WORDS BY SARAH ODUM / IMAGES PROVIDED BY CHRIS BROWN
Chris Brown is the publisher and creative director of Refueled Magazine, a publication working hard to share the life of artists and community members with its readers. Although not from Denton, Brown is connecting with and contributing to the Denton arts community in significant ways, and to us over here at WDDI, that makes him fair game!
We sat down with Brown for a chat about his childhood, his love for Denton, his recent collaboration with Jason Lee, and why his work doesn’t feel like “work”. If you believe in the importance of story-telling, visual arts, and human connection, read on! Then sit back in your chair and think to yourself, “Hm, I think I’d be really good friends with this guy.” You won’t be alone—that’s what we found ourselves thinking too.
Almost immediately upon meeting Chris Brown, a couple of things are clear: he loves people and he loves a good aesthetic. Authenticity and design - they exude from a warmth of presence, as well as from his work. In fact, there really seems to be no delineation between Brown’s personal life and his magazine, Refueled. Both reflect a dedication to his own history, one filled with vivid memories of the culture of the 1960’s & ’70’s. Brown recalls his first glimpses that led to his love for print publications: the large color photos in LIFE magazine and the rebellious spirit of MAD magazine - exposures that sparked him as an 8 year old to make his first magazine, complete with fake ads and hand-drawn covers. “Of course, when I would sell that copy for 10 cents, I would have to go back to make another one by hand.” Today Brown describes Refueled as his own personal journal, in that while he wants to connect with the audience and allow them to discover new things, he will only print things that he loves.
One of those things that he loves is a good personal story. The latest volumes of Refueled, dubbed “The ONE Series”, focus on one single subject for all of its 100+ pages. When we asked Brown why story is so important to him, he again explained it as something that started early, then went on to describe the draw. “It goes back to my love of documentaries. Behind-the-scenes stories always fascinate me. You meet someone and they do leatherwork - I’m always curious why they chose leatherwork and not something else. I’ll always question someone about their childhood. I think it’s extremely telling, where and how you grew up, of how you create later on in life. I’m always interested in the back story on folks. To dig deep into a person, and get in somewhere where questions are being asked. I’m interested in an ‘inner-reaching’ into the subject, beyond their craft or what they ‘do’ because it’s very telling.”
Because “The ONE Series” tackles a single subject per volume, Brown is able to accomplish the kind of depth he aims for. The magazine feels decidedly “beyond-the-basics”, bringing the subjects to life with large-scale images and well-rounded interviews that cover a person’s work, dress, home, lifestyle, history, and physical environment. It’s clear that Brown is spending more than an hour with these folks. “My ideal situation is spending a couple of days with subjects. Meeting them, sharing a meal. I want to feel comfortable with someone before I start delving into personal things. But that’s not always practical.”
Brown’s connection to Denton began over 7 years ago when he attended a music act and was drawn into the scene. It has since grown into friendships and collaborations with our beloved artistic community. A recent issue of “The ONE Series” featured Pastrana Studio (Denton-based makers) and even more recently Brown collaborated with Jason Lee to release his first photo book. We were curious what sparked Brown’s love for our town and why the connection is an important one for him. “I always knew about Denton, about the music scene. The draw is the small town feel. It’s very reminiscent of the small town where I grew up. I just fell in love with it because it reminded me of home. I’ve met a lot of creative folks, dealing mostly on the music and photography end. Film photography has always been an important part of my life, and to see that being embraced here, it’s exciting to me and it keeps me drawn here.”
That love for photography brought Brown to an event at Denton Camera Exchange a year ago, and subsequently into a collaboration with another Denton resident, Jason Lee. Refueled recently published a book of Lee’s work (Volume 1 of 2), a collection of instant film photos from the past 10 years. Of the project Brown explains: “We share a love of throwback, of vintage images. Jason’s been wanting to do a photography book for a long time. And I’m honored that he chose Refueled to publish his first photo book. We knew right away that our aesthetics would meet up. What I saw in his images was that of a faded America. His ability to capture that was very appealing to me. So we kept throwing ideas around before we locked in on a book. I think we have similar values and backgrounds, and those are the folks I’m drawn to.”
In light of Denton’s instant film community and Brown’s recent projects, we were curious to hear more about the appeal of this medium. As with most of his current passions, it’s a fascination that hearkens back to Brown’s childhood years. He witnessed the birth of Polaroid as something that changed the experience and captured “the audience of America”. He explains that it’s also not so much about the immediacy of it, but the tactile process. “It slowly develops in front of you. [Instant film] almost feels like little 3x4 art projects. It’s taking something and seeing what comes out. The appeal is that it’s one piece that you’ll never be able to capture any other way, it’s a one-of-a-kind piece. You create something, and even if it’s pretty instantaneous, it’s an art project. It’s a little hard to describe.”
What isn’t so hard to describe is Brown’s love for his work and for the people he meets along the way. We asked him about the challenges he faces in daily hustle and he was hard-pressed to come up with any. “I love what I’m doing because it’s completely free of challenges. It totally doesn’t feel like work. It’s one huge adventure. I couldn’t be more lucky or imagine doing something that would give me more freedom than this!” The only frustration he notes is that there isn’t enough time to cover everything he’d like to. “You’re constantly discovering new things, meeting new people. I will never run out of material.” What comes along with meeting new people is a growing sense of community, something Brown values highly, especially within the artistic life. He argues that a natural desire for community, to want to be around people with whom you can share, is a basic part of human nature. “It’s not natural to be alone. There’s so much you can learn from others. Ideas are sparked from collaboration, from being in a community that shares your love.”
It’s exactly this sort of shared love that Brown is cultivating in his publications, as well as in his personal life. With his efforts in Refueled (whose tagline is “Community. Heritage. Discovery.”), he is pushing forward a model that places equal value on aesthetic quality and human sincerity. And that’s a combination that we here at We Denton Do It can definitely get behind.
If you're even a little bit interested in photography - POLACON is the event for you! Starting September 30th and running through October 2nd, it starts in Dallas but spends the majority of the time and finishes in Denton.