If you regularly attend art openings in Atlanta, chances are you’ve seen Brandon English. Almost invariably the tallest person at any such event, and topped with a distinctive afro that wreathes his head like dark flame, English stands out (though seldom apart) at every gathering he attends. Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting this remarkably personable photographer and activist in person, you may well have seen his photojournalism in Rolling Stone or Creative Loafing, or his art in this year’s Unloaded group exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery or in downtown Atlanta during last year’s Elevate events. In full disclosure, English and I were briefly colleagues during my time at the Loaf, and he shot one of my favorite portraits anyone has made of me. But his gift for capturing the energy of public protest was what made me want to talk with him.
English, a native of Pensacola, Florida, moved to Atlanta (by way of Tennessee) as a youngster. Born in 1989, he traces his earliest art-making impulses to wanting to imitate Clayton, his older brother, who drew pictures inspired by the manga and superhero comics they both read. Another important text for English was John Hersey’s nonfiction account detailing the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath, a book he read and reread. In our interview he talked about how he is drawn to “human reactions to inhumane conditions,” words that could also sum up Hiroshima.
Even as he pursued higher education, his later interests were coalescing: From 2009 until 2011, English served as an event photographer for Georgia State University’s student-run Spotlight Programs Board. In 2013 he earned his bachelor’s degree in studio art, with a concentration in photography, at GSU’s Welch School of Art and Design. English came full circle, in a way, with his 2016 installation (with sound by Christopher Hollis) for Elevate inside the Broad Street Visitors Center. His rectangular photographs of Atlantans marching in protest occupied white walls in a sort of abstraction or demolition of comics panel placement, English’s elegant solution to recounting an overwhelming weeklong spate of resistance activism. “I have always liked being uncomfortable,” he said of his chosen (and sometimes risky) area of focus as both a journalist and an artist. “I’m glad to be able to document…the way people struggle.”[Edited and condensed from an hourlong session.]