Photo – Merritt Brown
I lost a very dear friend yesterday. 2016 has been a rough year.
I met Merritt (Doc) Brown 40 years ago almost to the day at Hallmark Institute of Photography. We were the third class to go through the school with a class size of a little over 30 people. At the time Hallmark was a different place than it grew into. It wasn’t accredited, you couldn’t get financial aid, you had to really want to be there. It was also the first place in my entire life that I felt like I belonged and one of those reasons was Doc.
I am sharing some things here that will probably not mean as much if you didn’t know him but somehow it feels like everyone knew him. When we were in school I thought he was probably the worst photographer I had ever met – truly. He understood the process – his vision, exposure and printing – not so much. I never saw him in any commercial realm of photography (at least as it was at that time – we’re talking 1977) but he had such a passion for what he was doing. We’d be given assignments and many critiques were cringe worthy. He never gave up and graduated with the rest of us (although in a recent conversation we both confessed that neither of us knew how he got through).
Now I can’t speak to how Merritt was before the “Hallmark experience”. I do know that our time in that place changed us all. It made us understand the value of friendship and the importance of maintaining the relationships you have.
Merritt had more friends than anyone I ever knew. He maintained them well. With the advent of social media he really came into his own. Through it we could see that his passion for photography had only grown through the years. He shared his images and his sometimes twisted philosophy with so many of us. Always quick with a smart remark or advice or simple observation I looked forward to his running commentary on my life. It was always positive.
This past year we had conversed more than usual and more about life in general than photography specifically. We shared the experience of children lost and found, something rather unique in my circle of friends. I’m glad it was with him because he always could be counted on for truth in any situation. He could see things as they were and would tell it like it is. Last week I visited him at home and the conversation was more poignant. He wished he had more time with his children and grandchildren. It killed him to know that he wasn’t going to be around to enjoy some of Manop’s cooking. Fishing, he hadn’t been fishing at all this year. He had a habit of shooting daily, was limited to home but he still had images to share with his friends. Clouds, he could photograph the clouds and since that’s where he was going he wanted to share them.
He knew he was at the end, he knew some of it had to do with the choices he’d made in life but there were really no regrets. It had been quite the ride. So this kind, gentle, larger than life soul left this earth yesterday and we are all sitting here in disbelief. For me it’s left quite a hole.
My daughter-in-law recently commented on how many friends I have. I’d never really thought about it before. I do. I have circles of friends from different times in my life. I’ve maintained the ones that are most important to me. Until now I didn’t realize there’s a downside to all of this, you have to move through losing them.
Our friends make up who we are, some more significantly then others, they teach us how to be. We try to surround ourselves with the people who make us our better selves. That’s what Merritt did for me, he made me just a little bit better.