James Hamilton Brown

James Hamilton Brown’s year of birth is uncertain (1895-1898) but he was a native of Chicago and attended Lane Technical High School, on the city’s north side.  He also attended evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.  As a young man he worked in various photographic studios, including serving as an assistant cameraman at the old Selig, Essanay and American Film Companies Studios.   He served in the military in both the Mexican Border War and World War I.  Upon his return he practiced photography , first as an amateur and then as a professional with  the Whitaker-Christenson Studios. Between 1921 and 1929 he was the advertising and Assistant Sales Manager for the Thordarson Electric Manufacturing Company.  At some point he was an electrical and sound engineer for the D’Arcy Laboratory and Spoor Ahbe Film Company.  Brown owned and operated a studio for freelance illustrative photography in 1943.  He also did laboratory research in photo sensitometry  in connection with radar and radio homing-signal work for the Special Devices Section  for the Aviation department of the U.S. Navy.  In the 1940s he was also with Vogue Wright Studios as a photographer.  Much of this overlapped with his career at the Institute of Design.  Moholy-Nagy hired Brown to teach evening classes at the ID, from 1940 through 1946, alongside György Kepes, Frank Levstik, and Frank Sokolik.  There Brown began to create an experimental  body of work  utilizing techiniques such as solarization, montage, reflection and refraction.  In the 1950s he incorporated these innovations into his commercial practice which he called “Filmgraphics”.  James Brown was a member of the American Legion as well as the 33rd Division War Veterans Association.   He passed away in Chicago sometime in the late 1980s.  Brown’s work is found in both private and public collections.  He was featured in the extensive  2002 exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (and other venues) , called “TAKEN BY DESIGN: Photographs from the Institute of Design, 1937-1971.