminds me of NATGEO magazine, when i’m looking at the photos. #10 and #15 are my favourite, but the whole essay is well photographed. Congrats to be in the final 10!

  • Buongiorno!
    this is the first time I leave a comment here, even though I have been constantly checcked .BURN since it was launched.

    Thank you David for creating this, it means so much to me. It’s the first blog ever actively partecipated to and a constant font of inspirations and motivations!

    Michael, you work deserve the best. The pictures are deep, visually stunning. They even manage to be vibrant in the loneliness feeling they provoke.
    Absolutely marvellous, congratulations!

    cheers, everybody!

  • Super classical somehow but super strong framed and landscape are amazing! Little bored about far east project on the other side…but really pro!

  • This work really shake me.

  • The level of play for this grant is very, very high. I don’t know if you could really call photographers who have won a World Press Photo award, been selected for the Joop Swart Masterclass and worked for National Geographic emerging. I mean they may be 20-30 years younger than some well known famous photographer, but they are working pretty much at the same level. . .

  • Excellent. The ice fisherman, the red-haired woman, the mountain. All of them. So glad to see this essay in the finalists.


  • I love landscapes!!

    All the rest is super Geo mag style and “déja vu”. A great performance, but quiet distant from human and far behind Delahaye, Sarfati, Bendiksen, Suau etc…

    I hope I am wrong but I start to imagine that this grant would help a photographer to produce a portfolio serie that magazine don’t produce anymore? …It’s really nice for photographer finally so at the end it’s a super help! I think Michael have great chance, depend wich magnum photographer will be in the jury…

  • Great pictures. The best work until now.

  • Michael, I loved your essay when it first appeared here on Burn a number of months ago, but now? My god, man, you have REALLY gone and done it! This edit is spectacular. The added images bring me ever more closely into the place and its people, especially the people. For you have turned what was primarily an exploration of place into an exploration of people. I now feel engaged with these folks, young and old alike. I want MORE! I want you to receive the funds that would allow you to go back time and time again so that you can build relationships and get to know other, more hidden sides to life on this land. And I concur with Sidney’s suggestion that you return during summer months as well. I’m sure the face and feeling of the place would be dramatically dfferent.

    Big congrats on being chosen as one of the ten EPF finalists, Michael. You deserve it!


  • Mike, you have emerged! :) Love love this project.. congratulations man!

  • Good to see your essay again Michael; congratulations on making the final ten. I like everything about this body of work – particularly the colour – you have captured the colour of cold! Looking at your edit, I’d drop photograph 18, I think. That’s it, can’t fault it and don’t want to.



  • First, congratulations Mike. I thought the work was beautiful the first time(s) i swam through it and still think it’s beautiful ;). I’m hoping you had the opportunity to read Chekhov’s book since the essay was originally published. If not, please do: still great relevance. I wont bog down time with additional words, expressed it all previously here:


    best of luck

  • How wonderful to see this essay here. It was pure dead brilliant then, now it’s even pure dead brillianter. (hey, if Kathleen can make up words)

    Michaels talent and vision are astounding. Masterful use of colour, wonderful compositions, sensitivity, perception, and most of all his ability to extract such beauty from such bleak surroundings. Work on his website is equally brilliant.

    This edit is even better than last time. It leaves me wanting more.


    Good luck Michael

  • Viva NatGeoooooo!!!
    man, once again,
    i just got reminded how much i missed my dentist…:(

  • I love this essay… Chekhovian, beautiful and misty-eyed. Congrats Michael, well deserved!

  • this is a beautiful essay…there’s a lovely ambiance to it. I really like what you’ve done so far but as others have said, I would also love to see you dig deeper with some of the people, and to get a sense of what the place looks like during other seasons. really hope to see this develop over time. for me, this is the strongest yet of four very strong grant contenders….good luck with it Michael

  • Technicals are just too diverse to me. I dont see the photographers language.

  • There is enough positives here to warrant a grant ……………. not sure about the cock my head and shoot images ……….. so David give the man the money so he can re shoot 1,2, 4, 5, 9, 10 and 20

  • I love this job, i´ve seen it before and its the kind of essay i would´ve loved to shoot.

    But i have one big question that keeps on bothering me: I do not understand what does EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHER mean??? this guy has worked for national geographic and all sorts of big publishers.
    I make this question because i am 21 years old, i know i have lots of raw potential that needs to be exploited, and i KNOW i am an emerging photographer, just like lots of other young ones.

    So, could someone please explain to me the term EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHER?!??! Almost every finalist i´ve seen has been published in lots of magazines and is represented by some agency. From what i get, even the likes of Peter van Agtmael or Kosuke Okahara could get in the contest.

  • Hummmm. Pretty crazy. Neat, but it’s just, just… so all over the place. I think I get a sense of Sakhalin, I think. Should I feel a disconnect? I think I’ll have another beer and watch what’s going on in Dialogue. I mean… like the pictures are pretty cool (no pun intended) but there is just this blurry sense I get out of this(no pun intended). Michael Christopher, what do we need to know about Sakhalin? Oh by the way nice images.

  • I really like it, is my favourite, for the moment!

  • I loved the essay, when it was first published on burn a few months back, but I think the new edit is superb.
    Congrats Michael.

  • Whether this essay wins the EPA award or not, it is a winner.

    BTW, what is the criteria for EPA? It seems like from his bio, Michael is quite established as a working photographer…not exactly “emerging”.

  • rose filtered light..
    a foreign land..
    I want to get closer,
    ‘make me care’
    than I already do…
    I would love to see this essay
    further explored..
    loved the ‘teen’ stuff,
    boys in car,
    kissing a
    belly button…
    love your vision
    use of color,
    so soft..
    rose like….

  • Like many others, I liked this essay when it first appeared on Burn., and love it now. I think it gives depth to life in Sakhalin, which before I always associated with bears and the KAL 007 disaster.

    As Sidney Atkins pointed out, that shot through through the hotel window reminded me of the “Kremlin pears” photo by Sam Abell. Whether that was an intentional “tip of the hat” or not, I think it works great in the essay.

    Congratulations, Michael!

  • Congratulations Michael, very cool work. I don’t coincide with other comments about the edition, i think it would be better with another more tight.

  • Maybe 13, sure 15 and 20 are good. For the rest, it’s ok, but it is neither a compelling documentary story, neither a total and personal subjective story. As in the previous essays, I see no vision beyond the all already long walked paths.

    I hoped to see something different here on this forum. Something beyond everyday sensibility.

    Do we have to praise an essay that does what magazine managers want? Or can there be a world beyond managers and art speculations?

    Can burn be a place where common grounds shift? And not a confirmation of what is already going on in the journalism, documentary and art world? Which all seem to me as terrible boredom and leading us further into a terrible black hole. Because the questions in there don’t go far enough. Where Goya, Van Gogh,
    Tarkovski, Bergmann, Robert Frank,…did their thing? In a world not seen, a new world of poetry. I am waiting for this…

    Not just a confirmation of what we all see as good for a publication in a magazine or a poster on our wall.
    It is ok to be “subjective” and ok to denounce “injustice”, but where is the thing that tells us something about our human nature, being the same time personal and all over? I hope it will come.

    All the essays until now, I have seen them already.. They are not bad, but…

  • Well done, Michael. Your essay that went up a few months ago was one of my favourites that I’ve seen on Burn. Good to see a few more photos from the series.

  • Michael, your ability to translate feelings into images is incredible. I want to see more!

  • Happy to see that Michael’s essay is among the “faboulous ten” ;) I’m not so sure that the current selection is better than the previous one, though.

  • I really, really like this essay. Have watched it over and over, and it´s just superb work. I love the “jump” from pic nr 6 to nr 7. The blue colurs and the boys with an ice-look, and then this hot hot bar scene with a naked woman. What does a naked woman do in this land of ice and cold???! This is good edit, it works, maybe because it´s a bit unexpected. Your pictures are beautiful, and it also creats new pictures im my head. I want to go to Russia, I see why many photographers hooked on this country…

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