All photos copyright Michael C. Brown, used by permission.
When RACER founder Paul Pfanner asked if I could write a tribute to Michael C. Brown, I was immediately full of mixed emotions. I was honored to be asked. MCB and I go back to 1985, working together in England with me as editor of AUTOSPORT, in America as editor of RACER magazine, and these days as editor-at-large on motorsportretro.com. We also had exciting plans to work again in 2013, on a new project he and I had been building since mid-2009.
But then came the news of his passing, and the overwhelming sensations – for me and many others – were shock, followed by disbelief, and then a huge "why?"
MCB was not a photographer. To me he was an artist. All he needed was a camera or three, some film, and his trusty light meter which he was lost without. Remember, these were the days where digital cameras had yet to become the fashion, (“No autofocus for me, I don't trust them.”) MCB relied on his instinct, his skill, his eye for an image that others wouldn't see. When he arrived back at the office after a long day at the track followed by a long night at the film processors having his material developed, the staff stopped work to see what magic he had created that day. Virtually without fail, it was all gold dust. The biggest decision was what would not be published.
MCB had two pet hates in racing, and by 1999, both had taken the fun – for him – out of his job. They were "restrictions" and "politics," and that season effectively became his last full one. He still went to races here and there, but certainly not week in, week out. He had a growing family to concentrate on now.
Slowly, but surely, racing made its way back into his life, largely through his teenage son Seth (in action RIGHT, photo by Michael C. Brown). Like his dad, Seth was pretty sharp behind the wheel and raced in a plain white helmet, unusual in these days of color and razzmatazz. (“I've told him he can get it painted when he wins a race,” said Michael).
The big turning point was when MCB considered selling his archive around 2009. He put one or two images on Facebook for fun, and the world went mad showing the respect there was for his work. Day-by-day his pages were populated with more and more of his mostly unpublished photographs, all met with “oohs” and “aahs” and informed opinion.
The response was incredible and took MCB by surprise. “This is so much fun,” he said. “I have no thoughts of selling it all now. I'm connecting with people and drivers I've not spoken to in years, and others I have never even met! And they smile at my work.” MCB was back, fires burning, as proven by his work in a one-off at the Grand Prix at Austin, Texas, taking photos that others don't see. He was a kid in a toy shop all over again, and the quality of his work was as good as ever – even getting prime spots in the legendary Autocourse annual.
MCB had not lost his touch: Lewis Hamiltion, November, 2012. Photo: Michael C Brown.
We met a couple of times in the past two years, and had a project on the go that I aim to finish in his memory, and for his ever-supportive family. The sad thing is that he won't get to see it at its conclusion.
The images you see in the gallery above are just a sample – there are thousands more unpublished. It has been a pleasure being able to share his work with you, having known and worked with MCB for so long around the world.
Gone, but leaving behind a legacy of quality art for us all to enjoy. Please post your personal comments and memories.
Thank you, Michael.
Next page: Paul-Henri Cahier's favorite MCB images.